Information on systems thinking and how to use the systems and habits approach to improvement.
We all have the little voice inside of us that seems to ramble on and on. I’ve heard sales trainers talk about the process of trying control this voice as little voice management. I’ve heard Buddhist refer to it as Monkey Brain. Whatever we call it, we can all probably understand this rambling internal voice and the messages it brings.
Whatever we call it or however we feel about it, we have to gain control over this constant stream of consciousness. Because it often follows patterns we can use the systems and habits approach to improvement in order to gain control.
Most of us can think of things we want more of. We want more money. We want more time off. We want more time to travel. But if we try to move past mere wishes and dreams about more we can find something much more meaningful.
When I was younger I couldn’t really answer that question. If I tried to, it would simply be something superficial. I didn’t really know what I wanted.
When I look back over my life, I see two distinct approaches that I have taken to life. Up until around high school and then again after about age 24, I had the approach that I wanted to improve.
This time is marked by constantly trying to get better. I remember when I was in middle school I worked out harder than most of the high school football players knowing that I wanted to improve and be able to play football when I got to high school.
I have talked quite a bit about process goals versus outcome goals in my articles. I passionately believe that setting outcome goals is too broad. It is the lazy way to set a goal.
It says that we have an idea of what we dream about achieving so we make-up the specifics around it so we have a goal. Then we assume we just have to use more effort to reach the goal.
Walt Disney has had such incredible success that any advice on how to succeed from Disney should be cherished. One quote from Disney really speaks to the importance of moving past the mental aspects of success and moves to action.
He said, “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” Too many times we just keep thinking and talking through our goals rather than start taking action.
Using the systems and habits approach to improvement you will start to make progress towards your goals. You will improve and get better. But it won’t be instant success. In fact, it will probably take a long time to realize your goals and feel that you made a significant improvement in any area.
This is because the systems and habits approach to improvement uses time to help us grow. Instead of hoping extreme effort will result in extreme results, we focus on subtle, consistent behavior changes.
In The Artist’s Way, author Julia Cameron has a line that is just great. Cameron says, “It is impossible to get better and look good at the same time.”
I love that line. Too often when we want to improve to look better, we don’t realize that we won’t improve unless we ignore looking good temporarily while we focus more on improvement.
In the systems and habits approach to improvement we shift our focus from being perfect to being on making progress.
Making progress allows us to move forward without being overly concerned with mistakes along the way. Instead we take those mistakes and learn from them, rather than doing everything possible to avoid the mistake.
Everyone is capable of improvement. Regardless of what you have accomplished in life or what you already tried and failed, you can improve, you can get better.
This might scare some people because if this is true then they feel they have wasted much of their life. But it is true. Everyone can improve and get better.
When it comes to big companies and their marketing campaigns, even the most interesting campaigns tend to become very boring to me after a while. Maybe it is the fact that I like to root for the underdog and most major TV commercials or corporate slogans come from the opposite of an underdog.
But some seem to stick with me past the airdates of their commercials. One such phrase that seems to extend beyond the company that used it was with Nike and Just Do It.
One of the biggest benefits to using the systems and habits approach to improvement is that it gives us empowerment. It takes control over our life and puts it in our hands, not someone else’s.
Too often in life we see how external forces influence us. It could be a string of bad luck or someone treating us unfairly. But these external forces often become excuses rather than reasons because we allow them to control us.
Most people think about life in moments. They think about the time they accomplished something, or met someone that had an impact on their life. They think about buying their first home or that family vacation they took.
But in systems thinking, we minimize the events in life and hold the process to be much more valuable. It isn’t that we ignore the events; it is just that we want to see more than the events. We want to see the patterns, structures and mental models present in the full system.
The systems and habits approach to improvement is all about making consistent behavior changes to help us reach our goals. It focuses our effort on changing our recurring behaviors in order to build better routines and processes.
Doing this will have some great impacts on our life. We will start to feel more in control, we will build confidence that we can change and improve, and we will start to be able to tackle any aspect of our life that we wish to see grow and get better.
One benefit to using the systems and habits approach to improvement is that you get to start building the right structures in your life. This allows you to make progress towards your goals and know that you are on the right track.
There is a calming effect from this because you gain a confidence that you are doing what you can to improve. Instead of constantly worrying if you are on the right track, you can point to the systems and habits in your life and take the right path forward.
You may have read a few articles on systems thinking and how to use systems and habits to improve. Now you may be wondering how to get started.
