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Giving Space to Deviations

Allowing a little flexibility in our systems of order and discipline

Stacked macarons
Photography by Holly Stratton

Many of us enjoy setting up systems for ourselves.

Whether the reason for them is because we want to run more, read paperback novels over digital media, or be increasingly present by meditating daily, the why behind our systems generally tend to source from honest and goodhearted motives.

The problem that arises within many systems-building, however, is that the system can inherently be too rigid due to one thing: the lack of accounting for deviations. When those ‘sudden change of events’ come into the everyday, when that variable called life gets thrown into the equation, we are not prepared. And because we don’t account for these changes to happen, we generally don’t deal with them graciously.

Let’s say that a person who wants to eat healthier has set up an unknowingly rigid system. One day, they succumb to the pressures of purchasing a single donut during an outing with a friend. The remaining thoughts of the day for that person, unsurprisingly, can be understood as:

“Well I ate a donut this morning so my entire diet is ruined for the day.”

They feel their system, even if the feeling is only temporary, is dismantled.

Of course, a single donut shouldn’t make a massive dent in anybody’s diet but it may seem to be a major defeat at the time because eating a donut wasn’t a part of the plan. It was a deviation and there was no space for that to happen.

Now, I don’t call for us to embrace these deviations and give up on our personal goals and systems, not at all. But I do want us to accept that indeed they will happen, and to not be so hard on ourselves when they do arise.

I’ll finish with a brief story.

Many years ago, shortly after the undefeated baseball team I was on lost their first game of the season, my grandfather told his distraught grandson this:

‘As a man in his twenties he had landed a job laying brick walls for future enterprises. Day after day, he would stack bricks and fill cement in between. Over the course of four years, he seemingly perfected the craft. He became one of the fastest bricklayers in his county. Yet every now and then, when he wasn’t giving the brick placement proper attention, the brick would leave his hands and fall two stories, only to shatter into dozens of pieces. “Oops”, he would say, and then promptly continue on with his work.’

“And hey” he said as he lifted my head, “the wall was still there.”

And so just as the force of a wall will not be hindered from a single brick being placed wrongly, just as the single loss in a game doesn’t mean the end to your sports career, your system shouldn’t falter because of the single deviation that presented itself.

Give your system flexibility, allowing it to maintain its focus for when things evidently go south.

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