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Learn to see the gray

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.  

Learn to see the gray

Scott Miker

Years ago I was at a seminar and the speaker asked the audience to close their eyes and picture the color red.  He said to think of red apples, red stop signs, red barns, and red strawberries.

After a minute or so he said to open your eyes.  When I did, suddenly all of the red in the room came into focus.  I saw the exit sign and the red sign for one of the sponsors.

It was very strange how much different my perspective was after I opened my eyes than before.  Prior to thinking of red, I was unaware of the red objects in the room. They were just part of the surrounding scenery. 

But after I thought so much about red, I became heavily biased towards the color red.  The input didn’t change but the way I processed that input changed drastically.

Most of us see the world as black and white.  We see good and bad, right and wrong, success or failure.  But this is a very limited way of seeing the world.

The problem is that we miss so much information.  This is the reason we see celebrities and sports figures go from golden boy to horrible villain overnight.  We gain some new information on them and our perception of that person goes from one extreme to the other.

This also hurts our ability to improve.  We point to Mark Zuckerberg, Mark Cuban, or Warren Buffet and judge business success against them. 

We see supermodels or fitness experts and judge physical appearance against their gold standard.  And because we are so biased towards seeing extremes, we think we need six-pack abs or else we might as well give up. 

We set goals based on these extremes and then find excuses when we don’t hit those targets.  But the problem starts with those goals that we set.

Instead of seeing things in this way, we should start to see in between the extremes.  We should see that we could get better and improve without bouncing from one extreme to another. 

This is the foundation of the systems and habits approach to improvement.  By seeing the complexity and understanding the gray space in between black and white, we can start to make progress.  We can have the trend going in the right direction instead of the wrong direction.

What this means is that we can start to have more success in business, without worrying about coming up with the next great tech idea.  We can start to slowly lose weight and get healthier instead of gaining weight year after year. 

This makes our goals achievable.  It gives us enough vision into the future state and gives us some basic structure to move forward.

It suddenly makes our daily choices more important than ever.  It changes from being about ordering a bacon double cheeseburger or steamed broccoli, to being about ordering something slightly more healthy than usual.  This small improvement is insignificant when we are only concerned with extremes but it means everything if we want to improve. 

Because when we do this over and over again we start to change the direction we are going in life.  It doesn’t mean we suddenly reach a level of unprecedented success, it means we work hard and do the things necessary to improve.