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The goal should be improvement

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.  

The goal should be improvement

Scott Miker

Plenty of people set goals.  We want more money, a bigger house, a better job or more time off.  The focus is to gain something or achieve some specific result.    

We don’t fully grasp the actions and behaviors that we will have to change in order to gain the reward that we envision.  This causes us to overlook crucial elements to reaching this goal.

After we set this goal and start out on our journey to reach our destination, we rely on our effort and motivation to keep driving us forward.  We hope that if we can just keep working for long enough we will be rewarded with the result that set us in motion in the first place.

But the problem is that setting goals strictly based on the reward for reaching a goal misleads us.  There are several artifacts created through this type of goal setting that actually hurts our ability to improve.

First, when we actually do reach our goal and receive the rewards we no longer have any motivation to keep doing what we did to get there.  We lost the weight, now we want to go back to eating cheeseburgers since we depraved ourselves for so long.

Second, it often leaves us in the dark about how we actually have to change in order to reach the goal.  We probably have a limited understanding of the journey and would be better prepared if we spent time reviewing how we are going to do the things necessary, not daydreaming about what the rewards will be.

Third, when we face adversity, we tend to rationalize why the rewards aren’t really needed.  It gives us an out.  It allows us to say, “Well I guess I just won’t be able to get a bigger house but that is ok.”

Instead of using rewards as the key for change, we should shift to looking for ways to improve.  Improvement can be a much more powerful construct.  Instead of doing something only for some future reward, we do it to get better.  At each point we focus more on the progress we have made than on how far we still are from the goal.

A focus on improvement means that we have to better understand the interacting parts of the system so that we can then maximize the parts and the whole.  Rather than ignoring the crucial action and behavior changes, we make that the main focus. 

When I was growing up we didn’t have GPS devices readily available.  If we wanted to go somewhere that we not familiar, we would usually study a map of the area to see how we would get there.  We had to see what streets intersected and map out a general path.  Then, if on our journey a road were closed, we would refer to our map and plot another way.

Today, we just put the destination in our GPS and it does all of the work to guide us to our destination.  But in life, we don’t have some magic box like the GPS to help us do all of the things we need to do in order to succeed.  We have to figure it out ourselves.

Instead of treating goals the same way we treat travel with a GPS device, we have to treat it more like the time before GPS.  We have to map out what we are going to do.  When adversity hits, we have to go back to the map to help plot out a new way forward.

This starts to shift our focus from outcome to process.  By shifting to a focus on process, we effectively start to use improvement as our guiding principle, instead of the reward for a particular area.  This changes the system around goals and improvement and forms a new way forward.  This new way can help us constantly grow and improve, rather always striving for a specific reward.