In the past I've espoused the idea of focusing on the small things in your life in order to bring about design changes. They're the “microinteractions” of our lives, if you will. In my experience, that is arguably the easiest stuff to tackle. I'd rather focus on something like not drinking caffeine in the afternoon in order to improve my health, versus going all out and saying I'm going to eliminate all caffeine for three quarters of the year (ACK!)
That's one example, of course, and you may be at a place to do something bigger. That's when it's time to look not just at your goals – those things way up high – but larger patterns. They're at the “product design” level.
I've got to admit, I've been feeling a little bummed lately. I've been more irritable, I've been exercising less, and my attitude towards my body has shifted to a negative place right now. And when I've had only now in focus, it's felt new and singular. I've wondered, “Wow, how do I get through this?” A few days ago I found myself rifling through old journal entries; I was very curious about what I was writing and thinking a year ago. And do you know what I found?
Much of the same stuff.
I wrote about very, very similar feelings on very, very similar topics. It was a small but important aha! moment. It started to reveal something bigger: this is something that happened to me last year at around the same time. So, what caused that? I was curious about it, so I read some of my other entries from around that time. I found that I had worked through some of these things. It gave me comfort and assured me that it was something that Past Me had also confronted.
Now, though, I'm able to see that this is something that has happened two years straight – so I can address it if I choose to. I might take action on this, or I might leave my future self more clues – more information about how this moment feels, how this all is going right now. But having that information and knowing the scale of this pattern is really, really helpful for me.
The Size of It
When it comes to our daily lives, then, how can we tell what kind of pattern we're in? How do we know if this is something small, medium, large, or even larger? Here are a few pointers.
- First off, notice what you're doing. When you're in the middle of something – anything – and you notice it, also take that time to notice the way you're feeling about it. When I was writing my journal a few days ago, I felt very wrapped up in the emotions I was capturing but – and this was key – I was also curious about what had happened before. And I let that curiosity assist me.
- Drill down into the “why”. Now that you've observed something about yourself, to borrow research lingo, it's time to analyze it. You don't need to write a 50-page PowerPoint deck on it... unless you want to, of course... but be present in that moment, with those feelings. What's really happening? Ask yourself “why” multiple times. Be honest with yourself and you will find that the answers get bigger and bigger.
- If you want to change it, design it to scale. Of course, you have to choose to want to change the pattern. You don't have to. You can do it later, or not at all. But should you choose to change it, brainstorm and think about the actions that can lead to what you want. In my example, if I don't want to get into a self-care rut right around late January maybe I need to do multiple things in order to improve my attitude – and it wouldn't hurt to do them in advance of this time period, either. But one change that I see as small probably won't be enough. It's an experiment I'm willing to try.
- Keep tabs on it. Obviously, I'm a fan of journaling. But one of the actions I can take to help me keep tabs on it is to pop a reminder for myself into my calendar ahead of time. That's a way to get it out of my head and let me think about it later. And in the GTD bonus round, I'll just make a project in my Someday bucket (or schedule it for much later this year) so I can proactively take care of myself.
- Do it. The hardest part. I know I'll be scared, or be tempted to brush it off. But now I know from experience what brushing it off has felt like!
You wouldn't redesign a microinteraction with the intent of affecting change in the entire system. As in design, it's all about the scale of the challenge.