Aside from my dismal music wordplay, there are a multitude of reasons why someone interested in both disability and productivity might want to look at the advice of author James Clear. In fact, the quote that forms the foundation of much of his work, “We don’t rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems” seems deceptively simple and easy to apply to a disabled body and/or mind.
Clear’s concept of habit formation is that, paraphrasing him again for a second, every decision we make is a vote for the kind of person we are or would like to be. If you choose to work out enough times, you become an athlete. If you choose to clean your room often, then you shift towards seeing yourself as an organised person. No word yet on how many times one has to see themselves as disabled before they are accepted as disabled, that’s a topic for therapy rather than a daily newsletter.
His view is that you can have all the earnest goals in the world—looking at you, New Year’s resolutions—but without the consistent backbone of way in which you fairly regularly do your tasks, meeting those goals is going to be immeasurably harder.
But looking at Clear, and his book Atomic Habits, through the lens of disability it’s always struck me that the systems Clear talks about seem to be fairly finite. They might shift, for example he often talks about how fatherhood and the massive success of his book reoriented his understanding of systems, but there is still a singular bedrock of identity there. He still, it’s quite obvious, trusts his body and his brain to behave similarly every day. Oh, to have that luxury.
So, what if you have multiple systems? I’m not just talking about systems in a disability way—those with dissociative identity disorder sometimes choose to call their collective consciousnesses a system to better explain their lived experiences—but also different systems of getting things done. I think disabled people who are even a little bit in touch with what their bodies and minds need tend to have to have a metric ton of systems (to be precise) depending on the day. Low energy day? That morning routine is going to look a lot different than when you were full of energy. Bad weather or high pain day? You might need to use a different system to transfer into your wheelchair. Just got back from a family reunion? Welcome to being neurodivergent and needing to employ a different system just to claw back any amount of executive function for basic living tasks.
Point being, I think goals are important, especially SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) but so are systems. However, one system isn’t enough. I’d suggest we need to consciously think, as disabled people, about our systems on a bad, a middling, and a good day. This can get incredibly overwhelming, but when I was rebuilding the understanding of the system I needed to build a few months ago, I started with a fairly clear routine surrounding when I let my dogs out into the backyard, when I made coffee, and when I read a book of my choosing. Within the next few newsletters I’ll be talking about morning routines (I know, I know) so there will be more time and space to ruminate on systems then, but for now I’ll leave you with a link to my favourite podcast featuring Clear.
I've decided to shift CRPL to a 5 times a week newsletter about productivity as I am fascinated by the topic, am in the early stage of writing a book about it, and want to have a place to think, and write, and create work about this vital area of thinking. Click below to join the daily newsletter and/or to help financially support this project.