Entropy: Why It’s So Hard To Stay Consistent

Messy paper in a high state of entropy

Executive Summary

  • phenomenon in physics where everything moves from a state of order to more disorder, but never the other way around.
  • Entropy also affects your life. It means your hard work can be undone if you’re not consistent with working on our habits, goals and systems.
  • 4 things you can do in light of entropy are:
    1. 1) Stop making things so complicated
    2. 2) Cut the fat
    3. 3) Do the work
    4. 4) Be kind to yourself

How many times has this happened to you? You work on building a new habit for a few months. Then you go on holiday or take a break and all your hard work is undone in a matter of days. Isn’t it frustrating when this happens?

It’s called entropy – it’s hard-baked into every system in the world. I’ll share with you why you should take notice and what you can do about it.

What is Entropy?

In physics , entropy describes how our world tends to move from a state of order to a state of disorder and chaos. It’s the reason why your shoelaces come undone over time. It’s the reason why your earphones get tangled up when you leave them in your pocket. There’s a billion and one ways in which something can be in disarray, but only a handful of ways in which they’re in an organised state.

(If you’re interested in learning more about entropy, you might like this video!)

Things will either stay the same or become more disorganised, but they will never become more organised on their own. The only way for things to become more organised or for entropy to reduce is for someone to put in energy to put them in order.

But entropy isn’t limited to the world of science – it’s everywhere.

Everything, from your inbox, your desk, you’re finances to our political systems – entropy means they’ll fall apart if we don’t put effort into maintaining them.

What Entropy Means For Your Life

Because entropy is a given in every part of your life, it means you should plan your life and build your habits around it.

So when it comes to setting goals, starting projects, building habits or staying organised, it means you’ll backslide real fast if you’re not working on them consistently.

Because of this, you need to focus on the most important things and be intentional with what you want to do. Your energy and time are limited. You’ll strain yourself or achieve very little if you try and juggle too many different things.

What You Can Do About Entropy

Even though you can’t stop entropy, you can work around it. Here’s 4 things you can do to stop entropy from holding you back from keeping on top of your life.

1) Stop Making Things So Complicated

When you feel particularly inspired or motivated to get organised, you might be tempted to create elaborate systems to file and sort out your life. It might stick for a couple of months, but it’ll inevitably come undone if you go on holiday or neglect it for too long.

When we implement new habits or ways of doing things, we can become so focused on the benefits, but we don’t realise how much effort it takes to keep it up. Even though your new system or routine might seem desirable, it might not be very sustainable.

Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS)

Magpie sitting on a branch

In Australia, magpies are a real problem. They’re territorial birds and they dive at you and try to take your eye out along the way. They also like to collect and hoard shiny objects. What they do with them, I have absolutely no idea.

But people like shiny objects too. And they don’t need to be physical like a new gadget or car. They can be stories, experiences or ideas. The “new-ness” or novelty sets off a rush of feel-good hormones in your brain (dopamine) that rewards you for stimulating it.

Dopamine’s not bad – it’s the reason why we enjoy new experiences and it helps us get out of bed every morning.

Here’s the problem. When you first implement a new habit, organisation system or goal and make progress on it, it feels great. Cue dopamine rush. But what inevitably happens is that over time, the novelty wears off and there’s less dopamine. And you’re left with a goal, a habit or system that’s too hard to keep up.

So the next time you feel like taking on some ideas from a book, YouTube video or blog post (cough cough), or making a new resolution, take a step back. Ask yourself whether it’s something which you’ll want to be doing 6 months from now. Think about whether the extra effort is really worth it. Because as you know, entropy make it hard for new things to stick.

2) Cut The Fat

When you reflect on your life and all the projects, systems and goals you’ve committed to, you might feel overwhelmed by all the balls you need to keep in the air. If you do, it’s time to go on a commitment diet.

Look at all the systems, habits and goals you’ve signed yourself up to. Which ones are add real value and meaning to your life? Which ones really push the needle forward for you? Cut the rest.

Now look at what’s left. Can you see yourself doing the same habits, maintaining the same systems and working towards or achieving the same goals in 6 months time? If not, how can you make them simpler, so that it’s easier to keep going in the long run. We often keep adding things to our life without thinking about whether it’s sustainable in the long run.

3) Do The Work

Once you’ve simplified all your habits, goals and systems, start doing the work. Because entropy is always at work in the background, you need to put in energy to keep these things going.

That’s why you need to pare down and stick to keeping habits, goals and systems you can actually maintain for the long haul. There’s no point trying to create an elaborate design in your bullet journal every month or week if it’s going to become a chore later on. There’s no point trying to go for a 5km run every day if you don’t normally work on your cardio very often.

Do the work, but make sure it’s stuff you can do and stuff that adds value.

4) Be Kind To Yourself

Finally, you need to remember that you’re only human. You’ll make mistakes. Lots of them,. So show yourself grace in equal measure.

Our society values performance and hustle culture. But I think sometimes there’s an unhealthy focus on constantly being your best and always maximising your productivity. There’s no room for slack or margin. It’s trained us to hold ourselves to the same high standards. But you can’t possibly keep up this pace indefinitely. You’re only human.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t dream big or push yourself. But when you drop the ball or mess up, your inner critic comes out, ready to remind you of how inadequate and weak you are. You’ve been fed a narrative that you need to be your best self and that you can do anything you put your mind to. But it’s the same narrative that doesn’t recognise that your worth and dignity as a human goes far beyond how productive or successful you are.

Conclusion: Entropy Sucks, So Embrace The Suck

So embrace the way things are and the way you are. Entropy happens and it’s frustrating and discouraging. You’ll need to have streamline systems, goals and plans so that you can keep them up long-term. At times you’ll mess up and sometimes even end up back at where you started.

As former American baseball catcher Carlton Fisk said:

“It’s not what you achieve, it’s what you overcome. That’s what defines your career.”

How will you simplify your habits, goals or systems today? I’d love to hear in the comments down below!

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