Information on systems thinking and how to use the systems and habits approach to improvement.
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.
It amazes me how many times a group of people can head in a direction that seems so wrong. We see a cult’s demise and wonder how so many people were involved and misguided to such a large degree.
We all assume we are above those influences. We think we would have been able to see through it all to see it is just a scam.
Life is full of choices. Every day we are bombarded by options. We wake up and immediately have to decide what to do. Do we eat first then shower? Do we drive to work our usually route or change it up?
Then we get to work and more choices need to be made. Do we take this new product to market? Do we have the correct operational structure in place to tackle upcoming changes in the marketplace?
We all want to be happy. We have a desire to be relatively stress-free and upbeat. We don’t want to be miserable every day and in pain from the time we wake until we go to sleep.
But outside of the obvious notion that we want to be happy, we all have different ideas of what happiness actually means. Some feel it means freedom, some feel it means pleasure and some feel it means healthy.
Most people remain relatively the same throughout their lives. They go through natural changes as they age, but we really don’t change as much as we do when we are young.
Part of the reason is that we find what works. We start to see what works and what doesn’t. Then we stick with what has worked for us.
Everyone has strengths and everyone has weaknesses. Everyone has positives and negatives about them. No matter whom you are talking about, there are things they do well and things they do poorly.
If we all have strengths and weaknesses, how can some people become successful while others struggle to have any real success in their life?
What if we take all of the automatic behaviors and automatic choices we make, and start to mold those into something new? Can we take a series of habits that we are not even aware of and change those to drive us in a new direction?
Yes we can. We can start to make subtle changes that have lasting impact. It won’t happen by making the choice once, but it certain is within our abilities if we can make the choice over and over and over.
One of the core elements of the systems and habits approach to improvement is to constantly make adjustments to the way we live our lives in order to get better over time.
This naturally means that we have to keep learning and seeking out new information so we know where to make changes. Thinking systematically will help but only gives the general structure, not the specifics of each circumstance.
Obesity is a growing epidemic in the United States. We hear about it on the news, read about it in medical journals, and experience it when we are in our doctor’s office seeing multiple images on the wall pointing to weight control.
While many people want to shed a few pounds, they probably don’t realize that they are up against their body’s natural desire to keep weight on and store fat for future emergencies when it is needed.
One of the reasons why the systems and habits approach can be so powerful is because it follows how our body functions. All animals follow patterns. There is rhythm to our sleep/wake cycles, how we chew food, the routines we rely on each day and much more.
The systems and habits approach to improvement plugs into this by creating recurring thoughts and behaviors. The more we do something, consistently near the same time each day, the more that pattern will become engrained.
We all utilize habits and routines throughout our lives. This helps us automate actions and thoughts that we do over and over and over.
We don’t want to have to watch a YouTube video every morning to remember how to brush our teeth or take a shower. We don’t want to have to think about every little step in the process.
If you are new to systems thinking, you might get overwhelmed by all of the information and terminology. You can read through models and explore feedback loops but still not quite understand much more than, “everything is a system.”
If this is familiar to you, one of the best steps to take is to start to look for patterns in life. Patterns give us a clear look at the byproducts of a system. You might not be able to spot the system, but the pattern can tip you off as to where to look.
Following the systems and habits improvement techniques often means starting with very small steps. Some people see this as pointless. They assume that we should ‘go big or go home.’
But there is good reasoning behind starting small. Starting small makes it much easier to keep going and not get discouraged and quit. Why would you quit if it were really easy?
Recently I was in a meeting at work discussing a problem that we were facing. We were notified of a change that would have a pretty major impact on how we operate the business.
As we thought through various options we soon realized that we really just had a bunch of bad options. There wasn’t a great option that jumped out us. We were presented with about three or four ways to respond, all with their own consequences and not much benefit.
In thinking systematically about life, we often come across a common pattern where something just seems to build and build. We call this a reinforcing feedback loop.
Reinforcing feedback loops are everywhere. They can be very subtle or incredibly powerful.
When you start on your path of improvement using the systems and habits approach, you will likely be torn at times between trying to keep going and wondering if you are doing enough.
Because the focus is on building habits, how much we do is less important than the fact that we keep going long enough for it to start to become more automatic. But the perfectionist inside us probably screams that we aren’t doing enough.
Years ago I was involved in the purchase and start-up of a new franchise location for a business. It was an exciting experience and one I learned a great deal from.
One thing that I heard constantly during this time was to “follow the system.” Being somewhat of a systems fanatic it was refreshing to hear such a focus on the system.
When I start an improvement program for some aspect of my life I have noticed that my expectations of the results and the way the results actually come are often quite different.
Most of us set goals based on the outcome we hope to see. Even if we set process goals instead of outcome goals to help us do the things necessary, we still have expectations of when we will see results.
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.