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Focus on the process not the event

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.  

Focus on the process not the event

Scott Miker

Most people view life as a series of life-changing events or a number of rites of passage.  It often seems like everything is stable and these unique experiences are the reasons why we end up where we are in life.  It often feels like we cruise along and then these magical moments propel us in a new exciting direction.  

We think that getting that job, getting married, the birth of a child, that vacation, the moment we decided to quit our job, etc. are the reasons why we are where we are and became who we are today.  

While this makes sense, I believe it to be incredibly flawed.  The lull times that we overlook are actually much more powerful than the big events.  It’s simply that it is too easy to overlook the in-between time that forms the habits and systems in which we develop.  

When my daughter was born my wife and I experienced a lot of great firsts.  But we noticed that it was less dramatic than what we originally thought.  TV and movies seem to emphasize these incredible moments.  But for me, these were somewhat subtle.

My daughter first started making strange sounds before she spoke her first word.  Then she would babble something that resembled a word.  Then she would repeat a sound/word that we made.  Once she could form a word or two she would use those words but mixed in with all sorts of unique sounds.  While everyone remembers the first word, I find the process of learning to speak astonishing.  To me it is more about how she learned to speak than what was the first word spoken.

When we look at our own lives and set goals we take the same approach.  We tend to rely on Outcome Goals which base success on reaching a set point.  But most of us struggle to reach our goals because we don’t account for the how part of reaching our goals.  How will we pay off our credit cards or how will we lose weight and get healthier rather than how much do we have to pay off or what is the number of pounds we should we lose.  Instead of looking at what it will take to reach a goal we settle for Outcome Goals that don’t tell us anything about how to reach the goal.

When I first started shifting from setting Outcome Goals to setting Process Goals I started to finally make progress.  The reason is that the ignored parts of our lives are incredibly important in shaping who we are and what we accomplish.  

In Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about the difference between companies that are good and companies that are good but find a way to rise up and become great.  In the book he says “Those who launch revolutions, dramatic change programs, and wrenching restructurings will almost certainly fail to make the leap from good to great.  No matter how dramatic the end result, the good-to-great transformations never happened in one fell swoop.  There are no single defining action, no grand program, not one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment.”

This makes sense but most of us view great businesses in this way and relate this to our lives as well.  We expect a new workout program, a promotion at work, winning the lottery, or some other significant event.  We ignore the small, subtle changes that add up and instead look for one major change.

Collins goes on to say “Rather, the process resembled relentlessly pushing a giant heavy flywheel in one direction, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond.”

What is it that you want to accomplish?  How can you set process goals so that you continue to push that giant, heavy flywheel in one direction, turn upon turn, building momentum until you finally start seeing results?