There are a thousand things you could do to improve your health.
Last week I outlined eight of them.
Eight is a lot!
Once you decide to take responsibility for your own health, it can feel like there's no end to the things to address. And that can be stressful.
The solution is to assess leverage.
In this post I'll share a tool to help you do that. If you use it, you'll always know that (to the best of your knowledge at any given time) your energy is being invested for maximum returns.
Assessing leverage will help you pick one thing, the right thing, out of a thousand possibilities.
Assessing Leverage 101
We are all overwhelmed. With options and information.
We need to become experts at rapidly filtering options and information based on our unique situations to enable us to create the change we want.
Assessing leverage lets you determine what is most important (for you) and least difficult (for you) at any given time.
What's Leverage, Exactly?
I learned about leverage from systems theorists like Donella Meadows, whose research introduced me to the concept of using leverage points as a way to change the structure of systems. Specifically, Meadows' writing helped me to understand that leverage points can be used to influence systems, so they will work with me and help me get more of what I want. And less of what I don't.
I was an immediate convert to this way of thinking (and acting) and have been using it as one of my primary life strategies ever since.
According to Meadows in Thinking in Systems: A Primer (excellent book!), "leverage points are points of power". They are places where a small shift can lead to significant change.
Meadows cautions that leverage points can be counter-intuitive. If we don't engage in thoughtful analysis, we can easily end up pushing a system in the wrong direction, hoping for particular results but actually contributing to what we don't want in a given situation. In fact, that happens all the time.
The basic rule: the more complex a system is, the more carefully you need to assess leverage and the more adaptive you need to be when intervening.
High Leverage Outcomes in Real-life
I assess leverage at least once a day.
And anyone who knows me knows that I can get an inordinate amount done.
Assessing leverage and getting systems to work with me to acheive my goals is my secret.
Assessing leverage is the way I got from being a high school drop-out to a well-regarded professional with a masters degree. And the way I got from being a single mum living in poverty to a woman with an excellent career trajectory.
It's the way I figured out how to help my husband Matthew transform from a person who was almost completely disabled by autoimmune disease to someone who looks healthier than any other 48-year old I know (and is right this very minute in a wetsuit swimming in the North Pacific).
I'm letting you in on my secret. I did it by assessing leverage. Every day.
If you get in the habit of assessing leverage, you'll be setting yourself up to get the biggest impact for your effort, too.
I've created two worksheets to help you get started.
- The first one is blank, so you can start from wherever you are now and work on whatever you want to address. Download it here.
- The second one includes the nine focus areas from my post 8 Areas for Health (Pick 1!), to get you started. Download that one here.
Assessing Leverage 201
Understanding this bit isn't necessary to assess leverage and use the worksheets. It's a bonus section with some extra theory, for fun.
According to Meadows, the 2nd-highest leverage point in any system is at the level of the worldview or "mindset out of which the system--its goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters--arises."
That's one reason why I'm so intrigued by the paradigm change that is occurring in the field of health right now. More and more people are turning away from the mechanistic Newtonian view of health that has been dominant for centuries in the west, toward a systems-informed approach. Functional Medicine is one example of this shift.
I wrote about this in the post Scientific Revolution.
This 2nd-highest leverage point also applies to individuals.
We can change the mindset out which our goals, structures, rules, delays, and parameters arise.
The way to start is by recognizing that the way we see the world is, in fact, a worldview. It's not reality; it's just a way of making sense of what we experience.
Our worldview is simply the way we view the world. And therefore, it can be changed.
That, in time, leads to the highest leverage point, according to Meadows, which is to transcend paradigms altogether.
To reach this level, one must be able "to keep oneself unattached in the area of paradigms, to stay flexible, to realize that no paradigm is 'true,' and that every one, including the one that sweetly shapes your own worldview, is a tremendously limited understanding of an immense and amazing universe that is far beyond human comprehension. It is to 'get' at the gut level that there are paradigms, and to see that that in itself is a paradigm, and to regard that whole realization as devastatingly funny."
Let's laugh together!
And when we're not transcending paradigms and finding everything devastatingly amusing, let's assess leverage to supercharge our change.
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