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Too much of our life is focused on events

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.  

Too much of our life is focused on events

Scott Miker

I love college football.  Something that happens every year is that good teams will struggle and bad teams will rise up and get a surprising victory.  Because of the variations from week to week, it is very difficult to truly evaluate the college football landscape.  Yet the college football analysts insist they know the answers and can see the future for each of these teams.

Alabama has been a powerhouse over the last 5-10 years.  They have dominated in many years and have been near the top other years.  Yet a few big losses have the experts ruling them out.  They criticize the team and expect them to fail. 

This week they came back and had a big win.  After the game the Alabama coach Nick Saban addressed this premature judgment of his team when he said “We are what we are as an identity only if it happens on a continuum.  You always have the next challenge.”

You always have the next challenge.  When you look at college football, you really can’t make concrete judgments until the season is over.  But that would mean that all season you have to wait and see how it plays out (and it would mean the analysts have nothing to talk about).    

Life is very similar.  If someone has a big success suddenly everyone feels that they know that person is a success.  But past success doesn’t indicate future success.  The reality is that the systems and habits in life are more predictive of future success. 

In Thinking, Fast and Slow, author Daniel Kahneman says, “A story is about significant events and memorable moments, not about time passing.  Duration neglect is normal in a story, and the ending often defines the character.  The same core features appear in the rules of narratives and in the memories of colonoscopies, vacations, and films.  This is how the remembering self works: it composes stories and keeps them for future reference.”

But what focusing on the “significant events and memorable moments” misses is important.  The “time-passing” is usually when the hard work is done.  Movies address this through a quick montage showing a few scenes from this “hard work” with motivational music playing that emphasizes the improvement mindset.  But it can condense years and years of hard work into a few short minutes.   

Because of this, it is too easy to feel that we can coast through most of life and only focus on the important moments.  But the reality is that you always have the next challenge.  College football teams aren’t waiting around for their next game.  They are working like crazy to improve and better understand their opponent. 

We can all be making strides towards improvement whether or not we feel a big event is coming up.  The big event will come and go but it is the systems and habits that will stay.  That is what will determine future success. 

Another great example of this is the elite special operations force, the Navy SEALs.  I touched on this in the last article but the reality is that they train harder than almost anyone else.  They train in the most extreme ways.  They train without knowing if they will even be utilized.  This mentality seems to be the opposite of our culture’s where we wait until something is certain before we start our preparation. 

What is it that you want in life?  What do you want to accomplish, who do you want to become and why are you here?  Even if this is focused on an event, such as winning an award, the reality is that there are things that you can be doing to prepare.  Use this time in between big events to position yourself so that the next big event will be better because you were properly prepared and had built the best systems and habits as possible.