What is Systems Thinking?

Goals Systems Thinking

Most problems life sends our way have quite a few solutions already. Someone bent on losing weight can join hot yoga, tap the magic of the Atkins Diet, or drink proprietary shakes. With their FDA support, and perhaps even the backing of many physicians, it may seem these products or the thousands like them are foolproof.

Somehow New Year’s resolutions still die before February and shake aficionados end up shelving their wheat germ. What’s truly needed is an integrated goal-management strategy called Systems Thinking.  

Holistic Philosophy

Because systems thinking existed first as a philosophy, and only later became a goal management tool, it has quite a long pedigree. For our purposes let’s consider systems thinking as “A holistic, well-considered approach that breaks down traditional ideas involving the function of integrated parts; rather than take a piecemeal approach, a systems thinker considers questions like “what does this mean for the other units within the larger network or an entire life?”  As far as people are concerned, this can often be viewed as maintaining a Mind - Body - Spirit approach.  

The Appropriate Goal for you

In our dieting/exercise examples above, the individuals picked a plan without knowing if it was right for them. Perhaps they first became self-conscious doing advanced yoga with slender twenty-somethings. Maybe peer pressure from a large Mediterranean family rendered the Atkins Diet a fool’s errand. Your personality, circumstances, and preferences will play a role your in chance of success or failure too. You haven’t heard the last protests from your body, even if your mind is firmly resolved to a life of Acai Berries. Is a crash diet before beach seasons a better option than dropping weight gradually? Only you truly know what you need.

Don’t believe that systems thinking is only about dropping your waist size. A good mechanic uses systems thinking too. He or she takes a look at your timing belt when he checks your oil. Functionally they two things have little to do with one another, but the whole engine is imperiled if the timing belt snaps. The best oil in the world won’t matter then.  

Goals Matrix

So how do you integrate systems thinking into your own life? Try the following. Create a rectangular grid. Label one-half of the vertical axis “Effort” and the other half “Results”. On the horizontal axis, label your spaces “physical, Mind, spiritual, and community.”

  • The Effort section is a place for goal-building pros and cons. Be frank with yourself; write in the boxes those demands you’ll be making upon a given personal resource while working towards your goal.
  • In the Results section do the same, but aim towards visualizing how the work itself feeds your system and will impact other aspect of your Life. See if you can identify strategies to keep the outcome positive overall

This is really useful to Plan your Goals, to make sure you know WHY you are setting-off on that path, but also to Inspire yourself when the going gets tough.  Do this on a blank sheet of paper and you can use some of these to build your Goals plan and be more effective reaching Goals

Here's an example of mine for Running a Race:

 Matrix Title:  I want to run a Race within x months of today

  Physical Mind       SpiritualCommunity
  •  I will need to train many  times a week following a good training program
  • I need to be careful and carefully monitor my health
  •  I will need to stay motivated and strong-willed to keep-up the long-term effort this will require. 
  • I will need to keep this goal in focus for the next while
  • Keep thinking about the benefits
  • By working on this goal, I am doing something I really believe will make me healthier, live better, happier.  
  • These long runs will give me time to reflect on my life and make like-thinking friends at the running club
  • I will have less time available to give to my community
  • Family time in the evening will be somewhat restricted, but we will manage that.
  • I will be in better shape
  • I will lose extra weight
  • Regular Exercise will help me reduce my  stress level
  • Improved mental helath and brain capacity
  • This will increase my sense of self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Mastering this goal will inspire future success
  • I will inspire others around me to achieve their goals
  • I can use this race to raise funds for a favored charity
  • I will strengthen my local running club
  • Reaching this goal will position me to help others

Systems Thinking Summary

Systems thinking is not rocket science. It is as simple as planning your day off.

  • Perhaps your Sunday would best be used relaxing at home (mental health), but you could play a board game with the family (community) or go on a solo bike ride (physical) instead.

Not every task can build all facets of your holistic life, but itemizing your time helps avoid self-neglect. It’s easy to forget about our systems as long as they’re humming along smoothly.   Just remember:

We can often trace the problems of tomorrow back to our choices today.


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Tuesday, 24 November 2020