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Focus on the next step

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 next step

Scott Miker

Utilizing the systems and habits approach to improvement we tend to focus much of our energy on the next step in the process.  We have a vision of the end result but our focus remains on the next step in the journey, not the destination.

This is different from a lot of improvement strategies.  More often you will hear about vision boards and creating SMART goals that encapsulate what it is you hope to achieve.

There is some value to understanding what you want to gain from your efforts but when we spend all of our time and effort there, we forget that it is the action that we take that matters if we hope to have a chance of realizing any of those rewards.  

In Secrets of Influential People by Steven Pearce, the author says, “Whether your ultimate ambition is to run a multinational, become President or influence the world through a widely ready blog, it is dangerous to concentrate too much on the endgame.  See your journey instead as a series of stepping stones and focus your attention on safely negotiating the next step.  It is incredibly rare that someone catapults from nowhere into a position of influence – even Barack Obama, whose rise is often portrayed as vertiginous, served seven years as a state senator in Illinois before arriving at the US senate in 2005.  Tiresome as it may be, we have to earn our spurs.”

But the future is too alluring for most.  We want to feel the thrill of winning, not the pain of training.  We want to have the admiration of those around us, not work hard to serve those in need.  We want the fruits of the labor, not the blisters. 

This leads to a dangerous position.  We start to spend more time daydreaming about what it will be like when we don’t have to work rather than doing everything we can to make sure we doing the work required. 

Therefore if we take the approach of keeping our focus on the next step and simply working to do everything possible to keep taking small steps towards our goal, we will find that when we finally do stop and look at where we are we will see us much closer to our ultimate goal. 

But if we don’t do that and keep thinking about the endgame, we will keep realizing how far away we are from the victory.  So it will prompt us to keep daydreaming rather than face the harsh reality that you aren’t getting closer. 

This is what is called a feedback loop in systems thinking.  We make a decision (daydreaming about the destination instead of working on the journey) then that decision produces an outcome (keeps us far away from our goal) that reinforces the initial decision (to spend more time daydreaming).  That means that as we make that decision it gets more and more powerful and harder to break away from. 

But instead if we start with a small step and focus on continuing to make progress, when we finally stop to look at how far we have come we are motivated to keep going due to being closer than ever before to the goal.  This creates a feedback loop but instead of it becoming less and less likely that we will reach our goal it becomes more and more likely that we will. 

Don’t fall into the trap of spending too much time focusing on the end result.  Instead put your effort into doing all of the small steps that often make up the difficult work associated with achieving your goals.