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Systems are complicated so start small

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 are complicated so start small

Scott Miker

Systems are everywhere.  Everything about life is made up of multiple systems.  Everything we do, everything we see, and everything we are can be looked at systematically.

While this may help gain a better understanding of things, it also complicates things a bit.  Now that we can see that one system might impact several other, unrelated, systems, it can be difficult to know what to do to improve.

In Work the System by Sam Carpenter, the author does a great job of addressing the complexity when he says, “As you examine the systems of your life, investigating your way down through the multiplying, expanding, and intertwining rootlike chains, you see that subsystems compose each system, and each subsystem is composed of sub-subsystems.  Turn things around and work your way back up to the top of the converging chains.  As they come together and thicken into a single trunk, see that they add up to the primary system that is you.  You are a system of systems!” 

With all of this complexity and interconnecting parts, it can be easy to feel as though everything is too embedded to be able to change.  But we have to resist this analysis paralysis in order to get better. 

With systems thinking, we tend to see that changes often mean good change and bad change.  It might be good in one area but cause problems in another.  But we have to just accept this and make sure the change we are making is for a good reason. 

Imagine that you decide that you aren’t living a healthy life and it starts to impact your ability to enjoy life.  If you choose to start eating healthier food you will likely start to improve your health.

But what about the time you are at a family gathering and can’t take part in the delicious meal because most of it is prepared with foods that you are trying to avoid?  What about the discomfort you feel when you are at your favorite restaurant and eating something sensible while your friend orders your favorite meal?

Suddenly you might start changing how often you are going out with friends or attending family events.  This might adversely impact your enjoyment of life, which was the exact reason you choose to get healthy in the first place!

There is no way around this.  As they say, “if you want something you never had, you must do what you have never done.”  If you keep doing what you are doing you won’t ever realize the goal. 

But what I’ve found is that as I work through this process and turn behaviors into habits, the discomfort I would expect is much less than I anticipated.  It is as though I built up the discomfort in my head and when it finally comes, it isn’t that bad.

Therefore, we need to just focus on starting as small as possible.  If we make a subtle change we don’t have to worry about all the complexity of systems and we can test out how the change will impact other areas of our lives. 

This allows us to slowly modify behavior without extreme discomfort.  Without extreme discomfort we can keep going longer and ultimately turn those small behavior changes into habits.  Then we can take those habits and add to them over time. 

What this does is it allows us to make drastic shifts in the person we are.  We can change and improve the systems in our lives.  But the key is to start small and keep at it until all of the work comes together and starts to work automatically.  Then we will be astonished at the level of improvement that is possible.