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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.  

Rules and Chaos

Scott Miker

One of the things that people mention when we talk about systems is the idea that this is too rigid, too restrictive. They assume systems clamp down on creativity and innovation and leave a world absent freedom.

But systems actually do the opposite. If we have a good system for opening ourselves up to being creative, the system can actually promote creativity, not clamp down on it.

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Progress and improvement mean happiness

Scott Miker

Years ago I realized that by starting on a journey to constantly improve, I was becoming significantly happier in life. I was working harder than ever before and continuously doing things that I previously hated, like exercising.

I start to put it together that happiness for me means working towards a better version of myself. As long as I am making progress and improving, I am happy.

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Not everyone is willing to improve

Scott Miker

Sometimes I imagine that we all strive to be a better version of ourselves to continually improve and assist others in their improvement. We all put off today’s pleasures to build for the future.

I start to see those struggling as victims who are having difficulties through no fault of their own. It seems as though those individuals simply need to see a better path forward so they know which way to go.

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Improve your life’s tools

Scott Miker

In life we all rely on metaphorical tools. We could substitute for the word “tools” such things as intelligence, talent, skills, etc.

When we look at life, most people complacently go through the motions. They are willing to accept whatever happens with a pessimistic perspective and an unwillingness to work to change or improve.

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Make healthy delicious

Scott Miker

I have often commented to friends and family members that I think it is crazy that we spend so much time and effort adding seasonings, dressings, sauces, flavorings, etc. to most of the food that we eat that is unhealthy but never do that to healthy foods.

I love eating broccoli. But I always season it a good deal. I will add salt, butter, cheese, garlic, olive oil etc. in order to improve the flavor. More than once I’ve heard someone tell me that adding butter suddenly makes the broccoli an unhealthy food option.

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Rationalizing the irrational

Scott Miker

When I was younger I used to get into heated debates with friends about everything from politics to sports or from religion to science.

There were many frustrating discussions where I couldn’t understand why they didn’t see my logic. The frustration soon turned to curiosity. I usually had tremendous respect for the person with which I was talking. Sometimes they were significantly smarter than me (other times just marginally smarter).

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Feedback loops for control

Scott Miker

Systems thinking uses feedback loops to describe many structures in life. We experience feedback loops when we make good decisions and bad decisions.

Feedback loops are structures where the output of a system is fed back into the input. This, then, goes through the system again to be converted to an output. This output will then likely be put back into the system as an input. This can continue on and on and magnify the output.

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Make improvement fun

Scott Miker

When it comes to improving some aspect of your life, you likely view it as a chore. Whether it is to lose a few pounds, save more money for retirement or go back to school for more education, the necessary work is probably not one that excites you a great deal.

This is normal. This also signals that we have certain mental models around this subject that are probably taking us in the wrong direction. Part of the structure that we have built to be in the position we are in, is due to these mental models.

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Computer programming versus learning

Scott Miker

I’ve heard a lot of people compare human learning with computer programming. The idea is that we can easily program whatever we want in our life. It isn’t magic, it is simply doing the work of inputting the formula.

When it comes to inputting the formula that is the same as creating the process. When we talk about using systems and habits to improve, we rely on creating these new processes to control our behavior. This allows us to build new routines, habits, structures etc.

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Patterns can be subtle and powerful

Scott Miker

Systems thinkers are always exploring patterns in their world. We look for recurring elements more than one-time events.

This is helpful because it helps us to better understand the underlying systems, structures, and mental models at play. When we see someone do something the same every time, we can identify it and understand the pros and cons of that behavior.

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Own your choices

Scott Miker

All of us are presented each day with millions of choices. On any day we can usually decide if we go to work or skip work, spend time with our family, work on a pet project, attend an important meeting at work etc.

We also choose things that seem minor and we don’t even think about them. We can turn our car right at the stop sign instead of left, we can brush our teeth in the morning before work or not, we can exercise or not, we can take the stairs or the elevator, we can find ways to stay focused at work or let our mind wonder, etc.

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More insight can change how we interact with systems

Scott Miker

Have you ever saw a news story and immediately formed an opinion about the situation but then see another story about the same situation and gained completely different information changing your perspective?

I’m sure we have all done this from time to time. It is natural for us to form an opinion before we have all of the information. In fact, we never really have all of the information about a situation.

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Make it easy

Scott Miker

Why do you stick with it? This is a question I get from time to time regarding some system that I developed.

It could be that someone asks why I stick with eating a certain healthy lunch every day or why I exercise every morning. It seems that they always have other ways to accomplish the same thing.

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Learn to see the full system

Scott Miker

Everyone hates the cocky, selfish person. We see someone constantly trying to take from others so that they get more and more, while others get less and less.

We all like generous people. We think highly of the person who gives more and more to others.

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Just a little bit longer

Scott Miker

In today’s world, there is a lot of advice about change. Some people promote the idea that we are all constantly changing and that being malleable is the only way to succeed in life.

Certainly many of the startup tech businesses promote this concept. They were either successful early in the process or they pivoted until they found something that clicked. Then they maximized it.

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Goals versus systems

Scott Miker

Most people assume that the way to keep improving and getting better in life is to set goals and then work to reach them. We set goals that we can then point to as motivation to keep our effort up while we struggle through the steps until we reach the goal. Then we start over.

The idea is that to do this, we keep getting better and better over time. It sounds like it perfectly fits in most improvement programs and is necessary if we want something better from life.

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Do what you can

Scott Miker

When it comes to designing systems and habits in your life, you will likely get to a point where you can’t continue with your systems.

For me it came when I found out that I had a hernia that needed surgery to repair. I was told to limit any lifting to 15 lbs or less. I was told to reduce exercise to only basic walking.

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Creating a system versus setting a goal

Scott Miker

There is a major difference when you use the systems and habits approach to improve. Comparing it to the common practice of setting goals can highlight this difference.

The major difference is that the system attacks how you are going to improve. The goal is simply forecasting what level you hope to reach.

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Being forced off-track

Scott Miker

The past couple of months have been really interesting for me. I have spent years building solid systems and habits in key areas that I was forced to change.

The biggest change was that I had to ease up on exercising. I discovered I had a hernia and was told not to lift anything over 15 lbs and to take it easy until I had the surgery.

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Progress versus perfection and why progress makes sense

Scott Miker

Years ago I shifted my frame of reference on goals from having a desire for perfection to being keenly focused on making progress. Instead of wanting everything to fall into place, I was more concerned about the fact that I was growing and improving.

This gave me a new perspective on life. It allowed me to change in order to ultimately improve beyond the level I found myself at the time.

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