Everything around us is made up of systems. There are systems that drive everything in life. From naturally occurring systems such as weather systems to the systematic way we drive our car, there are underlying systems that are the cause for life as we know it.
The systems are powerful. Many times they have existed for a long time and can seem indestructible. On a smaller scale the personal systems in our lives drive most of our habits, which determine our behavior and influence our decisions.
Often when we start to investigate systems in life we start to realize how powerful they are. This can seem daunting. It may seem like we are merely pawns in life and are being played by forces outside of our control.
But understanding systems should also give us a glimpse into how we can use systems thinking to improve our lives. We may not be able to change the government systems or even the systems at our job but we can learn to play within the rules of the system to better our lives. This doesn’t mean trying to game the system but rather knowing that the rules are there instead of ignoring them and then feeling upset when the consequences of breaking the rules sets in.
So what can you do when you find yourself in a situation that you don’t like and wish were different? Wayne Dyer used to say, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
Instead of expecting everything external to change to better fit you, try to change your perspective. Try to see how you can change the way you think about things in order to craft the life you desire.
If you are unhappy in a relationship but don’t want to end the relationship, what small thing can you do to improve the relationship? If you dislike aspects of your job what can you do to improve your job?
With systems thinking this becomes more than just an attempt at new age thinking. Systems thinking takes this and then tells us to look at the systematic elements to see what we can change. It may mean changing something small but doing it frequently. Or it may be finding a leverage point that makes a huge impact because of the interconnectedness of the various parts.
The opposite of systems thinking is linear thinking. This is thinking in black and white, before and after, cause and effect etc. The natural response to disliking something about a job is to quit and find a new one. But most often this just leads to jumping from job to job hoping that you find one that meets all of your desires.
So instead of jumping to the extreme opposite, find small things that you can change. These small things may not seem significant enough at first but when you do it over and over again you start to craft a different experience.
I’ve had jobs where I didn’t like that I had no control over the strategic decisions in the organization. So I worked as hard as I could to take a strategic look at the things I could control and work to improve them. Over time this resulting in significant improvement in my work and eventually promotions to more strategic positions. Quitting before I gained that insight would have meant jumping to another job that probably wouldn’t be as fulfilling as working through the problem. The systems and habits approach allows us to work through problems instead of trying to avoid them.
The more you do this the more you start to change your mindset and better understand how to use systems thinking to improve your life. You can start to identify areas that seem insignificant to others but will mean everything in the future. It really gives you a perspective that few people have and will give you a significant advantage when trying to improve yourself, your position, your company, etc. It changes your focus from being on what you don’t like, to being on what you can do to improve.