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Keep getting better to become more content

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.  

Keep getting better to become more content

Scott Miker

There is a big difference between contentment and complacency.  Being content means that we don’t need anything more in order to be happy.  Being complacent means that we have given up because we don’t feel we can have any more than what have already.

The first difference is the fact that being content contains an element of being happy while complacency holds unhappiness at its core. 

The second difference is that being content means that we continue to improve.  Complacency means we stop improving.

To me these both go together.  Improving provides confidence, pride and hope to our lives.  We see a situation we don’t like and feel empowered to make a positive change. 

If we stop any real form of improvement then we give up and expect the outside world to change to suite our needs and desires without realizing how only we are responsible for what we have or don’t have in our own lives.

In The Slow Fix by Carl Honore, the author talks about this desire to constantly improve.  He says, “No matter how good you are at something, you can always get better.”

The reason this can go hand in hand with contentment and fight against urges to become complacent, is because we always have a goal.  We always have more to achieve and ways to get better.  It helps give us direction in life. 

He goes on to talk about a concept called continuous improvement.  He says, “Japanese businesses call this the art of ‘continuous improvement,’ and it explains why even the finest singers uses coaches throughout their careers and why elite athletes undergo endless hours of repetitive drills, practice, and visualization exercises.  In improvisational comedy, the best performers can turn on a dime, converting even the most unpromising scenario into comedy gold.  Many have a comic gift, but the real stars never stop rehearsing, attending and teaching courses, critiquing one another’s performances, and pushing themselves into unchartered territory.”

But how many of us take this sort of mindset to heart in our own lives?  How many of us do more than simply dream or wish for improvement?  Many times we will accept improvement only if it comes in a quick, easy and effective package.

But that is the problem.  Quick, easy and effective don’t play well together.  You will rarely see all three together when it comes to any sort of real success.  Instead you see sacrificing of one or two of these in order to get the third.

So you can ignore easy and quick and work hard for a long period of time to be effective.  You can sometimes ignore easy and work really hard to have success come quickly. 

If you try to combine quick and easy, then you are always left without effective.  Without it being effective, it becomes pointless and you don’t improve at all.  The only way to actually achieve all three together entails cheating or finding something that can get you there quickly but contains side effects that usually make it not worth it, like the diet pill that helps lose weight quickly and easily but then destroys your digestive system in the process. 

But there is one way to combine easy and effective.  We have to completely ignore quick.  We have to take the systems and habit approach to improvement, which follows the continuous improvement mindset.  The idea is that we don’t just fix a problem and then walk away from it.  We fix it by implementing a systematic fix, which will stop the problem from occurring in the future. 

An example of system fix versus a one-time fix can be found by looking at traffic lights.  When automobiles first hit he road they inevitably found themselves unsure of how to travel in high traffic areas.  This would cause slow downs and accidents.  Instead of just dealing with each accident individually they implemented a systematic way to proceed through crowded streets safely and more effectively than before. 

Since the fix was systematic, it meant that each city that had the same problem didn’t have to keep trying to find a solution.  This solution was easily replicated and used over and over again. 

Taking the continuous improvement approach, the traffic light system has been improved over the years.  Sensors were put in so that lights didn’t have to change unless there were vehicles waiting, covers were added to better see the light in daytime, yellow lights were added to help drivers know when a red light was approaching. 

We can take this same approach and apply it to our personal lives.  Many times this involves manipulating our habits.  We can start a habit of exercising in the mornings.  The more we do it the more this becomes solidified.  Over time it becomes easier and easier to exercise in the mornings.  Then we can continue to improve by adding more and more exercise or fine tuning our exercise routine.  But it is all built on the positive habit of exercising every morning.

So take the continuous improvement approach to your goals and desires and stop becoming complacent simply because you want it to be quick, easy and effective.  Start to leverage time in order to gain easy and effective and use the systems and habits approach to improvement in order to find solutions to problems that end the problem now and in the future, rather than searching for a quick one-time fix.