This is common. It is common because systems thinking seems so complex and there are a lot of different ways to look at a system.
Most of us are critics. We form opinions of professional athletes, politicians, company leaders, performers etc. We stand back and judge even though our own talent is so far from having similar success.
The reason is simple. It is easy to sit in the stands, watch and form opinions. Our opinions are often based on absolutes. We can say that we would have done better or we could say, “If that was me I would have done something different.”
Most people get motivated and set goals based on the rewards they hope to obtain at the end. They see the benefits of accomplishing something and then set goals around those benefits.
They get an advanced degree to make more money from a higher position at their company. They go on a diet to be able to feel better about their body when it is bathing suite season. They save money so they can go on an expensive vacation.
When I started using the systems and habits approach to improvement I noticed something. I noticed that I was finally starting to make progress towards my goals.
But that progress was at such a slow pace it would have been easy to disregard it. I was inching forward when in my mind my passion wanted me to be sprinting towards the reward at the end.
Everyone has a routine for how we start our days. It could be that we wake up early, grab coffee and rush out the door. It could be that we have a list of things to do before we even head to work.
But I feel that the morning is a very important time in our lives. It sets the tone for the day. On days when I wake up with something on my mind at work, I tend to have a more difficult time getting going and staying positive throughout the day but when I wake up excited for something the morning routine seems to float by with me getting everything done and feeling optimistic about the day.
Years ago I stumbled upon an article on Entrepreneur.com. I was in the middle of running a business and always looking for insight into how to improve.
The article talked about successful businesses. The author said that he had researched many businesses and the ones that were successful had one common element.
It seems that every so often we hear about an extremely successful person who falls from grace. It could be that they were violent against others, that they tolerated unethical behavior from those around them, that they built a culture of corruption etc.
The news media pounces immediately and brings forward any information that catches the headlines. People form instant opinions on the situation based on their personal beliefs of the person.
We all get complacent from time to time. We get to a comfortable point at work and slow down a bit. We might even slack a little and get bored with what we are doing.
This is normal and happens to everyone from time to time. It may signal a time to make a career change or simply point to a reason to take some time off to get a clearer picture of why you are doing what you are doing.
What are you curious about? What situations seem strange or seem to hold answers you have never heard? Are you the type of person that always wants to know why?
Curiosity is a trait that many people feel is an annoyance. Ask too many questions to your boss and he or she might tell you to just get back to work. If a child asks too many simple questions that the parent doesn’t know how to respond the child will often get discouraged from even asking or thinking of those questions.
I just finished reading Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss. In the book he interviews successful individuals and asks them a series of questions.
Some of the questions are specific to their area of success and some are just general questions or curiosities. One question that he asked many of the people on in the book made me think, “How would I answer that question?”
When you are really pushing yourself with the systems and habits approach to improvement you will certainly come across obstacles and tough times. You will feel it isn’t worth it or simply say to yourself, “this sucks.”
With most improvement strategies this signals the beginning of the end. This is when most people lose interest and decide that it isn’t worth the effort they have to put forth.
Do you typically represent doing things right? When you do some basic task, do you do it just to get through it or do you do it to do it right?
Having worked with some great people over the years I have witnessed first hand how our attitude transfers between tasks throughout the day. Those who work hard to do things right and focus on the small elements tend to be able to transfer that to big projects and other aspects of their work.
One of the most difficult aspects of improvement is the first step that you take. It might be to start trying to get healthy or start budgeting your money to pay off credit card debt.
It could be to decide on a school for continuing your education or applying to your dream job. It could be to quit smoking or begin writing a screenplay.
Life is complicated. Every day more information is shared online, on TV, through conversations etc. Scientists are always stretching human understanding. Professors are always finding new ways to research what makes life tick. Startups are constantly finding new innovation and pushing technology past our wildest dreams.
With this expanding knowledge-base, it is no wonder why life is complicated. We all experience the complexity of life on a daily basis.
I’ve met a lot of people in my life that are so focused on being right that it gets in the way of their success. They don’t understand that always trying to prove your point has you too narrow-minded to see that there may be a better way.
I think the reason is because we are all risk-averse. We want to avoid risks that could result in pain and discomfort. So we avoid areas that have the potential to improve because we would rather be able to say, “see I told you.”
Luck is a very interesting topic. When I talk to people about the idea of luck being responsible for success I tend to get one of two perspectives.
When we are talking about a success in their life, then they almost always point to hard work and their own effort. They minimize the impact luck had and assume their success was due to their work not some outside force.
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