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Creating a Sustainable System for Habit Changes

From CBIZ Wellness Insights (February 2024)

When we think of behavior change, the conventional route typically involves

setting goals. Goal setting involves identifying a very specific and measurable

objective to strive for and fixating on an outcome. It is usually dichotomous,

meaning you either accomplish it or you don’t.

Creating a system involves looking at the larger picture and focusing on the processes, relationships and feedback loops that contribute to a particular outcome. A system is concerned with how the outcome is accomplished and not dependent on one variable to define success. In Atomic Habits by James Clear, he writes, “When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to

be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running. And a system can be

successful in many different forms, not just the one you first envision.”

This example is simple but illustrates how concentrating on building a system can result in long-term behavioral change. Even if we push ourselves too hard, creating a system can help us step back and find a new direction. This new direction will still lead us to “becoming a runner” but maybe through a different approach. In contrast, if we change our aim of “running a 5k by the end of the year” due to unexpected circumstances, it may feel like we’ve failed, and we might give up on the objective altogether.

Creating a System

Developing a system for personal growth or change requires identifying an area of your life that you want to improve or enhance. As Clear says, “You are what you repeatedly do.” When our habits align with our desired identity, they become more than just actions; they become a part of who we are.

To create this identity, the first step is to take stock of our current daily or weekly routines and decide how they’d look through the lens of our desired identity. We can then pinpoint where small changes can be made and turn them into daily habits. Those, compounded over time, coupled with a reflection process can lead to transformation in our lives.

Tips & Tricks

Clear writes that to achieve success, it’s important to focus on using your current habits to your advantage. He suggests using the concept of “habit stacking,” which involves building new habits upon existing ones.

This can be done by using the formula: After/before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT]. For instance, “While drinking my nightly tea, I will check the weather for the following morning and lay out my running clothes accordingly.” By doing this, you eliminate decision-making and the possibility of not running in the morning.

Clear’s second tip is to make new habits obvious, attractive, easy and satisfying. To increase

the likelihood of adopting new habits, design your environment in a way that reduces barriers and encourages supportive actions. In the above example, the habit of laying out clothes the night before can be made easier by creating a dedicated spot in the closet or laundry room for running clothes.

In Summary

By focusing on the habits and routines that contribute to continuous improvement, you

can cultivate lasting change in various aspects of your life. Embracing systems is not about

rejecting goals but recognizing that the journey is more important than the destination.

Therefore, take a moment to evaluate what’s working and what needs adjusting within the

systems of your life so you can set yourself up for long-term success.

Reference: Clear, J. (2018). Atomic Habits. Penguin Random House.

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