Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Falling to the Level of my Systems

A simple system

I recently hurt myself and was on couch duty for a few days. I didn't have the focus or concentration to read and there is only so much television I could stand, so a friend recommended a few podcasts to me. 

BrenĂ© Brown has been a kind of hero of mine ever since I saw one of her early TED talks, so I started with her 2 part conversation with James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, on her "Dare to Lead" podcast.  

There's a quote that comes from Clear's book that she referred to over and over: 

"You don't rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems." (James Clear) 
And that has been reverberating in my mind and my soul ever since. 

It's not like I didn't know about how systems are critical to the functioning of things like safe airflight (preflight checklists, anyone?) and safe surgical procedures (time outs, checklists), and I've long understood that I personally function better with a certain amount of structure in my life. 

Hell, I'm great at systems. Erm.. setting them up. Following them? Not so much. If there is an organizational system out there, I've probably tried it. Even believed that it (whichever one I was taking for a spin) would be *the one*. 

(Okay - you can stop laughing now.)

And it's also not like I can't be disciplined. I've accomplished a hell of a lot in my life - much of it through sheer stubbornness and dogged optimism. Grind, grit, and goals can only take you as far as the personal walls you hit. 

Ooh, that's good. I think I'll repeat that for emphasis - because I'm often slow on the uptake when it comes to my own learning.

"Grind, grit, and goals can only take you as far as the personal walls you hit." (LJ Cohen)

 I really believed that the wanting was enough. And that if I wasn't finishing this (%$@!) novel-in-progress, it was secretly because I didn't want it enough. *I* wasn't enough. Or I was too much. Too distracted, too depressed, too broken. 

When I ran my physical therapy practice, I had structure. My available hours were limited as I shared an office with another clinician and I had a hard stop time when I needed to pick my children up from school. My work had to fit within those parameters. And it did. And it worked. 

Those were the years when I also wrote an hour a day in two 30 minute chunks. Because that what my structure/systems allowed. 

I learned a long time ago that limitations can help and unlock creativity, not hinder it. Case in point: I've been in a poetry rut for quite some time, so in November, I asked folks to toss me six random words for me to craft a short poem around. And it led to some remarkable pieces. 

This is all to say that for more time that I'd like to admit, I've had no systems to fall back on. The why isn't as important as the fact that with no limits on my time, I drift to mindless scrolling of social media and wallow in quiet self-loathing because of it. 


My goals aren't enough. Goals are a pull. I need a push.


My goals aren't enough. Goals are a pull. I need a push. That's systems. Which in my case, means building up better habits. Something the podcast explicitly talks about. 

I think I need to read Atomic Habits for more specific support in creating the habits and systems that will let me find my way back to my creativity.

In the meanwhile, I'm going to further lock down my phone. I've already deleted the FB and Twitter apps from it, but there's always the browser. I have it set to so many minutes per hour and I'm going to also block it until midday. (I'm better writing in the morning.) Somehow, I don't abuse social media when I'm at the computer in the same way as I do on my phone. 

And maybe that will be enough of a habit and enough of a system, at least for now.

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  1. There's an app called Freedom that you might find useful. Systems and carefully analyzing barriers are the only way I make progress on anything at all. Trying to be healthier for the last few years has been a master class in how having a system for getting around a barrier can change everything. It's so much better than hating myself for being "undisciplined."

    I am pretty sure I own a copy of Atomic Habits. May need to dig it out and give it another read. Good luck in building your new systems!

  2. I fully endorse the concept of systems. I know I succeed when I'm pushed in the right direction. Unfortunately, I also have a number of systems that are pushing me the wrong way. Hard to overcome them.

    1. I'm right there with you. Still fighting to find the right triggers and habits and systems and still have enough spontaneity for serendipity.

  3. Sitting at my kitchen table, dawdling in social media over a cold cup of post-lunch hot tea (in a draggonbelly, of course), this blog post hit home. Now I have to digest it and figure out how I can impose limits on a life in isolation.

    1. When you figure something out, please share. Part of what's hard is all the time I spend alone, without much in the way of external structure.

  4. It's not your "systems" that are out of whack, it's your environment. Someone is very subtly trying to make you less, make you forget who you are, pull your attention to you and your "faults" rather than you and your creativity. Whoever has you angry or frustrated most of the time is the one who is running havoc on your abilities. First you run into someone who does this, then the noise starts in your mind, not the other way around.

    If you spot who is doing this, who creates this downward spiral within you, then you can acknowledge the person and that they don't have your best interests at heart. They don't even see you.

    1. Right now, unfortunately I think that person is just me. Or, rather, my own depression & anxiety.