Information on systems thinking and how to use the systems and habits approach to improvement.
When you set out to improve something about your life, you are usually filled with optimism and hope. You dream about success and what it will feel like to have reached your goal.
But as soon as you start out, you will likely hit some roadblocks. Usually our dreams require us to work hard and overcome adversity in order to realize our vision.
In systems thinking, the concept of the feedback loop can be used to gain insight into what is happening in a situation. Feedback loops are everywhere and surface often in our daily lives.
One such feedback loop is discussed in an article from Psychology Today titled Miserable and Middle Aged? Is something Wrong with You? by Pamela B. Paresky, Ph.D. She says, “When people are not content with life, [Jonathon] Rauch explains, they can start to feel unhappy about being unhappy. Then being unhappy about being unhappy makes them feel even worse, and the feedback loop creates a downward spiral, leading to an ever deepening hole of dissatisfaction.”
Most people that set out in life to achieve something start out with too little planning. They throw together a plan in their heads and refuse to evaluate the full system around what they hope to get.
This may sound like a solid strategy in today’s ever-changing world, but it isn’t. Too often when I see people start out with this loose, barely-there plan, they end up being too rigid to adjust once they set out.
Knowledge and data are important in systematic improvement but those alone will not produce success. We have to be able to take that information and turn it into actionable steps that we can then take.
The action element that occurs after the evaluation is incredibly important. I have met many people throughout my career that got stuck in analysis paralysis. They just kept analyzing and researching but never really moved to action to test out their idea.
When we evaluate success we often find terms such as luck and talent dominating our concepts. We point to hard work and time spent training.
While these are all aspects of the journey towards excellence, many argue that these are merely vague generalities that are only applied after success. One of the best articles to address this fallacy is The Mundanity of Excellence: An Ethnographic Report on Stratification and Olympic Swimmers by Daniel F. Chambliss.
Most people see failure as something awful that provides pain and heartache without anything positive. But most success stories have elements of failure interspersed with achievements.
Failure is a necessary aspect of growth. If we all simply strive to fail less, all we end up doing is what we are already doing. We never really know our limits or what we are capable of.
Pointing out people who have great accomplishments might mislead you to thinking that success is easily defined. It is not. It is often vague, with our judgment playing a larger role than we realize.
Yet most people think of success in concrete terms. They think more money and more awards are distinguishing factors for the successful. They think more friendships or longer tenure mean someone is more successful.
Systems are everywhere and I often say that everything is a system. Once you start studying systems thinking it is hard not to see the patterns and structures in place all over.
Many times we are a part of the system and never even realize it. We go through the motions and assume we have complete freedom, but in reality we are completely unaware that the system has great influence over us.
Climbing the ladder, or climbing the corporate ladder, has become synonymous with growing a career sometimes through greed and sometimes by working hard. It incites a different emotional response from different people.
But climbing a ladder is very similar to the systems and habits approach to improvement. Both rely on small, step by step action to get closer to a goal.
The systems and habits approach to improvement is a great method for slowly improving over time. It can help improve in areas where you struggle and leverage your strengths to accomplish more.
But the true value of working towards improvement is because you can slowly close the gap between the life you had hoped for and the life you have.
I write a lot about change. It seems that change is a factor in everyone’s life. Sometimes this change is a positive one, sometimes negative. Sometimes change is sought after and other times we try to avoid it.
While many of us want the world around us to change to better fit us, the reality is that it rarely does. In fact, many times things change and force us to adjust.
What if you could design any life that you want? What if you could determine the various aspects of your life and wave a magic wand to have it turn into reality?
Most people would have success, happiness, strong relationships, and be well liked by those around them. They would be praised for their work ethic and intelligence but remain humble enough to take obstacles in stride and face reality when things get difficult.
Many times in life we come across a conflict. It usually occurs because we see others going in one direction but we feel the opposite direction is the right one for us.
It might seem easy to contradict the crowd and chart your own path. Plenty of people have done so and gained extraordinary fame and riches. But even if armed with that insight, we all still have a tendency to stick with the crowd.
Recently I read an article that looked at health and fitness apps on the iPhone and discussed which ones were the best.
The article started out innocently enough with the author downloading and trying several apps at a time. After quitting each app, she would explain why the app was a failure and wouldn’t help someone reach his or her goals.
We all strive for mental congruity and balance between our thoughts and our actions. It causes discomfort when the things we do and the things we think are not in balance.
Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term for the mental conflict that we have when our beliefs and our behaviors diverge. We have a strong belief about something but our actions don’t seem to follow along.
Building habits in order to reach a goal requires you to be able to understand what makes a strong habit. This is different than a good habit. A strong habit can be a positive habit (like exercising daily, eating vegetables at every meal etc.) or a negative habit (smoking, eating too much etc.).
The strength a habit will be what determines the lasting power of the habit. Will it keep going? If the answer is yes, then it likely is a strong habit and meets the criteria of these 3 main principles.
From time to time, all of us feel stuck. We feel that we are exhausting everything to reach a goal and feel the results have plateaued.
I find myself here all the time. It feels discouraging and tiring. But I’ve also learned that these times are crucial on the improvement journey.
In order to reach a goal, we have to be willing to sacrifice. This might be to sacrifice our urges to go out with friends when we know we should be studying for a test. It might be to sacrifice time with our family to build our career.
It could be that we sacrifice our bodies to play a contact sport such as hockey or football. It could be that we sacrifice our financial security to pursue a new business venture. It could be that we sacrifice a leisurely lifestyle for a hard-working one.
I’m currently reading a great book called Small Giants, Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big by Bo Burlingham. The book talks about companies that chose to stay small rather than become large businesses.
The author is constantly arguing that most people assume business success is the same as growth. Most people assume that bigger is better. But just as the systems and habits approach to improvement is focused on small steps, there is benefit to keeping a business small and it could prove to be part of a great success plan.
We should all define success, happiness and a life well lived for ourselves. This seems obvious. But it isn’t.
Too often we all form an idea of success that just goes along with the general consensus rather than based on our own criteria.
Using the systems and habits approach to improvement, we rely on recurring behaviors to change the course of our lives. We establish new structure, new routines, new patterns, and new systems to guide in the direction that we want to go.
Because the focus is much less on short-term success and more geared towards leveraging time in a way that provides benefit in the long term, we will start to see the small changes we make today grow into powerful new habits in the future.
We all have an autopilot mode. When we do something over and over again we start to do it automatically, without conscious thought. We may refer to it as our routine or a habit or we might not even recognize that we are doing it.
When we learn to read we have to sound out each word. But over time we just breeze through the sentences. We gain an understanding and meaning but we certainly don’t have to sound out each word to do so.
Many people set goals. They daydream about the perfect body or the big promotion at work. They know they want more money and better relationships.
If we stop there, we will then assume that they are all working towards those things. They must be exercising, striving to learn more and do more at work. They are investing their money in assets and taking the time to improve their connection to those that are important to them.
Some people take forever to make a decision. They analyze and over-analyze and seem paralyzed in their analysis. They just can’t seem to break out of the analysis and just choose an option.
Some people rather just pick something that gets them by. They find something that is good enough and then make a rash decision. They don’t analyze too much and quickly make their choices.
One of the interesting aspects of systems thinking is that we can gain a much more holistic view of something than someone looking through the linear thinking lens.
This is helpful because we can start to see examples of success and then model them. We can find people who have achieved what we want to achieve. Or we can find people who have achieved something similar to what are striving for.
Watching my young daughters grow up, I am amazed at the insatiable curiosity that they exhibit. They seem to crave reason and understanding for everything.
They are constantly asking why or why not. At first, I simply sat back and thought, “I never really thought about that.” But over time I have realized that a little curiosity can be beneficial to adults as well.
Most people don’t like to be challenged. We don’t like obstacles and adversity and tough times.
Yet these are what force us to keep growing, learning and improving. These challenges force us to adapt to overcome.
Using systems thinking can be incredibly beneficial. But it can be difficult for people new to this concept to really see the full picture.
The reason is simple. Our perspective is different from the reality of the system. We are all biased and all see things in a way that is tinted and framed in a specific way due to our experiences, beliefs, behaviors, friends, religion, hometown, education etc.
Is change good or bad? Should we all constantly change or remain relatively stable throughout our lives? Are businesses that constantly reinvent themselves better than those that have been doing what they do for decades?
You will likely get many different opinions on the subject of change. The other day I was reading an old article article on change that promoted the concept of constant change for change’s sake.
If you want to improve and get better, one thing you have to be willing to do is to take risks. Risk is always there when we change something.
We take a risk that it won’t work. We take a risk because we don’t know exactly how it will all play out and there may be side effects, missed opportunities or failures.
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.