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Systems thinking and sacrifice

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.  

Systems thinking and sacrifice

Scott Miker

In order to reach a goal, we have to be willing to sacrifice.  This might be to sacrifice our urges to go out with friends when we know we should be studying for a test.  It might be to sacrifice time with our family to build our career.

It could be that we sacrifice our bodies to play a contact sport such as hockey or football.  It could be that we sacrifice our financial security to pursue a new business venture.  It could be that we sacrifice a leisurely lifestyle for a hard-working one. 

Many times this simply means that we do things that we don’t want to do.  We have to in order to succeed.  But this can be extremely difficult to understand when we set out in our journey.

Being able to see things systematically means that we pay more attention to the various interconnected parts of the system and less on finding some linear relationship of cause and effect.

We start to see how sacrifice fits into the system.  This allows us to have a more realistic view of the whole system, including sacrifice.

It might even convince us to stop pursuing the goal because we see that the sacrifice makes achieving the goal pointless. 

If we want to grow our career but that means always being away from our family, we might feel that the whole reason we want a successful career is so that we can support our family and provide for them a good life.  But is a good life only defined by the amount of money in savings?  Or is the relationships and time together just as, or more, important. 

But too often I hear people that set out on their journey and sacrifice without really understanding what that means.  They don’t realize how starting a business will destroy their marriage because it will pull them away from the people they care about most and add additional stress into the relationship due to the financial uncertainty. 

Using systems thinking we can start to build a better view of the full system and can then have a better understanding of what it will take up front.  It may persuade us to pursue something else entirely.

Or it may give us insight into how to manage this sacrifice so that we don’t unknowingly destroy important areas of our lives in the process of achieving our goal.

If we spend more time at work to help grow our career, what areas does that time pull from?  Is our social time with our friends the same and the area that gets sacrificed the time with our children?

Knowing up front that it will take a sacrifice of time might help us deliberately decide where to pull that time.  Instead of it hurting our family and the relationships of those closest to us, can we decide that we will stop attending club meetings or limit the time we spend on a specific hobby?

Without the systems thinking perspective we are usually left simply reacting to what is happening.  As we get busier, we pull time from the areas that are right in front of us.

If we want to play a sport that is violent, how do we take better care of our bodies so that we don’t have as many of the negative future effects?  Do we sacrifice eating whatever we want and instead eat healthy foods that help our body recover quicker?

If we want to start a business, how can we limit the financial exposure we have?  Can we wait to start the business until we save a little more money?  So in this case we exchange the sacrifice of financial security for time.  We hold back on doing it right now and gain a little more savings that we can rely on if our sales projects are too optimistic.

Sacrifice is always part of improvement.  But with the systems thinking mindset we can better understand the sacrifice that is necessary.  It can also help us shift where we sacrifice so we are not caught off guard down the road when we have to make those difficult sacrifices.

Taking a deliberate approach helps clear our minds because we already thought-through the areas we will sacrifice and what this will mean.  Then when the discomfort associated with this sacrifice arrives we clearly understand what we signed up for.  We don’t play the victim and instead work through it in a flexible way where we can adjust to make sure we don’t sacrifice something much more important than the goal we are pursuing.