Winning Systems

A while back I kept a blog called “The Spokountdown,” which I used to track my workouts as I prepared for the Spokane Marathon. With each training run, I would post an image of the route I ran and briefly describe some of the more eventful things that happened.

It never had a big following but I didn’t care. That wasn’t the point.

You see, two years earlier I ran the Ogden Marathon with my brother Jeff. It was a great experience but by the time I crossed the finish line, I felt like I had been hit by a steam roller. In my training for Ogden, I failed to prepare as much as I should have. There were days when I was so busy that I chose not to run. With no one to hold me accountable, my training sort of fell flat, and I paid the price for it.

That’s why I kept a blog the second time. By reporting my runs online, I set up a system where it was difficult for me to weasel out of training. I couldn’t bail on my run when I knew that everyone (realistically, probably 4 people) would know about it. So, when it came down to the time to decide, the additional motivation was just enough to push me to run even if it was 11 at night. Needless to say, I was in better condition when I crossed the finish line in Spokane.

The key to this story is that I performed better, not because I magically grew more willpower or had more time on my hands (if anything, I had less time with a wife and a kid to take care of). No, I can’t take any credit. I only performed better because I had set up a winning system.

Us humans tend to be habitually lazy creatures who don’t like change. A winning system allows us to get the outcome we want without having to put forth more effort. You can design a winning system by changing the circumstances so it is easier for you to make the correct choice.

Designing a winning system may be easier than you think. If you’ve ever moved your alarm clock across the room so you couldn’t turn it off from your bed and accidentally fall back asleep, then you have designed a winning system. If you’ve ever determined never to go shopping while hungry, you have designed a winning system. Winning systems like these make it easier for you to prevent sleeping in or overspending NOT because you are more disciplined but because the circumstances make it easier. Winning systems are like the cheat codes of life… the tips and tricks that help you overcome that particularly tough vice of yours.

Winning systems work in a variety of situations. I once read a book called “The E-myth” which described how setting up winning systems is the best way to run a business. The author explained that as a business owner you ought to design all job responsibilities so that anybody can perform them. You make the work as easy as possible. You design it so you could hire an unmotivated, incompetent fool, and they would still be able to successfully do the job.

But why would anyone want to hire an unmotivated, incompetent fool? You wouldn’t. But if an unmotivated, incompetent fool can do the job, then the odds that a skilled and motivated employee will fail are next to nothing. This philosophy has implications for parents, educators, and anyone who struggles with motivating those they work with.

McDonalds famously made it so easy to make a hamburger that they could literally pull teenagers off the streets and have them cooking your food in a matter of hours. Cooking isn’t that easy. McDonalds designed a winning system.

Winning systems are the key to overcoming procrastination. This neat video describes how beating procrastination means outsmarting your future self (it’s a book promo… a very convincing one).

My mission president used to say, “If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” In other words, if you are trying to overcome a weakness, it does no good just to “try harder.” We can’t just will ourselves more self-control. We have to change our tactics, find the loopholes, and create a new method for beating our weaknesses.

My buddy Justin prevents sleeping in class by eating a sandwich if he starts to get drowsy. Some novelists won’t go to bed until they have typed their minimum word quota for the day. Whether you compulsively swear, forget to floss, or eat too much fast food, a winning system is the solution to that nasty little habit that you can’t quite kick.