Training wheel systems

I started blogging here because I felt I was reacting very badly to failure. I wanted to build my confidence brick by brick and thought I’d do so by disciplining myself to write a learning every day.

That was easier said than done, of course. I simply lacked the discipline to do it consistently. Here’s how the process really unfolded –

Phase 1 – The struggle. In the first few months, the biggest challenge was just remembering to write a learning. Some days, all I would manage would be a quote.

Phase 2 – Training wheels. A year or so later, I came upon an idea – why not post a quote every day at the minimum and add something else if I could? So, I started posting a quote every morning on weekdays and also sent the “Good Morning Quote” to  a few friends, family and subscribers. Then, on Sundays, I began posting a “book learning” – simply a learning from a book I was reading. These structures were my blogger training wheels.

Phase 3 – Ready to bike. 3 years in, I moved the quotes out of the blog as I knew I was finally disciplined enough to write a long form post every day. Over time, I consolidated all the additional ideas (quotes, book learnings) to the 200 words project. The 200 words project is no longer a training wheel. I am well into biking solo now.

Call it training wheels, systems, process, or structure – it doesn’t really matter. The principle is, as we think of new year resolutions, we’re best served if we take the time to structure habits and systems that will help us get there.

Early warning systems

I had a horrible record of listening to my own body while growing up. This manifested itself in a very predictable pattern of illness – I typically went 6-8 months without falling ill thanks to my willpower and then followed by getting completely knocked out for 1-2 weeks. This was because of my tendency to work in bursts, burn myself out, and then need recovery. My tonsilitis inflammation rate, for example, was a joke. I used to have one very painful week every 3-6 months (happy to share that it is down to one in the last 2 years now). Folks who have tonsils prone to inflammation will probably understand that tonsil inflammation is one of those illnesses that has obvious triggers and many early warning signs.

I have been actively working to avoid this tendency over the past few years as it signifies many of the things I am working to change about myself – consistency vs. sporadic bursts, embracing my introversion, learning to listen to my gut and then understand when it is right and when it isn’t.

So, after two weeks of intense activity with far too much social stimulation, I had all sorts of early warning signals go off when I woke up on Sunday morning. My throat has been feeling funny, my stomach feels like it has gone for a toss and I just feel like I need a break. Here’s the best part – I would barely have noticed this 4 years ago as all these signals are relatively mild. My natural instinct is to power through them. This was supposed to be my week of returning to the daily work-out routine, for example. My focus would have been to just get that done no matter what.

Thankfully, I know better now. Getting the work-out routine done would be efficient but I am almost completely certain that it would mean I would fall sick within the next 3 days. I am now working to respond to these warnings – sleeping as much as I can, eating regularly, drinking warm water, and pacing myself. I’m not sure if I heard these too late or acted on these too late as yet but I’m certainly going to give prevention my best shot.

Good leaders understand and leverage early warning systems. They do so by really understanding the teams they lead and the systems they manage. Careful observation always gives us an idea of the leading indicators. The best hunter gatherer chiefs always knew when bad weather was on its way. The birds and animals made certain noises that foretold it. These chiefs just needed to pay attention.

As leaders of our own selves and within our own families, it is entirely our responsibility to develop early warning systems. An explosive argument with your spouse or significant other almost certainly didn’t occur because of what you did just now. It was an accumulation of many annoyances. With better early warning systems, we can work to prevent issues before they occur.

The onus is on us to observe, pay attention, and then respond.