My Life and Systems Thinking

I want to quit smoking.

There are a lot of reasons for this, not the least because I might die of horrible things. I am also just a little embarrassed to admit that I want to quit because it’s really expensive and because I hate smelling of smoke. It’s a really bad smell. My clothes reek, my hands reek, and my hair reeks. I’d rather smell of something nice, thank you.  

I’ve tried to quit a number of times. I’ve tried hypnosis tapes, which put me to sleep, I’ve tried cold turkey, which made me plot the deaths of everyone who asked me how quitting was going, and I’ve tried gum which tasted bad. Quitting smoking is hard, as just about anyone will attest.  

So this time I’m going to go at it using systems thinking. I’ve gone over this subject before, but I’ll give you a recap. Systems thinking is the idea that cause and effect are too simple to explain ourselves and the world around us. It’s the idea that everything we do, think and are is the result of the systems that we are and the systems around us. So if a man cheats on his wife, cause and effect thinking might suggest that it’s because they’re not connecting well anymore. Systems thinking claims that it’s because of that, but also because of the man’s upbringing, his moral systems, his impulse control, the environment in which he met the other woman, the other woman’s upbringing and so on. Life is an impossibly complex interplay between the different systems that are constantly running.  

A behaviour can never have one cause. If one person gets into a car accident they might punch the other guy in the face, it happens I’m sure. I’ve been in a car accident and my first response was to ask if everyone was okay. Different running systems. It just isn’t in me to punch someone, actually I’ve never punched anyone in my life. Other people have systems where punching someone is an accepted and reasonable response. They have different things in their systems than I do. That isn’t a good or a bad thing on its own, things get added to our system without our consent or control. I could say that although the elements in the system are out of our control, our resulting behaviour isn’t, but that isn’t completely true either, is it?  

We operate in patterns. People who have been abused choose new partners who are also abusers without consciously realising it. We all perform behaviours that we know are bad for us and do anyway. What this all means is that our behaviour isn’t as in our control as we like to think. We are the result of our biology, our internal programming, and the influencers around and within us. Some mornings I wake up craving pineapple juice. I don’t know why and it isn’t every morning. Some mornings I control the cravings and have tea and others I go out and get juice. And I have no idea why I can resist the cravings one day and not the next. My brain does that. I have very little to do with the process.  

So what does this have to do with quitting smoking? Well, if I truly am a result of my systems than logic tells me that I need to change the systems to change the behaviour. This means working out what systems are operating that support the smoking and setting up new systems that are incompatible with the smoking. I know that I smoke more when I’m bored. When I’m sitting at home, working or writing, it’s easy and nice to sit outside and have a smoke. I also smoke when I’m drinking tea. I’m not quitting tea though, not for anything. I need to set up external systems that make smoking difficult if not impossible and keep myself busy so I don’t brood on the loss.  

That’s all good and it will help but the primary systems I need to look at are the internal systems. What is set up inside of me that makes smoking okay? It would have to be a pretty big set of systems, after all smoking is so detrimental to me in every way, that it would take a lot to get around all of that. I was socialised to smoke, both of my parents do, I worked in industries where it was normal, I was a nurse after all. I’ve also lived in countries where it’s not only accepted but encouraged and that has made it more acceptable in my mind.  

These elements are just some of the things I’ll be looking at over the next few weeks, the systems and how I can change them to get the result I want. Because that’s the best part of systems thinking, the realisation that if you can change the system in the right way, the result you want is the inevitable result. I want to quit smoking. I want that to be the inevitable result of my systems. Now I just have to work out what to change to make it come true.  

Wish me luck and I’ll let you know how it goes.



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