You and your health are part of a situation.
If there’s something you want to change about your health, start with the situation.
Most advice about goal achievement skips this step. But a quick analysis of the situation (system) that is impacting your health will help ensure that your goals are appropriate and your strategies are effective.
Ready? Let’s do it!
An easy way to begin is by asking: Is this situation simple or complex?
Simple or Complex?
The Stacey Matrix is a tool that answers that question.
It has two dimensions:
- Certainty &
- If there is a high level of certainty, cause and effect in your situation are obvious. You know exactly what is triggering your health issues: you stay up late one night and the next day you’re tired.
- If there is a low level of certainty, cause and effect are not apparent. You can’t tell what is causing your health issues. For example, you’ve been sleeping enough, and your doctor has been running tests and making suggestions, and you’ve been combing the internet and trying everything within reason to improve your energy, but you’re still chronically tired.
- When there is a high level of agreement, there’s consensus about the approach you should take. As in, everyone agrees that blue light before bed can interfere with sleep, and they all recommend limiting evening screen time or wearing orange-tinted glasses at night to improve sleep.
- When there is a low level of agreement, there are conflicting perspectives (or no information) about the best way to handle your situation. A scenario might go like this: Your naturopath and your doctor have run tests and made conflicting recommendations in an attempt to reduce your fatigue, all of which you’ve tried, and nothing has worked and now they’re both out of ideas and it’s awkward when you show up to see them because they have nothing more to suggest.
When there are high levels of certainty and high levels of agreement, your situation is simple.
That doesn’t mean that change is easy.
Just that you know what you need to do to achieve your goal.
If you need information, there’s lots out there and almost all of it is the same.
Most advice about goal setting and achievement assumes that your situation is simple. That all you need to do is make a plan and stick to it.
When conditions are simple, it makes sense to invest your energy in supporting your change process, to make sure that the conditions in your life will support you in achieving your health goal. It can be helpful to:
- Understand the Stages of Change;
- Ensure that the goal you set is inside your Zone Of Proximal Development;
- Conduct a Force Field Analysis to focus your planning and fast-track the change process; and
- Gather Data to ensure you stay on track. Quantified Self has 51 pages of online self-tracking tools and qualitative methods can also be used.
When there are low levels of certainty about cause and effect and low levels of agreement about how to proceed, your situation is complex.
There may be multiple interacting causes and time delays at play. Opinions about strategies may be polarized. Or non-existent. You will need to learn about your situation as you go.
If the levels of certainty and levels of agreement get too low, you tip from complexity into chaos. I’ll write more about that soon.
When conditions are complex, you are wading deeper into n=1 territory.
If strategies are not obvious at first, it makes sense to invest your energy in tactics that are both low-risk and high-leverage (like stress management and cleaning your laboratory with a healing protocol). Focus on approaches that will improve your overall health while you learn more about the specific strategies that will work for your situation.
The approaches for achieving goals in simple situations (above) can still be useful. But the more complex your circumstances, the less you will be able to rely on rules, and the more you will need to apply principles.
When circumstances are complex, it may be helpful to:
- Determine what’s actionable;
- Create a theory of change and plan an n=1 experiment using the scientific method to test that theory; and
- Select some personalized indicators of well-being to guide you on your quest.
“It’s Complicated” (or, actually, it may be chaos…)
There are two other possible situations you might be grappling with, according to the Stacey Matrix:
- Complicated ones; and
I’ll consider those in part 2 of this post.