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Stop being the reason you fail

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.  

Stop being the reason you fail

Scott Miker

Many times when we evaluate a system we see that elements of the system that we have control over are causing an outcome from the system that we don’t like.

It could be that we make bad decisions or that we have developed bad habits that suddenly become very sticky and hard to break.  It could be that we created structures in our lives that hold us back.

The great thing about systems thinking is that we can start to see our own role in the system.  It isn’t about what is being done to us.  It becomes about how we interact with the various elements of the system.  This works alongside the other elements of the system to produce the outcome, side effects, etc.

In Secrets of Influential People, author Steven Pearce asks, “What are the bureaucratic blockages in your own system?  Has a critical analysis been undertaken of whether a process aids an outcome, or undermines it?”

Many times we just assume we have to do things a certain way.  We assume we don’t have a choice even though we likely have a lot of control. 

Take an organization that wants to be able to adapt to a constantly changing marketplace.  If they build out a rigid system where decisions are only made at the top, then they will never truly be able to adapt and change to the often-subtle shifts in the marketplace. 

Or look at the person wanting to save money.  They may spend hours combing through online coupons to try and save money.  But this will likely just show them more stuff that they want but don’t have.  Then they end up spending more on items they don’t need.  There is a reason why coupons exist.  It isn’t to help you save your money it is to get you to spend your money on their product. 

We have to start to take back control and realize that we are the ones making the decisions.  Therefore we have to be the ones to take back power.  Yes there are elements of the system that are outside of your control, but most people would be shocked at how much of the system they created.

The systems and habits approach to improvement helps us to use systems thinking to start to build the right structures in our lives.  We can slowly build out the right systems rather than letting them develop by default. 

We start to recognize when a decision point can have a system impact.  Many times we minimize the importance of a decision and say it is just one decision.  But then we make a similar decision over and over as we face similar circumstances. 

As we do this we start to form patterns.  We form behavior habits.  We create powerful structures.  We start to think differently due to these new mental models that are created. 

This all comes form that one small decision.  That one decision can mean much more than we realize.

A few years ago I was trying to lose a couple pounds.  I realized that I had a bad habit of ordering pancakes every time I went to breakfast.  I love pancakes.  But I also know that they are not healthy and don’t really help in my goal to lose weight.

I remember being at a restaurant and justifying it to myself by saying, “Who cares it is just one meal.  Tomorrow I will start to eat healthy.  Eating pancakes today doesn’t really matter.”

But then the next time I was out to breakfast I found myself saying, “Who cares it is just one meal.  Tomorrow I will start to eat healthy.  Eating pancakes today doesn’t really matter.”

What I thought would be an easy choice turned out to be very difficult.  I made a decision and then made that decision again and again and again. 

I was finally able to choose some healthier options.  But I would keep getting sidetracked because I would assume since I was doing well with my new healthy eating habits I was in the clear.  So I would order pancakes.  Then next time, I would order pancakes.  Suddenly I realized that I haven’t ordered a healthy breakfast the last 5 times I went out to eat. 

So that decision point was much more than one meal, one time.  That decision would help reinforce a positive habit or help reinforce a negative habit.  Whether I was successful or not was up to me.  I was the reason I failed or succeeded.  My decision was made and formed the pattern that determined the outcome.  In other words, I was directly contributing to the system. 

We all have much more control over our lives that we think.  We are often the reason we succeed or fail even though we can point to outside forces that may impact our life.  So stop being the reason you fail and start to take control of the little decisions that you make over and over again.