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The deceiving truth about habits and systems

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 deceiving truth about habits and systems

Scott Miker

As I continue my exploration of the elite military units and special operations forces of the United States, I continue to find that the media depiction of these teams is largely inaccurate and misleading.  The Ramboo-type Hollywood characters don’t exist in these units and are replaced with hard-working, humble individuals with a core set of beliefs and a hard-core attitude towards work and training. 

In The Way of the SEAL by Mark Divine, he explains the reality for the highly publicized mission to kill Osama bin Laden.  “In the Teams, after we were briefed, we’d go out and do a “dirt-dive,” which is a fancy way of saying we rehearsed until the team had won the mission in their minds.  When the Joint Special Operations Command SEAL team located Osama bin Laden, they didn’t just hop in a helicopter and go get him like in the movie Zero Dark Thirty - they dirt-dived their plan for months.  

He went on to detail what they did to prepare for the upcoming mission.  “They ran through it in their minds.  They rehearsed it in a mock compound.  They debriefed what went right and the potential screwups.  The team could envision mission success in exquisite detail.  So it was an easy day (SEAL-speak for just another mission) when it came time to hit the actual target.”

In our lives we tend to do the same thing that the media does.  We disregard the years and years of habit, the months of specific training and try to understand things from the event or performance perspective.  But the reality is that long before the action, mission, game, meeting, presentation etc. our paths were being developed and our skills honed.

An example that I have found is through the public speaking group, Toastmasters.  Toastmasters is a series of clubs across the world with a goal around improving communication and leadership.  When people give a presentation they usually disregard certain core aspects of their communication style.  Toastmasters addresses those on a regular basis to help one improve their habits and systems around public speaking.  

After several years in Toastmasters I am realizing that most people associate presenting to a group as a one-time event.  The reality is that there are years and years of habits displayed during that speech and the only way to improve is to specifically address them in a recurring fashion, such as through Toastmasters.  The reality is that when I started speaking in front of groups I used too many filler words, paced nervously, said “ah” and “um” throughout in a distracting way and strayed too far off topic.  All of these are areas that require years of focus and attention in order to improve.  

I have met a number of people that will attend a 1 hour webinar on public speaking rather than joining Toastmasters.  But Toastmasters represents the years of training and the “dirt-dive” that Divine mentioned for Navy SEALS.  We may think that the Osama bin Laden mission was a random mission developed hours before it occurred but that would ignore the true work that was put into that mission and the true reason that mission was a success.  Everyone on the Team knew what to do, had contingencies in place and rehearsed, and had years of experience working together as a team.  

The elite special forces units (as well as Toastmasters clubs) represent the hard work that too often gets ignored when we see great accomplishments.  When you develop your goals, how do you make sure you putting in the right amount of work and doing the “dirt-dive” before the mission?