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It matters less than you think

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.  

It matters less than you think

Scott Miker

Most people look at events for most of their information.  In systems thinking this means that they miss most of the important aspects of the systems and hone in on the most obvious manifestation of the system without even seeing the real system.

Peter Senge uses the concept of an iceberg.  The tip of the iceberg is the event portion.  That is the visible part of the system.  The majority of the iceberg lives under the water.  In systems thinking this includes the patterns, structures and mental models.

Studying systems thinking it becomes apparent how import the patterns, structures, and mental models are versus the events.  But without an understanding of systems, we put almost all of the focus on the tip of the iceberg that is seen – events.

We live in a culture that is impatient, anxious and easily distracted.  The media knows this and is constantly using events to get your attention.  They blast them all over and they do get your attention.

The stock market having a huge drop or a major league baseball player getting caught using steroids gets people’s attention.  But there are powerful systems at work and we tend to tune that out to see the individual event. 

But the more we start to see the full system, the less we are surprised by a new event.  In fact, we can see that it is part of the system. 

Most people set goals as events as well.  They set them as one-time accomplishments.  They strive to reach their intended level.

A better approach is to start to build better systems and habits in your life.  Look at the various systems in your life by identifying patterns first.  Ignore event information if it isn’t recurring or structured in any way.  But pay attention when similar events come up in the future, they are likely signaling systems that are in place and below your level of consciousness.

Let’s take the example of a student.  They could set a goal to get an A in a specific course that is difficult for them.  They would study and work hard to learn what they need to in order to reach their goal for that course.    

But what goes into a grade is much more than simply their work at that time, in that subject.  If they are an excellent studier or a poor studier, if they have the prerequisite understanding to take the course, if they have poor habits around preparation, if they get overly anxious on tests, etc. etc. etc.

Instead of simply setting a one-time event goal they could look at the full systems.  This might clue them in to some bad study habits.  Then they could work to change those.  This would allow them to perform better in this class but ALSO in every other class. 

Suddenly they would be performing higher across the board in all of their courses.  Setting one-time goals is exhausting because at the end of it you are always left at a place of starting over. 

Using the systems and habits approach to improve at the end of an improvement cycle you are left with new assets that will continue to provide benefit long after the event is forgotten. 

So don’t get stressed about the events, because it matters less than you think.  Instead pay attention to patterns and then work to change the structures and mental models around those events.  This is how you truly change and improve – systematically and over time.