People are very reactionary. We tend to be complacent until something happens or we get some new information and then feel motivated to change.
But the problem is that the information that tends to be given to us is “event” data not trend or systematic data.
We go to the doctor for our annual physical and realize we have high blood pressure. We meet with a retirement specialist and realize our retirement account is lower than we had thought.
We get our credit card statement and realize we are getting further and further behind. We get yelled at while at work and decide we need a new career.
Peter Senge, an authority on systems thinking and author of The Fifth Discipline, talks about this over-reliance on events and why it is such a problem.
He says, “We are conditioned to see life as a series of events, and for every event, we think there is one obvious cause.”
But this is extremely problematic when we want to change. Change is more about understanding the full system and making specific changes to parts of the system. But as Senge states, “we are conditioned to see life as a series of events.” This means we miss the interconnectedness and patterns in life.
He goes on to say, “Conversations in organizations are dominated by concern with events: last month’s sales, the new budget cuts, last quarter’s earnings, who just got promoted or fired, the new product our competitors just announced, the delay that just was announced in our new product, and so on. The media reinforces an emphasis on short-term events – after all, if it’s more than two days old it’s no longer “news”. Focusing on events leads to “event” explanations: “The Dow Jones average dropped sixteen points today,” announces the newspaper, “because low fourth-quarter profits were announced yesterday.” Such explanations may be true, but they distract us from seeing the longer-term patterns of change that lie behind the events and from understanding the causes of those patterns.”
Understanding the patterns and, more specifically, the causes of those patterns, is crucial to truly improve. That is where impact is made. Changing the causes of the patterns is how we change the trends and start to get better.
Systems thinking focuses on this rather than events. The systems and habits approach to improvement uses this as the backbone to every tactic and process.
Once we start to see the trends and patterns and gain an understanding of the cause of the patterns, instead of the cause of the event, we can then work to implement small, systematic changes. These small changes are impactful because they leverage the work we are doing by changing the patterns.
Improvement in life is possible but for many, it seems too difficult. Instead of resisting because it is difficult, change your mindset to make it easier. The systems and habits approach to reaching goals changes the techniques and makes it easier by attacking the patterns in our lives, not the events.