Information on systems thinking and how to use the systems and habits approach to improvement.
Too often when we want to change something in our lives to get better, we assume that the answer is that we just have to be tougher. We have to fight against the urges that we know lead us in the wrong direction.
We have to focus. We have to be strong. In short, we have to rely on our willpower in order to succeed and reach our goal.
When it comes to setting goals and trying to get better, most of us inherently gravitate towards effort. We think we just need to put forth more effort in order to succeed.
Effort is important. Without at least some effort any attempt at improvement will likely fail. But because most people only know effort-based execution, they can’t see the horrible limitations that are imposed if all we can do is give more effort.
Most of us are surrounded by events and actions that we judge as either good or bad. We can usually find reasons to justify our reasoning and then we react accordingly.
But what if that part of our thinking is actually wrong? What if judging something is flawed in a way that predisposes us towards unhappiness?
Our ability to use systems thinking to see the whole is important. Instead of relying on linear thinking and only seeing small sections of the whole system, we can envision the interrelationships, patterns, structures and mental models.
But why is it that linear thinking tends to guide us towards only a small snapshot of the whole? Why does it become difficult to see the full picture?
We all know the feeling. We have some big problem weighing on us. Any moment that we aren’t distracted by something else we think about it.
We worry, we stress, and we want so desperately for this problem to go away. We focus so much on wanting the problem to be gone that we try every trick in the book to relieve the stress on our minds.
I read a lot of articles on systems thinking and one thing that I notice is that many times they focus too much on the negative. They point to a large system and show how the structures reinforce something bad or we can never improve as a society because of too much linear thinking.
Systems thinkers become expert critics of everyone and everything else around them. Sometimes they use it to be smarter than everyone they talk to.
Peter Senge talks about a concept called dynamic complexity in his book, The Fifth Discipline. He says that the world is becoming more and more complex every day.
Most of understand this from the standpoint of detail complexity. This is the complexity around the specifics of an issue and around the details.
Creating a new system can be great way to try to improve and change something. By creating a new system to address a problem we are tackling the problem in a very direct and purposeful way.
But creating a new system can be extremely difficult. There is no certainty that the new system will work and no way to know exactly how to structure it.
Blaming others for our problems is incredibly easy. In almost every conceivable scenario we find a way to shift some blame towards something external.
But blaming something “external” doesn’t make sense from a systems thinking standpoint. In linear thinking it does because the way the problem is framed, but it doesn’t make sense when look at the full system.
In systems thinking, speed isn’t looked at the same as in linear thinking. In linear thinking, the faster we can go the better.
The linear thinking goes… if growth in business is good, then faster growth is better; if improving one’s finances are good then gaining money quickly must be better; if getting healthy is good, getting there immediately is better.
Many people have felt motivation to change something in their life at one time or another. The desire to correct for a weakness or get better in some area is common.
What also is common is the mistake that we tend to make where we ignore the structures in place and just assume sheer effort will get us there. We think we just need more motivation to find success.
One of the areas that can be difficult for people who want to improve and grow is to be able to take in negative or constructive feedback and make changes.
This can be an incredible way to gain insight into areas that are holding you back. But you have to be able to calm your emotional response and then evaluate the feedback without strong emotion.
There are three elements to a strong system. First, it has to be simple. Second, it has to be sticky. Third, it has to be self-regulating.
Simplicity is a key to a system being able to sustain because the more complex it is the more likely steps will be forgotten or skipped. If it is complex, it may never even get going because the complexity would be a deterrent for someone trying to take on the system.
Each time there is a deadly mass shooting in the United States, we get a sense of the larger systems at play with regards to guns. Some will point to an aspect of the system and feel they have a solution. Some will defend their position. Some will work to use the event for political gain.
The systems in the United States around guns are incredibly complex and deeply ingrained in the various beliefs people have. This makes a simple, linear solution impossible.
The way we approach new goals and dreams, in many ways, reflects how we feel about learning. The parallels between the two can shed light on ways we might be sabotaging our efforts to improve.
In Presence, by Peter Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski and Betty Sue Flowers, the authors state that, “When we’re learning something new, we can feel awkward, incompetent and even foolish. It’s easy to convince ourselves that it’s really not so important after all to incorporate the new – and so we give up.”
In life there are numerous things that we want to change. Many times we want change to happen for us, fitting neatly in the exact way that fits us best.
But if there is change that we desire, we can’t just sit idly by and hope others do it for us. We have to find a way to move from saying we should change something to actually changing it.
I used to think that to improve meant that you had to have some negative emotion that you were trying to correct. In other words, there has to be something that you don’t like in order to work hard to change something.
Years ago I came across the Yerkes-Dodson curve. The Yerkes-Dodson curve shows that as arousal and anxiety increase our performance increases up to a point and then decreases as we add more arousal or anxiety.
Our society likes to make assumptions about the effort one makes towards a goal. We see a tennis player win a tournament and say their effort is what made it happen.
Or we see a scientific discovery and assume their effort in thinking through the problem was the key factor that allowed them to succeed.
In college I was struggling with a problem that I eventually solved in a way that made that problem obsolete in the future. It seemed like a problem that I had to solve over and over until I used a simple, systematic way to make sure the problem never came back up.
That is the benefit of systems thinking to solve problems and reach goals. It extends beyond the specific problem you are facing right now and provides long-term solutions that can eliminate similar problems coming up in the future.
Whenever we set a goal, there is a surge of excitement and motivation around that goal. We can visualize the accomplishment of the goal.
This might provide a spark of motivation and hope but it also tends to gloss over the path to success. It minimizes the difficult work ahead.
The other day I was listening to a speaker that I really admire and they were talking about goals. They talked about sitting down and setting over one hundred goals.
They talked about how important it was to do this and how most people never write down any goals, which means they keep them in the wish arena rather than concrete goals.
Many years ago I falsely believed that in order to improve, we have to have a hole in us that we strive to fill. We have to be unhappy in order to push harder to get better.
I assumed that being happy meant that we didn’t need to work any longer, that we must have arrived. Seeing individuals at the top of their fields who continued to work must mean that they deny themselves happiness in an attempt to gain more success.
We all want better things in our lives. Whether we just want more of something, or we want an improvement in something, we want to see things get better.
It might be that we look at the government and hope it can improve to better fit our beliefs. It might be that we want our boss to stop nagging us and let us do whatever we think is best at the time.
A lot of times when people that I talk to struggle with their goals, we find that one of the best ways to get past that struggle is to change the timeframe in which they view those goals.
We have all probably heard someone say they are going to do something great with their life. They go on and on and then you come to find out that they haven’t done any of the hard work yet. They have only spent time dreaming about what it will be like after they do the work.
Have you ever wanted to change something so bad that you couldn’t imaging wanting that change more than you do right now? You felt passionate, motivated and invincible. But then over time you slowly fell back into your old habits and routines and the drive for change slowly evaporated.
Most people that I know rarely change. They remain relatively the same throughout their lives.
Many of us understand disappointment. It is a part of life and, unfortunately, something we all have to face from time to time.
It can be devastating, crippling, painful and an emotional roller coaster. It can feel like the world is crashing down and putting all it’s weight on our shoulders.
I’ve written several articles on linear thinking versus systems thinking and one of the things I say is that human thinking is flawed. We tend to miss the full system and instead we look to understand the whole by only seeing a small part.
In How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer, the author explores this idea further. The brain expert examines how we make decisions and why we decide what we decide.
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.
This website has been developed to help you understand the power of systems and habits in your life and then take action to build the person that you want to become. There are over 70 free articles, 1 free eBook, and free videos and links to other system and habit experts.