There is a great quote by Dr. Wayne Dyer that I absolutely love. The quote is, “if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
While this quote definitely fits with Dyer’s writing style and ability to explain higher-level understanding of our internal selves, it also has a practicality that may be missed if we don’t look carefully.
Habits are very important parts of our lives. Psychologists have estimated that up to 95% of our lives are controlled by habit.
Habit dictates more than just the commonly thought of behaviors like biting fingernails or smoking cigarettes. Habit controls our behavior much more than this. It dictates how we get through the routines in our day. It tells us how to do everyday tasks such as driving a car. It even controls how we think and the patterns of thought that then strongly influence our behavior.
Most people misunderstand taking risks. When I was younger I thought taking risks meant that I needed to take chances in order to expand my knowledge and abilities and grow. But I also naively assumed that taking a risk didn’t have consequences.
Looking back now it seems ludicrous. But I really thought that I could take risks and by working harder than others I could avoid the downside of those risks. In other words, I thought I would immune to the failure part of taking a risk because I would work harder.
The danger of too much linear thinking and not enough systems thinking is that you miss seeing interconnectedness that may be very important. Everything around us is made up of systems and without a clear understanding of the system you may be doing more harm than good.
I heard that doctors have a saying, “first, do no harm.” They use it to establish a common ethos that leaves the patient the same or better than they would be without the professional medical help.
From time to time, we all feel the need to change something about us. Maybe we want to quit smoking or lose weight. Maybe we want to get more education or pay off our credit card debt.
Maybe we want to be a better student, or better at work. Maybe we want to be more invested in the relationships in our lives or develop a deeper spiritual connection with God.
It is really easy to find fault in others. Nobody is perfect so it is extremely easy to point out things that we don’t like about others or things that others are doing wrong.
But there really isn’t any value in that. In fact, by doing that, we tend to quickly shift blame when things go wrong in order to bypass any responsibility. But this responsibility is exactly what we need in order to improve.
There are a lot of authors that explain goals and how important it is to have goals. They tend to stress the importance of setting goals in order to improve throughout one’s life.
But despite the overabundance of information available, many of us still struggle. The reason is simple… having knowledge of something doesn’t mean it magically gets done.
When it comes to most systems we want to better understand their purpose. What do they do and why are they there?
We may be able to gain insight into the system and the elements of the system and then use this to understand why certain parts of the system exist.
In The Success Principles, author Jack Canfield says that we should all take 100% responsibility for everything in our lives. We should take responsibility even when it seems outside of our control.
I completely agree with this. Too often in life we find external reasons to point to. We find things to blame or things to point to instead of taking full responsibility even though some aspects may fall outside of our control. Yes, there are always things we can’t control, but anything less than taking 100% responsibility can quickly become a way to make excuses.
I often hear of people resist systematic improvement due to their worry they will ultimately lose their creativity. They view these things as opposites and assume striving towards one will loosen the other.
But this isn’t true. If we look at some of the most creative people in history, we usually find that they are extremely dedicated to their craft and follow set patterns throughout their career.
We all want our problems to be fixed immediately. We want to instantly solve all our work or business problems, all our team problems, and all our habit problems.
The impatience that most of us have is normal. But this normal impatience is the reason so many of us don’t improve.
Years ago when I started a new job I remember getting into the role and identifying problem areas right away. From talking to others on the team, to reviewing data on past trends, I started to see a few areas that I would need to address in order to improve the team.
I remember feeling like I already worked through these problems. It was almost a feeling of deja vu. But it was new people, new projects, new situations, new everything.
The other day I was reading a story about a successful basketball coach. The story explained a situation where the team started to lose games and were in the midst of a disappointing season.
He was incredibly frustrated and felt the team didn’t care enough. So he relied on punishment to try and motivate the team. He worked them harder and harder and harder. But nothing worked and he just kept getting more and more frustrated at the team’s performance.
We are all constantly interacting with systems. Systems are all around us and constantly “working”. Sometimes they are specifically designed systems, such as the traffic light system, and other times they are there and we barely notice them, such as our habits around driving a car.
Systems thinkers argue that the deeper you get into the understanding of the system, the more leverage you gain. This means that you have more ability to change the system when you fully understand that system.
We all know the feeling. We feel frustrated and trapped and seem unable to break through. We don’t understand what is holding us back but we certainly feel it.
But while most of us intuitively know this feeling, we don’t explore it with enough depth and insight to actually make a change. Instead we usually power through until it eases up or we change direction.
Everyone is busy. I’ve worked in many different industries and in many different roles. I’ve worked with small businesses and large businesses and everything in between. One common theme is that everyone is always busy.
There is always something that needs attention, something that needs to get done. Fires are constantly coming up and most managers use the majority of their time to put the fires out. But there really is a better way.
