People generally know what they need to do in order to get better results in life – exercise, diet, budgeting, planning, practicing, etc are all things that we know we should be doing to better ourselves, but we don’t. Instead, we struggle with it.

One reason is that we’re not good with long timescales, future consequences, or solving complex problems. In fact, didn’t you find it heavy even reading that? So, we get easily overwhelmed, frustrated, uncomfortable, and we abandon the effort.

Separate problems, remove them from the whole, and work on them as standalone items.

We talk about our lives as one complete thing, but it’s actually made up of many pieces or systems that are not related – at least in terms of how well they’re working. Having a low bank account doesn’t give you cancer, and not having your resume up to date doesn’t break your car. Now of course everything is related to the whole of your life and happiness, and many things do impact and relate to eachother (your mental health affects job performance, which affects your bank balance, and so on). But, in terms of each separate aspect of your life working well or working poorly, they are independent. What’s more, it’s not possible to tackle everything as a whole – it’s overwhelming and nearly impossible to fix all at once.

So, the key is to separate each area of your life and get to work on it. Pick something to start with – health is a good one – and get to work. Learn about healthy eating, plan a new menu, buy different foods, eat them. Set yourself up for success by planning things out, reading books, and establishing new habits. Fail. Try it again with new information and a better attitude. Fight the urge to let go and release control back to ‘whatever, it’s fine’. If you’re frustrated, focus smaller. Focus at a level that makes you comfortable. Keep your eyes down on that one thing, and resist the urge to look ahead or look around at everything that you could be working on. Fight. Focus on it. Separate it out and give it your attention. Pretend your life depends on it.

And then, once you’ve gotten it working just the way you want, move on to the next item on your list – armed with new skills and confidence.

Below is an excerpt of Work The System, Chapter 7 – A Room Full of Boxes. It’s one of my favorite books, and my favorite visual about self improvement:

You walk through a door into a large, dimly-lit room. It’s one you’ve been in before. The room is empty except for several dozen wooden boxes varying in size. The containers, each with a hinged wooden lid, are scattered around the room. You begin by replacing the burnt-out light bulbs and then pushing the boxes around so they are in order, taking time to organize them so you can perform your work in a logical way.

Because of the previous neglect of the contents of these boxes, you knew before you came here that completing this job would require some effort. You hunker down and get to work.

You open the lid of the first box and find a mechanical apparatus within. It’s made up of gears, wires, and levers, and because you have learned how to fix such devices, what you see makes sense. You examine the intricacies within, and it is apparent that adjustments are necessary. You make them. In the course of your work you notice an obsolete component. You replace it with an updated version (you always carry spares). This revision will make the device more efficient and reliable.

Then you oil the moving parts and finish by cleaning up the mechanism, wiping it off. Finally, you thoroughly test it to make sure it’s working perfectly. It is.

You close the lid and move on to the next box. You repeat the process. One by one you move through all the boxes, making each of the unique mechanisms within them perfect, closing the lids afterward.

It indeed takes time to complete your work, but the time went quickly as you spent your hours in a creative, constructive mindset.

You’ve finished, and you stand in the doorway and take a last look around the room. The boxes are in neat rows, their lids closed, and you are confident the devices within the boxes are working perfectly. You know the output will be very good now because each of its mechanisms is working flawlessly. How could it be otherwise? You also know you’ll be vigilant, watching over the details, not allowing it to fall back into disarray. There will be routine maintenance.

As you turn off the lights and walk out the door, you feel intensely satisfied with your work and with yourself.

Clearly the methodical and mechanical nature of this example will appeal to some more than others. However, whether or not it’s your cup of tea does not change that it’s true. That’s how it works. Your body, mind, and everything around you works mechanically, 1-2-3, as a system. Work with that reality, and you get the results you want. Ignore it, or work against it, and you won’t.

Separate each system (box) of your life, go to work on it, and watch your whole life change.