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Continuous improvement and patience

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.  

Continuous improvement and patience

Scott Miker

When you set out on an improvement journey and you take the approach of applying continuous improvement, you have to realize that it will take time to see significant improvement.  It won’t happen overnight. 

Continuous improvement is the strategy where we make very small improvements that builds up over time to become something significant.  They don’t start out with massive overhauls that suddenly bring accomplishments.  They start small and are usually not noticeable for a while. 

But too often when I’m working with someone on continuous improvement they get impatient.  They see a problem area and want sudden improvement.  Sometimes this is possible but when the problem is ingrained in the various interacting systems, making changes usually causes downstream consequences that hurt in the long term rather than help.

Therefore, if you are setting out on a journey to improve and you are starting to use continuous improvement, learn to be patient. 

Here is a quick example.  Imagine you set a goal to be more organized in your house.  Many people just typically throw their stuff wherever they have space rather than determining the best place for everything.    

At first it might seem easy, just put your stuff away.  But over time unless you have a good, consistent system set up, you will likely change where you keep something every time.  In other words the tendency would be to have general system for everything but then change that system each time you need to use it, thus causing as much or more disorganization as before. 

But what you need to see long-term improvement is consistency.  Consistency in continuous improvement is incredibly important because without it we will only realize short-term wins and not be able to set a course for long-term improvement. 

We all have probably experienced this in one form or another.  When I started to exercise after gaining weight for years, I tried something for a week or two and then would try something else.  I never accomplished my goals and just got frustrated that losing weight was so difficult.

Then I shifted my approach and did a small amount of exercise but did it consistently.  At first it was barely noticeable.  I didn’t have major wins in that area and remained somewhat frustrated. 

Instead of focusing on the lack of results early on, I focused on continuing to make progress.  I would put more value in the fact that I exercised every day that week than the fact that the number on the scale increased. 

The more consistent I was the more I could keep going.  Then when I was getting stressed about the lack of results I could add a little more.  I usually kept the same routine and just added a different exercise at the end or just increased how much I was doing.

But I did this slowly and had very small increases.  This required a ton of patience.  I had to temper the frantic, anxious side of my thinking enough to simply keep going and making progress. 

But doing this gave me a great long-term system that I built up over time and helped to decrease my weight by over 45-50 lbs.  It certainly didn’t happen over night and actually took close to 10 years with many ups and downs but a general overall trend of losing a few pounds each year. 

People sometimes look to continuous improvement and expect it to be an instant, magical solution to a problem.  In reality it involves a slow, methodical process of taking small steps consistently to reach your goal.  This involves a lot more patience than you might think.  Therefore, to help gain the patience required, shift your focus initially from results to simply measuring progress.  Are you making progress towards your goals?  If so don’t abandon the new system, keep going to slowly improve it over time.