Creating Systems

Last week I discussed the difference between a goal as a Desired Outcome (which we don’t have control over) and putting systems into place which will dramatically improve your chances of achieving your Desired Outcome. We can achieve success if we are willing to put in the work. The work can be a bit overwhelming at times. Today I’m going to try to break the process of creating systems down, making it not only easier, but way more fun.

Creating Systems Plans

I can’t say that writing out training plans for the animals was ever a lot of fun. But they were very useful. A training plan was a document describing the new behavior a caretaker wanted to teach their animal. It often included the purpose of the behavior (remember “Finding Your Big Why”?). Husbandry, wellness, or relationship building were the most common purposes– improve welfare was the desired outcome.

The most important part of the training plan is the suggested steps trainers will use to teach this new behavior. This process breaks the behavior into small, achievable approximations, starting with where the animal currently is (starting point) and moving progressively to the completed behavior. Or, start with the end in mind, as Steven Covey says in his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Trainers picture the completed behavior, let’s say for instance, a bow, or high jump with a dolphin. They picture the bow fully trained, and then work backwards. Right before the completed behavior, what would be the step behind that? And the one before that? Eventually, trainers come to the point the dolphin is currently at in their training, the beginning.

Where You Are in Your Training

Two wonderful, but very different dolphins

I point out “where the animal currently is in their training” because some may actually be a bit further along than others. Most dolphins know to touch a target pole– a long pole with a buoy on the end which acts as an extension of the trainer’s arm. And that is an important starting point, as it’s necessary for the dolphin to follow the target pole to learn the bow. But some dolphins may have learned to rise out of the water already and some may not. Dolphins who have learned this important step of rising out of the water to follow the target pole don’t need to relearn that approximation. Each dolphin starts their training for a new behavior based on where they currently are in the training.

Why does all this matter? Because we are building systems which will help us achieve our desired outcome. We need to know where we are heading– the completed behavior in this new system. And we need to know where to start– where we currently are.

Breaking Things Down

If you want to improve your physical conditioning (desired outcome), one of the systems you might put in place is doing push-ups. What is your criteria for knowing this is a “completed behavior”? Is it “100 push-ups”, or “doing push-ups for 1 minute straight without stopping”? Your completed behavior is up to you. But let it be concrete. That’s your SMART goal– specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. How are you measuring the progress or completion of this goal?

Let’s say you choose “100 push-ups” as your goal. But you can barely do 2 in a row right now. That’s perfect. You have your ending, and your starting point. Work backwards from 100 to figure out your progression and approximations. Maybe it’s going up in sets of 5. Or maybe you start with doing push-ups on your knees, or on an incline. You incrementally go up in reps at an easier level, and when you are ready, slowly transition to your ideal push-up.

Making Your System Work for You

I’m doing this currently with a desired outcome I have of improving my performance at my next Spartan Race. I have a lot of room for improvement, but one of the systems I have in place is doing pull-ups. Only, I have never in my life been able to do a strict pull-up without a band. No problem, that’s what approximations are for.

Step 1 in my training was figuring out where I was currently. I discovered I needed a green and black band (heaviest resistance plus a medium resistance band) together to do 5 pull-ups. So, I started there. Within a couple of weeks, I moved to a green and red band, and then eventually just the green band. But then I got stuck.

The great thing about training plans is it isn’t set in stone. You can change it as you see fit. When I got stuck on the green band, I revisited my plan and made a couple tweaks. I was getting mentally blocked in getting that 5th pull-up in a row. But if I increase my rep count slowly over time, then working to get 5 in a row wouldn’t seem so hard. So, now my plan is to start each new stage with 2-3 pull-ups and try to go up one repetition each week. I don’t have to do them all in a row, just get 3 one week, then 4 the next week. By the time I get to 9 or 10, I am able to complete 5 pull-ups in a row. Then I go down in resistance and start the process over.

The most important thing to remember is this: There is no wrong way towards your goal, each way is unique, but it is always one step at a time.

Turning New Behaviors into Systems

Now, I have a goal I’m working toward, doing 5 pull-ups without a band. Once I complete the goal, it’s not game over, well played. Same as training an animal. Once we teach the complete behavior, we don’t stop asking for that behavior. We put that behavior into the system of others to take care of the animal.

So, once I can do 5 pull-ups without a band, I continue practicing doing those pull-ups, and I can either focus on another strength exercise I want to improve, or focus on another habit.

Habit is the key word. I want to make it a habit, not a one time goal. That’s the key difference between what most people consider goals, and creating systems. We are never exonerated, we will never not have to work for our desired outcomes. If I stop practicing pull-ups, or don’t make it part of my system for improving my Spartan Race performance, it’ll go away. And so will my chances of achieving my desired outcome.

Creating systems means we create habits. Habits are lifestyle and longterm changes to our current routine. They aren’t short-term projects. But it is through healthy habits that we are able to achieve great things. Not one time shots.

Key Take-aways in Creating Systems

So, let’s focus on achieving our dreams, our “Big Why”. But let’s do it in a SMART and healthy way. Let’s create systems- different habits, routines, and practices we do day in and day out, today, tomorrow, and forever. And while we can’t control whether we successfully accomplish our desired outcomes, we can control how we show up on the journey there. We get closer each time we rock our protocol, work our systems, and make progress toward small wins.

One Comment

  1. The systems concept is so important! With it I can changed a potential failed day into a win by just focusing on the system. Just one more step, rep, minute. Love it!

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