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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.  

Small change doesn’t feel as important as it is

Scott Miker

Small changes in life can be meaningless or they can be life changing. The variable that determines how important small changes become is in consistency.

If, one day, we make a small change in our life and then go back to our old ways that small change is probably meaningless in the grand scheme of things. If we make a small change but take that new step in our lives over and over again and slowly add more small steps, the output can be incredible.

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The reason we gravitate towards the symptom fix

Scott Miker

Whenever we feel sick, the first response of most people is to try to feel better. We reach for medicines that can relieve the horrible symptoms that we experience. We want to get rid of the headache. We want to stop the running nose. We want our stomach to feel less achy.

So we reach for the medicine cabinet to see what instant fixes are available. We take the medicine assuming this is going to help us get better.

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Slow down and take it one step at a time

Scott Miker

One of the benefits of the systems and habits approach to improvement is the fact that it allows us to break off pieces of the journey towards betterment. Instead of trying to tackle everything at once we simply tackle one step at a time.

This allows us to take on a different mindset. Instead of getting overwhelmed at all of the future challenges that will certainly come our way, we focus on the current challenge only. We work solely to tackle this problem in front of us.

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Good intentions are not enough

Scott Miker

Whenever we set out to reach a goal we have to be willing to do the difficult work required to change. We can’t simply have a positive idea of a better future and then wish and wish until we obtain it.

This means that we have to do things that we probably don’t want to do. If we keep doing what we want to do, we will keep doing the same things we are doing today. And if we keep doing what we are doing today we will keep getting the same results.

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Quick, easy and effective

Scott Miker

We all want more out of life. We want happiness and success. We want pleasure and achievement. We all want to have great health and wellness. We want wealth that grows larger over time.

While we all want those things, we all go about life differently. Some people sacrifice and work hard, trying to gain one or more on that list. Some people see the difficulty in trying to reach those goals and simply give up.

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Make doing the right thing a habit

Scott Miker

Years ago I was listening to a successful business owner talk about the culture he created at his company. He talked about how he made it a point to have employees do the right thing.

He talked about it to employees. He made sure his decisions followed the creed to do the right thing. He would do what is right when the choice presented was between the right thing that was hard and a shortcut.

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Increase your chances

Scott Miker

Success in life is complicated. There are many factors involved and we all define success differently.

But let’s just assume there is a common agreement on what it means to succeed. Let’s assume we all mean that we set a goal and then reach that goal.

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Keep making progress

Scott Miker

I’ve led a lot of projects over the years. Some of these have been large-scale corporate projects involving multiple departments and numerous people all working towards one common outcome. Some have been small operational improvements that only involve a handful of people.

A lot goes into project management. There are countless books and methodologies that can help someone learn the best practices for taking a project from idea through completion.

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The makings of a good system

Scott Miker

Systems are made up of interconnecting elements that all work harmoniously towards a goal. This isn’t to say that every element is perfect on it’s own. It is just that as a full unit the system runs and operates as designed.

People judge systems, not based on their quality as a system, but in how the system impacts them. They see the various factors, outliers, side effects, etc. and then form an opinion of the system.

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Entitled or unwilling to accept mediocrity

Scott Miker

I hear a lot of talk about the entitled millennial generation. Being on the edge of the age range of this generation, I have worked with many millennials.

For a while, I bought into the notion that the millennials were entitled, lazy and disconnected from reality. I saw first-hand some of these attributes. Certainly not all individuals in this particular generation fit the stereotype but many did.

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The more you gamble the more likely you will…

Scott Miker

Finish the sentence, the more you gamble the more likely you will ____. What did you immediately think of?

Many people immediately chose the word “win.” They assume that gambling is about playing for longer periods of time so that you can hang in there through losses to reach the winnings.

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What do you do every day?

Scott Miker

When I start to talk with someone about improvement, the biggest question that comes up in my mind is what are they doing on a regular basis? What are they doing daily that is different than most people? Are they doing the same things or vastly different things throughout their day?

This provides great insight into who they are. You can start to see from their actions what controls them and what they have control over. You can see limitations in their willpower. You can see areas of focus and what they feel is important.

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The system is missing

Scott Miker

Whenever we set out to improve, we have to build the right systems. The systems are the key to whether or not we actually improve and get better.

But most people spend time focused elsewhere. They work on building their motivation. They create plans. They create vision boards displaying all the things they will buy once they succeed.

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What influences are there in your life?

Scott Miker

We all go through life with people influencing us. Sometimes that is good and positive role models help us achieve more and sometimes we get caught up with the wrong crowd.

Either way, systems thinking tells us that those factors matter in our life. We can’t simply ignore them. They matter.

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When to use systems thinking and when to use linear thinking

Scott Miker

When you start to study systems thinking you start to realize the incredible value of thinking about the whole system when addressing problems. Most of the world goes through life following the more simplistic linear thinking. Since this is used over and over again, it must have some value.

Whenever you want to fix a problem, or improve some aspect of life, you have numerous ways to approach the problem. While I am a huge proponent of the value of systems thinking, sometimes it simply is unnecessary.

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When you want improvement you want to change the equilibrium

Scott Miker

In systems thinking there is a concept called the balancing feedback loop. This is a system structure that works to maintain the status quo. It wants to make sure things stay as they are and not change.

This is great for many systems. We want our thermostat and furnace to work together to keep the temperature in our home comfortable during the cold winter months. Our body needs to regulate itself if we are outside working on a hot day by sweating and taking specific steps to avoid overheating. We even use this structure when we are speeding and get a ticket, telling us to slow down.

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The right systems allow you to have one foot in order and one foot in chaos

Scott Miker

Using systems and habits to improve provides a roadmap for how to structure elements in order to gain the most from the system.

You start small, building a few small elements of the system until they become more and more automatic as you do them. Because you focus on consistency above almost anything else, these start to fall into patterns where your brain connects them and uses them to automate future behavior.

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Sometimes it is the opposite that you should try

Scott Miker

One thing that I have learned from studying systems thinking is that many times the path forward has multiple options but we only focus on one or two options.

This is good to help us from being paralyzed by choices but sometimes it significantly limits us from achieving more. Sometimes there is a choice that isn’t obvious that would solve the problem in a better way than the instant solution that people think up.

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