Why It’s Not About The System You Use.

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Do you have a goal? Professional, personal, or otherwise? I bet you do, whether it’s to get a certain number of clients per month, to stop eating grains, or to learn to juggle.

Now, let me guess: You’ve got a system worked out to get you there, don’t you? You’re going to attend networking meetings, write blog posts, and update your LinkedIn profile. You’re going to only eat at home so you can control your meals, and throw all your old grains into the compost heap. You’re going to watch that Juggling For Fools video, and practice your juggling fifteen minutes every night after dinner.

No matter what the goal is, you’ve got a system, I’m sure. How am I so sure? Because systems are said to be the key to achieving everything these days. Just think about productivity… there’s GTD , ZTD , and Hipster PDA’s; Blackberries, Franklin Planners, and 37 Signals. What’s best? That’s like asking, “What’s the best kind of music?” It all depends on you, what you’re doing, and what works for you.

The point, in any instance, is not what system you use… it’s that you stick with it.

If you’ve dabbled in productivity systems for any length of time, you know what I’m saying is true, because everyone has discovered, researched, and spent time on setting up some kind of system, only to have the thing gather dust and fall by the wayside.

It’s your ability to remain disciplined, regardless of what life throws at you, that determines your success. Or, as Vince Lombardi said, “Inches make champions.” When life gives you lemons, do you see the lemonade-creation process through? Or do you say, “Oh, it wasn’t convenient for me,” or, “I lost my passion for it,” or, “Evidently, that was the Universe’s way of telling me I shouldn’t be doing that.” ?

Forget the Common Approach

What’s the common approach to discipline? “Okay, let me set this up so everything’s perfect and ideal, and I’ll control all the variables and get. this. done!” You think that if you make your day run like clockwork, you’ll achieve your goals. But sadly, this isn’t practical, feasible, or even advisable.

Tanya Wagner, winner of the 2009 CrossFit Games, and 2nd place finisher in 2008, wrote about her training philosophy recently:

I think varying training days, times, and physical conditions really works for me and really seemed to help me for the Games. I can be mental at times, and always used to be very methodical with soccer in high school and in college. My training had to be precise and my warm up was identical before every game or I’d mentally be out of it. When I think about it now, that approach used to hurt me to a degree. I like how CrossFit has helped me to not have any excuses and has made me more disciplined mentally.

If you need stability and normalcy to experience discipline, are you really disciplined? Or just good at control? What I love about Tanya’s experience is that even when circumstances weren’t what she wanted them to be, she still achieved her goal by giving it everything she had – not to control it, but to show up fully in any and every situation.

The point is not to control your environment, it’s to control your attitude. Mix things up from time to time, and see how you do. If you’re used to planning your days to the minute, then make one day a week completely unstructured, and see if you can still get a priority task done. If you tend to fly by the seat of your pants all the time, then see what happens if you hold yourself to a schedule at least once a week. Can you still hold yourself to your goals, even when outside circumstances aren’t absolutely agreeable?

This works in all kinds of areas, by the way…

  • Nutrition: If you plan your meals out religiously, then give yourself a week of whipping together what you can, when you can. I’m not saying eat junk, obviously, just see if you can still eat well without the control. Perhaps have your spouse/friends make a few meals, and see how you do. Can you stick to your plan, even when presented with less than optimal choices?
  • Exercise: In a rut? Doing the same thing over and over? Get thee to a CrossFit gym, and see what they can do for you (trust me). Can you stick with it, even when it’s uncomfortable? (And if you’re a CrossFitter already, then experiment with MEBB, CFSB, or check out Catalyst Athletics’ workouts.)
  • Leisure: Do you tend to pick the same activities week in, week out? Movies, television, walks in the park, etc.? Mix it up, then! Go to a funky live music venue you’ve never been to before, check out neighborhoods near you you’ve never been in, read books in genres you’ve ignored. Talk to strangers at coffee houses, volunteer at a soup kitchen, or go out and get your hands in the earth by planting a tree or tending a garden. Can you still relax and have a good time?

Discipline isn’t about regimens, controlling your environment, or being anal about having things your way. It’s about following through, no matter what circumstances you find yourself in. It’s about keeping your eyes on the prize, and toughing it out. It’s about digging deep in yourself to remain committed to your goal, no matter what life throws at you. (And yeah, few people like hard work. That’s why success isn’t as commonplace as it should be.)

Not eating the french fries is easy when you’re at home, but can you leave them on your plate at the restaurant? Not watching TV is easy when the cable’s out. And not wasting your day on Twitter is easy when the Fail Whale is running the show.

It’s inconveniencing yourself when life’s making everything convenient that shows you what you’re made of. That’s how you make your systems work. That’s how you achieve goals. That’s how you win championships.

Image by Susanica.