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Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

How to increase your happiness set point

Scott Miker

The other day I started reading a new book, Start Here, Master the Lifelong Habit of Wellbeing.  I saw this book at the library and started reading it, not expecting to gain too much insight from it.

As I read the early chapters, I came across a section that blew me away.  It referenced the Tao Te Ching and talked about many themes of happiness and wellness that I have explored, but did so in an amazingly straightforward and insightful way.  Suddenly a lot of different areas of exploration in my personal wellness journey came together in a new, yet familiar way. 

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The systems and habits approach to worrying less

Scott Miker

We all worry at times.  Sometimes we worry that our job is at risk and sometimes we worry that a new illness is something more than a cold. 

While everyone has moments of worry, some people worry more than others.  I used to worry about everything and it consumed my life.  At the time it felt like this was something I had no control over and just had to cope with. 

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Live in the present

Scott Miker

I’ve often heard the advice to live life as if today was your last day.  I’ve never liked this advice and recently when I heard it, I realized just how much this advice could lead to poor decisions.

When I was younger my philosophy on life was quite different.  I drank and partied a bit much so if I were told I would die the next day I would probably choose to live that day partying and having fun.  I would ignore any consequences to my actions and give in to any temptations that surface.

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Work through the discomfort and gain control of the little voice in your head

Scott Miker

Following the systems and habits approach to improve some aspect of your life you will certainly come up against times when you want to keep going but the discomfort around that builds and builds. 

When we try to change ingrained habits we can put the odds on our side by starting small, focusing on progress over perfection and being flexible.  But there will still be times when it is very difficult to keep going.

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A rigid mind fails

Scott Miker

Many people hear me discuss the systems and habits approach to improvement and think that must mean a very rigid, disciplined approach.  But that is not correct.  In reality the systems and habits approach is incredibly flexible.

Flexibility is important.  When software engineers started to realize the traditional, structured approach to project management led to failure, they came up with Agile Project Management.  They learned that by having small iterations it doesn’t lock you in like a complex project plan does. 

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Values and beliefs mean nothing if your behavior doesn’t align

Scott Miker

There are a lot of books that talk about identifying your values and then clarifying them so that you can live your life on purpose.  The idea is that, if we only know for certain what we believe, we can then live out our life with the purpose and meaning we all crave.

They claim the remedy to an unfulfilled life is simply a better understanding of what you want in life.  Find this and everything else will follow.

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Doing the right thing can be done step by step

Scott Miker

Most of us know what we should do in most situations.  But our behaviors often follow something else.

We go out with friends instead of preparing for the report that is due.  We smoke, eat junk food, and watch too much TV, when we know those things are not good for us.

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Don’t find problems and then stop

Scott Miker

Everyone is different.  We all have varying experiences and beliefs that make us who we are.  We are each unique and add value in our own way.

But this doesn’t mean that there aren’t common patterns.  In fact, many of us probably see recurring behaviors by different people and see the similarity in each person’s approach. 

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Small changes done over and over become powerful

Scott Miker

The systems and habits approach to improvement relies on very small steps.  We find small improvements that we can do and then we do them over and over again.

By doing this we start to slowly build new positive habits.  We think through these changes to make sure they help us get where we want to go.  Without this approach the habits form by default by whatever our recurring decisions happen to be.

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The goal should be improvement

Scott Miker

Plenty of people set goals.  We want more money, a bigger house, a better job or more time off.  The focus is to gain something or achieve some specific result.    

We don’t fully grasp the actions and behaviors that we will have to change in order to gain the reward that we envision.  This causes us to overlook crucial elements to reaching this goal.

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Be willing to work

Scott Miker

When I was in middle school I started to play football for my school.  I had never played tackle football but was raised in a family that was obsessed with football.

This put a lot of pressure on me.  I wanted to succeed and be able to play at a high level to help my team, but I was unsure if I would be good enough to even compete.

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Most systems go unnoticed until there is a problem

Scott Miker

We are constantly surrounded by and interacting with systems.  On a daily basis we encounter elements of various systems and don’t spend much time thinking about them.

It usually isn’t until there is a problem that we shift our focus to be on the system.  As soon as the problem surfaces we want to know how to correct the problem.

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When to plan and when to take action

Scott Miker

When it comes to personal improvement, it may be difficult to know when to act and when to sit back and plan out your approach.  If we act without adequate planning we usually find ourselves doing the wrong things.

If we plan without adequate action, we find ourselves in analysis paralysis.  We can’t possibly do anything perfectly so we just keep finding fault.

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Systems thinking reveals emergent properties

Scott Miker

One of the concepts of systems thinking is the idea of emergent properties.  Emergent properties are effects that come from the various system components interacting.

These may go unnoticed to the person who thinks through problems linearly because they may not see the intended or unintended side effects that are produced from the system.

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A habit is a reinforcing feedback loop

Scott Miker

In systems thinking, feedback loops are important to understand how a certain aspect of the system functions.  There are several types of feedback loops and several situations where they are present.

In our personal improvement journey we can find ways to utilize feedback loops to help us reach a goal.  One way is to create a new habit.

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Nick Saban focuses on the process not on the outcome

Scott Miker

Nick Saban is one of the greatest college football coaches of all time.  His Alabama teams seem to compete for National Championships year in and year out.  His winning teams set the standard for college football excellence.

Yet Saban is much less focused on winning than you might think.  Obviously winning is important.  But, in 1998 he changed his focus from being on the outcome (i.e. winning) to being on the process. 

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How to win the lottery

Scott Miker

There is a structure that I often see in books, speeches and other resources.  It usually goes something like this…

What if I told you that I know the secret to winning the lottery?  I know the one thing that every single lottery winner has done that has helped him win the lottery.  It doesn’t matter how superstitious you are because this one thing is so powerful nobody will ever win without doing it. 

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Systems thinking helps calm our emotional response

Scott Miker

Systems thinking has great benefits for the business person or the individual trying to improve something about themselves.  But the benefits of systems thinking provide even greater benefit that doesn’t often get talked about.

The truth is that being able to better understand the world around us can help us avoid overreacting to something.  In linear thinking when something happens, we quickly search for what led to it and what will be the consequences, often causing us to overreact.  In systems thinking, we can see the full system, and can understand the true scope of this particular situation better, allowing us to remain calm as we determine what to do next. 

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Make common sense your common behavior

Scott Miker

Sometimes in conversations with others, I see examples where people know what they should do but do something different.  We all experience this from time to time.

If we want to get healthy we need to exercise more and eat healthier foods and lower caloric intake.  This is common sense, most would say.  But it isn’t common behavior.

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