Peter Senge, author The Fifth Discipline, describes system thinking throughout this book and several other books that he has written. He brings an understanding of thinking systematically (versus linearly) and explains how we can start to see the full system instead just a quick picture of one part of the system.
He says, “Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static ‘snapshots.’”
We all have gotten feedback on something we do or something we did that we didn’t like. It might be during a performance review at work, something a friend tells us or receiving a bad grade in school. While the information comes as something negative, we usually don’t realize that we can actually take this and use it to improve.
We don’t take constructive criticism very well. We get a jolt of emotion (fight or flight reaction) that often comes and it starts to cloud our thinking.
I learned a lot from being forced to get through a sleepless night. When my first daughter was born I was in complete shock at how little sleep I would get. I struggled each time I had to get up to help feed her, change her or just calm her down. In the morning I would have a difficult time making it to work on time and then making it through the day with such exhaustion.
But over time it got easier. By the time we had our second daughter, I would quickly wake up and tend to her. I could wake up over and over throughout the night and get little sleep. Somehow I got up for work and would make it through the day. It wasn’t always easy but I was shocked at how much easier it was once I got used to it.
Years ago I read about a doctor who was frustrated by his patient’s lack of physical activity. Regardless of the shape or ailments of the patient he stressed the importance of getting 30 minutes of exercise every other day.
But when those patients came back to see him weeks or months later, such a small number had taken his advice that he grew frustrated. He decided to change his approach. Instead of 30 minutes every other day, he simply said to do 60 seconds (1 minute) of exercise every single day.
In an article titled Some Notes on Management in a Hospital, Dr. W. Edwards Deming said, “Hard work and best efforts are not sufficient for optimization of a system. A system must be managed.”
There is a lot of value that can be taken from this quote from Deming. We can use the wisdom from it to help us improve.
Seeing the underlying systems in our lives helps us to improve. It allows us to see more and understand more when trying to get better.
Dr. W. Edwards Deming is well known for his work with Japanese manufacturing after 1950. Many people point directly to Deming to explain the incredible success that Japanese manufacturing had in the 1980s and beyond.
There is a trend in business management right now where leaders of companies sacrifice the long-term health of their business to achieve quick results. They do this by making shortsighted decisions that will bring in early wins but ultimately impact the future of the company in a negative way.
This makes sense when you study today’s business environment. Board members seem more and more impatient. They tend to look at the CEO with a “what have you done for me lately” mindset.
There is a flaw in the way we think. While there are complex systems all around us at all times, we tend to disregard most of the system to key in on the specific piece that matters most to us.
At times this is useful. We may not care about the full parking enforcement systems in a city to know that we should put money in the meter to avoid a ticket. We may not care about weather systems when we just want to know if it will rain on our cook out.
Ninety percent of an iceberg is under water. That means that the visible, above-water section of the iceberg is really only 10%. But if we never explore below the water, we would never even realize that most of the iceberg is not seen from the surface.
Systems thinking is the mental equivalent to the 90% of the iceberg that is hidden. It goes deeper than the linear thinking which only accounts for the visible 10%.
Setting goals or New Years Resolution can be a great way to take charge of the direction of your life. But too often these are misunderstood. They are set and then we expect motivation, effort and willpower to take over and drive us towards success.
But this is misleading. Have you ever set a goal but then over the next week or so completely lost the motivation to pursue that goal? Of course. We all have.
I talk to a lot of people about goals and New Years resolutions. Whether in business, sports, finance, or health I tend to hear people talk about what they hope to achieve.
This makes a lot of sense. We are taught throughout our lives that we have to know the target we want to hit. But this is very misleading.
ost people never really evaluate or focus on the systems and habits in their lives. They simply focus on the end result or changes that they deem as temporary.
But temporary doesn’t work. Changing your diet, exercise routine, spending habits, work processes, goals etc. won’t have lasting change when we only set a short time frame to make these adjustments.
Years ago I had a chance to listen to a successful business owner speak about what he did to have the success he had. He gave a very inspiring speech with valuable business insight but there were two things that he really emphasized throughout his talk.
The first was to keep things simple. He talked about the complexity that naturally comes over time and that in order to stay focused and rule out distractions we have to simplify. We have to find the unnecessary complexity and remove it. Even when complexity exists and we can’t avoid it, we have to find ways to understand the situation in a simplified way to make the best decisions and avoid getting analysis paralysis.
One of the things that I have learned when I talk to young people is that they tend to see things in black and white. They see all of the pros of a situation or all of the cons but they can’t see both to realize that both always exist together.
It may be that they always see the grass as being greener on the other side or they can’t keep a job because once they start working they quickly see the hard work instead of the benefits of having that job.
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