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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.  

The unhappy feedback loop

Scott Miker

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.”

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Plan and adjust

Scott Miker

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.

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Avoid Analysis Paralysis

Scott Miker

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.

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Systematic improvement is mundane

Scott Miker

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.

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Failure grows confidence

Scott Miker

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.

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Success is dynamic not static

Scott Miker

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. 

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Are there systems that keep you where you are in life?

Scott Miker

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.

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Climb the ladder

Scott Miker

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.

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Learn to see differently

Scott Miker

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. 

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Designing your life

Scott Miker

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.

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It may be easier to be wrong

Scott Miker

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.

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See the full picture to understand your role

Scott Miker

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.

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Cognitive dissonance occurs when our actions are not aligned with our thoughts

Scott Miker

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.

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Strong habits that you can build

Scott Miker

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. 

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Keep going

Scott Miker

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.

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Systems thinking and sacrifice

Scott Miker

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. 

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It is up to you to find happiness

Scott Miker

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.

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Growing more and more powerful systems and habits

Scott Miker

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.

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