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What are your default settings?

Blog

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.  

What are your default settings?

Scott Miker

Habits are your default settings

Recently I received a letter in the mail from our electric utility provider.  The message said that the city has negotiated a discount rate for our electric and that we now have the option to switch over to this new provider.  If we took no action, we would be switched automatically but we could keep our current provider if we called them and requested we remain the same.

These scenarios are very common in our lives but I’m not sure we always realize just how powerful these messages can be.  In our organization we have a yearly open enrollment period for benefits but the default options if we do not actively make a choice are to keep everything the same.  

I can recall working at a grocery store when I was teenager.  We were told to use the plastic bags because they were cheaper unless the customer specifically requested paper bags.  Even when I worked in a retail environment we were told that customers didn’t need to have their coupon with them, but that we should only give them the discount if they ask.  

The default settings are very important because a large number of people will tend to rely on the default settings for their decisions.  Therefore, companies use the default settings to provide the best situation for the company’s bottom line.  

Some people may not be happy to know that but the reality is that the company is giving you options and letting you decide.  They are not going to select the option that hurts them financially because a customer decided to ignore their message.  

Instead of looking at this situation and judging the actions of those involved, let’s take a different perspective.  Our lives are made up of decisions that we can make everyday.  These decisions are as simple as what to eat and how to get to work in the morning.  They can be as complicated as the purchase of a new home or vacation property.  

What we should realize is that all of these decisions follow habitual ways of thinking.  The habits are, in essence, the default setting.  If we don’t actively choose otherwise, we will rely on our patterned response to similar situations.

Let me provide an example.  We all know people that purchase high end products, regardless of whether or not they can really afford them.  They usually justify it with features and benefits of the product.  If they purchase a home, they must have a home at the top of their budget.  If they purchase a car, only a new car will do.  If they purchase a fridge, they will get the top-of-the line unit.  

This isn’t necessarily bad.  But when this habitual way of deciding purchases causes one to spend above their means or rely too heavily on credit cards, it can cause devastating situations.  They probably don’t realize that when they find themselves in a decision to purchase something, they will tend to rely on this way of looking at their purchase.  This becomes their default.

This may be a bit scary but if we look at this as an opportunity it can provide hope.  What if, instead of their default being to purchase the highest quality option they, instead, always choose the most economical option unless there is something very compelling which demonstrates the NEED for a higher end product.  It will be difficult at first but over time they can start to make the same type of decision over and over again.  This, then, will start to become a habitual way of thinking and will become their default.  

The default can be any area of our lives.  Is our default when we get criticized to aggressively defend our behaviors?  What is the default method of reviewing and ordering food off of a menu (by the way that is one area where restaurants tailor their menu so you order more expensive items)?  What is the default method of getting gas in your car?  Do you wait until the warning light comes on or do you stop at a gas station when you get to a quarter tank left?  Do you budget your money?  Do you plan your lunches?

The list can go on and on.  Don’t get overwhelmed but realize the power of the habits in our lives.  Like systems we rely on them to move us forward.  Our systems and habits get formed when we make a decision and then make that decision again and again.  We can start to take control of this by realizing those small decisions are powerful.  By doing this we can start to reprogram our default settings.