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Inner scoreboard versus outer scoreboard

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.  

Inner scoreboard versus outer scoreboard

Scott Miker

Nick Saban is one of the best coaches in college football.  Many would argue that he has accomplished more than any other coach in history, even though he doesn’t look to be done with coaching any time soon and only seems to get better every year.

With this incredible success, people naturally want to look at what he does and how he thinks in order to reach that extreme level.  One perspective I’ve heard Nick Saban mention in interviews is the inner scoreboard versus the outer scoreboard.

Saban is known for being hard on the team after a big win.  The reason, according to Saban, is that he judges their play against an inner scoreboard, not an outer scoreboard.  Just because they scored a lot of points doesn’t always mean they gave their best effort.   

In other words, he knows what they are capable of doing.  If they play to that level every game they will continue to win and have a championship-caliber season.  But if they play to the level of the competition every week, then it only takes one team to have a better-than-expected game to beat them.

While this makes sense for football, I think with any goal we can take this into account.  If we want to lose weight and start out by changing some healthy habits and lose a few pounds we might feel, internally, that we are winning.

But then we might bump into a friend who just lost 40 lbs and feel that our slight weight loss is not enough.  Suddenly our win feels more like a loss because we are using the external scoreboard.

Or it could go in the opposite direction.  Maybe we find a dangerous diet pill that helps us quickly lose weight without doing the hard work associated with changing our habits.  Our outer scoreboard might show a victory but our inner scoreboard would tell us we cheated and the consequences are that we haven’t built up the right habits to keep the weight off.

But it can be easy to fall into the trap of constantly using an external scoreboard.  There are people all around us and many are doing the things we wished we were able to do now.   

Instead we should take some additional insight from Saban and work on the small steps that we need to do in order to succeed.  In his interviews he often talks about the focus being on the process and each step, not on the victories or championships.  We can shift from focusing on result, to focusing on the process necessary to get to that result.

Then we break down the steps we need to take.  Instead of one giant undertaking, we start with small, manageable actions.  In football this is usually to focus on just the next practice, or just the next game, or just the next play.  These become manageable.  Expecting to tackle the entire season today is impossible.   

So we can start to focus on just the small steps that we need to take to improve.  We can do this over and over and develop the right habits and mindset to grow.   

There are many ways to succeed but Nick Saban has shown a propensity to achieve great things in a highly competitive field.  His insight to use an internal scoreboard instead of an external scoreboard and to focus on the process and the small steps that we need to take to reach a goal are very adaptable to any goal or undertaking.  We can use the same approach to achieve anything in our own personal lives.