Where to Start? Assess Leverage

Assess Leverage2There are a thousand things you could do to improve your health.

Last week I outlined nine of them.

Nine is a lot!

And those nine don’t include things like addressing the impacts of gene mutations; figuring out if you have an electromagnetic sensitivity; or hacking your sexuality.

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?

Donella MeadowsSystems TheoristI 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 Worksheets

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Transcending Paradigms

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~.

Assess Leverage3

7 thoughts on “Where to Start? Assess Leverage

  1. I love this!

    It touches on what we were discussing just last week. Change ain’t easy and often results in failure. Assessing leverage points will undoubtedly lead to higher levels of success…. Brilliant!

  2. Hey Petra– I have been following your blog for a long time and am finally getting into health self experimentation. As a fellow evaluator (I found you via AEA365 :)), I appreciate your strategic and data-driven approach. Wondering if you could give an example of what assessing leverage looks like on a daily basis? Thanks!

    • It has taken me a couple of days to answer this because I’ve been thinking about it and observing myself. Basically I have 2 modes: 1.) Doing something that I have determined is high leverage; or 2.) Assessing leverage. I know that might make me sound like a robot that has no fun. But having fun is really high leverage! So is doing yoga, spending time in nature, connecting with people I care about, and doing all the other things that restore me. I am always evaluating the leverage of any of these activities. Not necessarily while I’m doing them, but after. And not on an incident-by-incident basis. I’m not necessarily asking: was today’s experience of being in nature sufficiently high leverage? But instead, is connecting to nature still high leverage for me, and if so, is the way in which I am approaching this connection also high leverage? What could I do to get more impact for my effort? In that way, I’m always adjusting. Trying new things. Observing. I am also changing. What is high leverage for me evolves as I do. As for practical strategies, I plan. I put high leverage things in my calendar and when they are scheduled, I do them. Unless a higher leverage opportunity presents itself, in which case I adapt. When I am not involved in an activity that I have already decided is high leverage, I am scanning. I’m scanning the systems that I care about and have determined are high leverage for me to ally myself with. Usually some of those systems are doing their thing and don’t need any tending from me. Some need a little nudge. Or a big intervention. Sometimes the little nudge is higher leverage then the big intervention. Because it’s easier. And with that nudge, that system will just continue to self-organize and I can turn my attention to the gnarlier things. When I get overwhelmed by all this scanning, which totally happens, I get out my trusty notebook and write it out. I write about all the systems that I care about and have determined are high leverage for me to ally myself with. I write about their current status, as I understand it, and what steps could be taken to help those systems evolve in a way that is high leverage and aligned with my long-term goals. I go through these lists and determine: 1.) What’s important; and 2.) What’s easy; to prioritize actions. Some actions will rise to the top for today and some for farther in the future. I go to my calendar and schedule things in, make adjustments there as required. And get going on the next high leverage activity on my list. It’s a pretty low tech approach. But that’s how I run my life! This is a really long response. I think I’ll make it even longer and turn it into a blog post!

      • Thank you! I’d love to read a blog post about this as well. It would be helpful if you could give some specific examples of decision making or planning, so to make it clear how the process goes for you. I’m all about efficiency and think I favor the high leverage easy stuff and tend to neglect the high leverage important stuff, if it is more time consuming or about taking care of myself (since in the grand scheme it is important, but in the day-to-day, it always seems like there’s more important stuff to do). As always, I appreciate your perspective!

  3. Pingback: 8 Areas for Health (Pick 1! Part 2) | petra8paleo

  4. Pingback: 12 Tips for Caregivers: supporting your (reluctant) loved-one to start a healing protocol | petra8paleo

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