No time? Listen to it instead
Cut your losses. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase before. It means “to step out of a bad situation and salvage what you can by minimising losses”. What if I told you, the phrase isn’t just applicable to business and stocks but also, your habits and systems?
It’s not a radical idea, in my opinion. It boils to common sense. You cut your losses when you face a shift in the environment or when a habit doesn’t work anymore.
Note: If you’re looking to build systems and habits, I’d recommend you check out the previous articles on the Productivity section of Nudge › How. If you already have habits that you’re proud of but often fall out of, continue reading.
The Idea of Environment
Irrespective of how great your habits are, if you’re living a balanced life, you’re bound to shift environments. At which point, your entire system or habits will come crashing down.
The first habit that will break is the one that is the most difficult to do in the new environment.
Contrary to what most people believe, it’s less about willpower and more about how easy something is to do for you, and how easy you can make it for yourself.
Changing environments or context could be anything: going through emotional turmoil, travelling for long periods, shifting to a new city and so on.
Habits + Context = Systems
A system is when everything works in tandem. It’s when your habits are working flawlessly and automatically. For that, you need a stable context.
The idea for habits and the context they exist in is simple: not everything is easy everywhere.
It doesn’t mean it’s impossible, just that it’s harder to get to your bare minimum. You can’t read in an environment that is always noisy no matter how much you enjoy reading.
For example, it’s a bit frictional for me to work out regularly in my family home due to the lack of space. While it is possible and I manage to do it, it’s still not as comfortable and easy as I would want it to be to call it a habit.
So, whenever I’m back home, that’s the first thing which breaks. When we change environments, the habit that breaks is the one that the new environment doesn’t aid to naturally. It’s not the context it was built in.
Accept That It’s Broken
However, what happens next is the larger issue in the grand scheme of our systems: we tend to put our systems on a pedestal.
Of course, if you’ve been reading consistently for six months, it isn’t easy to accept that you don’t have the habit anymore.
So, you keep telling yourself that the habit exists. You continue going through the days believing with all your heart that you read every day but end up not even opening a book.
Your catchphrase becomes a version of, “I’m figuring it out” or “I’m still adjusting to the new lifestyle.”
However, the habit is gone.
Learn To Cut Your Losses
That is where the idea of cutting your losses comes into when it comes to habits. If you’re radically honest, you will accept that the habit or system is broken. It’s when you acknowledge it that you can fix it.
Most people, most of the time, don’t do this step. The result is simple: since the weakest link is broken, the chain starts to fall apart. Before you know it, the entire system that kept your life afloat is gone.
Acknowledge and Reframe
If you exhibit a wee bit more self-awareness, you can acknowledge that the habit, whatever it may be, is gone. That’s when you can look to cut your losses with the system.
It’s a bit of cognitive reframing, but here’s an example of what you can say and iterate to yourself. You can reframe it as you feel, of course, but the gist remains the same.
“Yes, my habit of going for a run daily is impossible, given how much it rains in this city, but I still have most of my habits afloat. I can figure fitness out in some other way, but I must be consistent with the rest.”
Making sure most of your habits work through a change of context is the key to fixing what isn’t working. However, to do that, you need to acknowledge that it’s not working first.
Cutting Your Losses
The idea of cutting your losses with habits is simple.
Acknowledge what you can’t do, so you can focus better on what you can do. Then, find a way to reinvent the lost habit to fit the new context.
Seek stability first.
Often, our entire life shakes when we face a change in environment or context. There’s a sort of denial when it comes to accepting that our systems are not flawless and that our routine isn’t perfect on all days. True systems are systems that know how to cut their losses. True systems are connected, sure, but not interdependent. Cut your losses. Acknowledge what’s broken. Keep the rest up. You don’t have to revamp an entire system or routine, only what’s broken.
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