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Keep making progress even if you are unsure of the end result

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 making progress even if you are unsure of the end result

Scott Miker

One of the interesting aspects of systems thinking is that we can gain a much more holistic view of something than someone looking through the linear thinking lens.

This is helpful because we can start to see examples of success and then model them.  We can find people who have achieved what we want to achieve.  Or we can find people who have achieved something similar to what are striving for.

But it isn’t as simple as finding this example and doing what they did.  There are numerous other factors at play and we have to better understand the systems and how they interacted within those systems to truly understand what the system is all about.

If we take a professional athlete, we can’t just take one, or a few things they did and then expect the same level of success.  If they ate nothing but chicken and broccoli does that mean we can do the same thing and become an NFL player?  Obviously not.

As obvious as that example is, many people still follow a similar pattern.  They hear of a friend who has great health and eats unhealthy food so they assume they can too.  What they ignore is the fact that this friend also trains for marathons and iron man competitions so the food they eat doesn’t impact them the same as it does to someone who is sedatary. 

The system element in one system (eating high calorie/high fat foods) might help them remain healthy due to their extreme expenditure of calories on a daily basis while training.    

But in another system where there isn’t an extreme level of exercise and activity, that element (eating high calorie/high fat foods) would result in a growing waste line and an increase in health problems.

So if you want to be a great NBA player you can certainly look to LeBron James to gain insight into his work ethic.  But you can’t just assume if you spend the same number of hours in the gym you will automatically be as good as LeBron. 

That is why I love the systems and habits approach to improvement.  It doesn’t say to succeed do X.  It says to keep working on making small advancements towards your goal.  This allows you to figure out what works for you.

It also shows that many extreme goals have too many system elements to have a clear path.  If we want to be president there are certainly things we can do to increase the chance of being president but there isn’t some simple formula to follow.

This doesn’t mean we can’t improve.  Too many people see these extreme goals as impossible so they give up on any sort of improvement effort.  They say, “if I can’t be in the NFL why try?”

The systems and habits approach to improvement is much different.  First, we don’t start out with those extreme goals that are very close to impossible to attain.  The odds of reaching those extremely high levels are so low that we should just start by focusing on making progress, not on how likely it is to reach the goal.

This can allow us to make progress.  As we make progress and as we go through life, our desires, dreams, goals, etc. will change.  As they change, instead of giving up and moving to something else, the progress allows us to shift and pivot but continue to grow the entire time.

About a month ago I met with a friend of mine who has a college-age son.  He was stating that his son keeps changing his major and doesn’t know what he wants to do.

I shared a little about myself in college.  Basically I was an unmotivated, lazy student who didn’t take advantage of the opportunities that college presented.  But looking back, the one thing I did right was that I kept making progress. 

I changed my mind on things and reversed course but the entire time I kept moving forward and growing.  That left me in a position when I figured out what I really wanted to do, I was already part of the way there. 

So the key for me during these unsure times is to keep moving forward.  Keep making progress and it will put us in a better position once we figure out what we really want.  And it will help provide more opportunities than sitting around doing nothing, hoping that a surge of inspiration will appear and tell us exactly what to do. 

So if we keep making progress and start to use systems thinking, we can start to see many facets of the systems involved.  If we maintain the mindset of continuing to make progress, we can move closer and closer to success as we feel our way through the systems involved.