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we live in the time hyperconnectivityComplexity and fragmented attention.
For entertainment, humans used to watch stage performances lasting several hours. Then came the modern audio-visual movies which run for 90 minutes. A decade ago, we welcomed YouTube, where the average video lasts 11.7 minutes. Even that proved too long for distracted minds, and social media found a sweet spot in the 15-second TikTok clip, curated — on autoplay — by an algorithm that knows us better than ourselves.
We see this trend in education. Degrees used to take three or more years. Then came the diploma and certificate. Now people engage in microlearning and proudly share their nano-badges or micro-credentials earned in a matter of weeks, days or hours.
Books turned into tweets in the blink of an eye, and hostility turned into petty aggression. How can future leaders navigate the world of habitual busyness and subtle meditation? Continuous meditation is difficult. Left untethered, our brains seek novelty and relief. For example, quick video clips require minimal commitment with the promise of a dopamine hit.
Is the system collapsing? Can we ever again enjoy a slow journey, a deep work or a long novel?
Perhaps what we are seeing is entropy in action. Order and energy dissipate in the cosmic dust, unfortunately in the form of a 15-second clip of the teen dancing.
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build a steady state
In fission lies the potential for creation—the opportunity to reassemble parts into a more coherent whole. Aristotle advocated totality as opposed to reductionism, suggesting that an organism is greater than the sum of its parts. Remove any component, and the system becomes unstable, even sick. A complex system seeks to create vitality in its internal environment while achieving balance with the external environment. This phenomenon is called homeostasis – or the establishment of a steady state.
How can we consciously reassemble the building blocks of our lives into a formation that is coherent, stable, resilient to external stresses, and perhaps preferring the internal instability of life, even adversaries? Are you too delicate?
Subtle Habits and Macro Changes
In his best-selling book, nuclear habitsIn this book, author James Clear explains how implementing small positive habits leads to dramatic results and constant change. Stanford professor BJ Fogg concurs in his book little habits,
The basis of both approaches is to identify who you want to be and then turn that identity into micro-habits that can be enhanced as they gain momentum. Remember, change creates an imbalance. Whether you want to change yourself or your organization, you will face resistance. This is because change disturbs the steady state, even if it ultimately leads to a positive outcome.
Have you ever wondered why most New Year’s resolutions and diets fail, so many gym memberships go unused and management initiatives take years to change? Simply, it is because of our tendency to avoid discomfort and maintain consistency.
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power to start small
By activating subtle habits, you secretly bypass resistance to change. Instead of going for half an hour of jogging when you want to get fit, just start by wearing your running shoes. Once this habit becomes as reliable as brushing your teeth, you move up to level two, which can be a walk up to your front door. Dress up your surroundings by leaving signals and triggers. Incorporate new subtle habits into habits that are already strong and reliable.
A participant in one of my workshops decided to implement a subtle habit of doing five push-ups each time she sipped her morning coffee. A year later, he had completed more than 1,600 pushups he would never have tried otherwise. In the second year, he doubled the effort and achieved about 4,000 pushups. The momentum spread to other areas of his life. He was a man who was transformed by a practice that took less than a minute each day.
How do I get started?
James Clear says that if you get 1% better every day, by the end of one year you will be 37 times better. For granularity, I calculated that 1% of 16 wakes per day is 9.6 minutes.
Can you allot 9.6 minutes to your development today and every day of your life? If not, something needs to be changed. If yes, what will you do?
Here are some tips for filling 9.6 minutes:
- 2 minute stretch after waking up
- 2-minute breathing exercise to establish a baseline of calmness
- 1 minute Identifying three things that have happened well (Gratitude Practice)
- 2-minute high-intensity workouts, such as skipping
- 2.6 minutes for a deliberate micro-break in the middle of the afternoon (go outside if possible)
Alternatively, you can watch 36 TikTok videos. You are the sum of your habits. What would you choose?
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Rebuild your life and leadership
You have the opportunity to raise your life from the ground up. When subtle habits are incorporated, you can scale up the people you find most influential. Ultimately you become a calm, grateful, fit, well-focused or positive person.
Apply these rhythms with your team. Encourage the sharing of micro-breaks, mindful moments, power poses, small meetings, and quick wins. Identify who you are as a collective – your purpose and values – then activate the subtle habits that will lead to that identity.
You will find space, energy and freedom in the net of positive habits. Instead of chaos and fragmentation, you’ll be building regenerative systems that are greater than the sum of their parts.