Many people think of self-improvement and assume it just means some sort of self-help for those with problems. They think of psychologists psychoanalyzing patients or touchy feely books about loving yourself.
Years ago I stumbled upon some books that looked at self-improvement differently. One of the first books that I read related to this was Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles. This was the first time I broke away from thinking that anything related to self-improvement must just be for those with problems and realized that everyone could look to improve.
I meet a lot of people that claim they want to improve in some way. It might be to get a degree, a promotion at work, or drop 10 lbs. But while the desire for improvement is there, most of the time there is such disconnect in how to reach that goal that failure becomes inevitable.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can make strides in the right direction and move towards our goals. But we have to change our thinking.
Many of us are taught at a young age to judge. We judge situations, we judge others, and we judge events.
But if we get caught up too much in judging we tend to move away from accountability in our lives. Instead we can always point to something that we judge is wrong or unfair, instead of owning up to our lives and taking full responsibility for where we are and what we have.
I found a great website that discusses Peter Senge’s work and explains it very well. Senge is one of the most popular systems thinking writers around and his ideas are very profound.
The website simplifies the concept of systems thinking by stating, “The world IS NOT created of separate unrelated forces. However, individuals have difficulty seeing the whole pattern. Systems thinking is a conceptual framework, a body of knowledge and tools that has been developed over the past fifty years, to make the full patterns clearer, and to help us see how to change effectively and with the least amount of effort – to find the leverage points in a system.”
Most people want success. They want money, accolades, rewards, recognition etc. for a job well done. They can easily point to things that they have done to deserve those things. But they also seem to gloss over the areas where they didn’t really work towards the right areas, or they didn’t work hard enough, or they weren’t willing to sacrifice what was truly necessary in order to reach their goal.
Some people say it is a problem with motivation. They assume we just need to better motivate our teams or ourselves and we will succeed. But I tend to see motivation as a very small part of it.
Systems can be used to create order and structure to our lives. They can be developed to build the right habits in order to reach our goals or increase our chance of success.
But systems can also hurt our ability to succeed. In life, we have to remain flexible. We can’t build and plan for every possible situation. We have to build up our foundation and then allow for us to take different approaches to different situations.
Most problems that we face today are actually patterns that go unnoticed. In business we may have the same culture issues that we keep wrestling with, each time feeling as though it is a unique problem with a unique staff member.
In our personal lives we may continue to mismanage our schedule only to complain to everyone we know how we are too busy all the time. We may never take the time to truly fix the real problem, only willing to address the symptoms of the problem.
We all want to see results of hard work quickly. If we are putting ourselves in an uncomfortable position, we don’t want to remain there for very long.
That is the drive that many use as fuel to drive harder and harder at their goals. They work extremely hard so that the goal can be reached quicker. The mindset is to suffer now so that later we can stop suffering and enjoy the fruits of our labor.
There is a tool that is often used in medical facilities, airplane cockpits, businesses, schools, the military and many other areas. It helps prevent mistakes and has an incredible ability to make sure that individuals do not forget important, yet routine, aspects of what they are doing.
The tool is so simple that a young child can utilize it. It is so effective that brain surgeons use it. It doesn’t require high intelligence or years of life experience. It doesn’t limit an expert but helps them break free from the mundane and often tedious actions that have to happen over and over again.
There is a big difference between contentment and complacency. Being content means that we don’t need anything more in order to be happy. Being complacent means that we have given up because we don’t feel we can have any more than what have already.
The first difference is the fact that being content contains an element of being happy while complacency holds unhappiness at its core.
One of the things that come from taking the systems and habits approach to improvement is that we start to see the complexity around our goals. We see that there are many factors and they all play a role.
Some of these factors are things that will strengthen the current systems and habits and make it difficult to change. Some are things that will be impacted by a new system change.
I read a lot of articles on nutrition, health, finance, education etc. I always have a biased view because of my belief in the systems and habits approach to improve. The bad thing is that this could shift the way I take in new information.
But the good thing is that I can pick out techniques and principles that come directly from the systems and habits approach to improvement. It could be that someone stumbled onto something that just seems to work without seeing the full system at play, or it could be that they learned it from someone that is using these techniques to improve.
The systems and habits in our lives are not easily changed. Whether it is a habit that we want to stop doing or a new habit we are trying to create, we push against something very powerful.
This is why, so often, change fails. We see this in the world around us as much as we see it in ourselves. A new leader emerges but after years of their change policies, we aren’t really left in a better position. More often than not the change is subtle and becomes change for the sake of change, rather than for improvement.
One of the concepts that came out of systems thinking is feedback. Feedback in the systems view is very similar to the feedback you hear when on stage and the microphone and speakers work together to create that loud, annoying, piercing sound we have all heard at one point or another.
In a very basic sense, the microphone picking up the sound output from the speaker causes the feedback from the PA system. This tends to happen to frequencies that get accentuated through the system and are boosted slightly above the rest of the sound spectrum.
We all have strengths and weaknesses. Nobody is perfect so there are always things that can be considered strength and things that can be considered weak.
I had a former college professor tell us “a strength overdone becomes a weakness.” At first I was surprised by such a statement but have since realized the wisdom in those words.
There is a major difference between more and better but most people misunderstand this difference. They lump the two together, since they are often found together, and then assume a push towards more is a push towards better. But it isn’t.
Much of this stems from the difference between contentment and complacency. Being content means that we don’t need more in order to be happy and fulfilled. But it usually results in continuing to improve, not to achieve more but to keep getting better.
When most people hear about systems they immediately get the misconception that this must involve rigid rules with no flexibility. They hear about processes, procedures, habits, and structure and automatically assume these are inflexible.
But the best systems can be described as flexible. And if we are using the systems and habits approach to improvement in our personal lives, we have to embrace the idea of a flexible system.
The Tao Te Ching is a 2500-year-old text that has provided wisdom for decades. It has been referred to as the wisest book ever written. It uses paradoxes (opposites) to break down common thinking to show flaws.
Studying systems thinking, I have always been surprised by the similarities between the Tao and systems thinking principles. I’ve written about this and recently found a book that molds these two together in a very insightful way.
In life, we always have a choice yet many of us go through life feeling as though we don’t. We feel that we don’t have enough opportunity or the right situations never seem to come up for us.
This negative mindset tends to create a feeling of hopelessness. We feel that there’s no hope for improvement so we shut down and look for external sources to point the finger at.
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.
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