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If you don't take control of the systems and habits in your life, someone else will

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.  

If you don't take control of the systems and habits in your life, someone else will

Scott Miker

We are all ruled by the habits in our lives and the various systems that make up our habits.  We go through our daily routine and never pay much attention to the habitual side of life.  I have read estimates that suggest up to 90% of our behaviors are actually habitual.  From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed we continue to automatically go through routines leaving our mind free to think about other things.

This can be great as it gives us consistency.  We can be confident that we can drive safely to work on most days and that we won’t forget to shower.  We can respond to meeting new people in a friendly way and we can make sure we eat when we get hungry.

But over time, people that understand systems and habits gain a sharp advantage.  They understand when they start developing a bad habit and can react and make a change.  They can choose to create positive habits.  They understand the thousands of decisions we make everyday form into habits because we will make similar decisions over and over until they become habit.

But this insight also provides people with tools to manipulate society.  This may be somewhat unintentional or it may be that they are trying to reach a goal or objective for the their cause, their company, or themselves.  


Understanding the Habits of Customers

When we go into a restaurant such as McDonald’s, we are bombarded with things that they know will cause us to make decisions that benefit their company.  They have spent money to research every possible cue to make sure they receive the most money from us and that we continue to support their business.  Have you ever stopped to think why they use the colors that they use or language they use when you order?  

It certainly isn’t by accident.  It is because they can show that this gives them the best chance at success.  This is great for them, but what about you?  Do the colors and language they use help you to achieve your nutrition and health goals?

They may, but only if your goals align with their goals of profitability.  Companies know how valuable information is about you.  For decades grocery stores have known that putting certain items near the register give them a better chance of being sold.  Have you ever looked around to see if these are the same items that are good for you and your goals?

They probably are not aligned with your goals at all.  Typically they are candy bars, gift cards, Chapstick, Hollywood magazines, etc.  They are attention grabbing and speak to your desire to receive instant gratification, not long-term happiness.  

Have you ever purchased something from an online retailer or used a shopper loyalty card?  Most of us have.  But do you realize the incredible amount of information that they gather?  

I actually prefer to visit and see their recommendations for what I might want to purchase.  They seem to know the music I like and the books that I enjoy reading.  They make recommendations based on my purchase history and even based on past search results.  

Shopper cards are able to gather individual information about large groups of people.  They have become experts and looking over items and figuring out things based on others who bought similar items.  They have gotten incredibly accurate at knowing everything from whether or not you are pregnant to when your children are likely to go to camp, all based on the items that you purchase.  We provide them tons of data.  Then they look at us like subjects in an experiment.  They can try various techniques and measure their effectiveness.  


Controlling Big Brother or Helpful, Tailored Solutions?

While this may sound scary, I think it is incredibly up-lifting.  Instead of using general habit knowledge to guide you towards what they want to sell you, they are better able to tailor their product selection to your interests.

If you are in the market for a new exercise bike they can provide recommendations based on other consumers’ purchase habits.  They can make you aware of the new CD from your favorite underground band.  They can point out several other motivational books since you recently purchased a few.  

They can now align your goals with theirs.  They can now become more profitable by understanding you and what you want, and then delivering it to you!

Even McDonald’s understands this.  They now have healthy options and put nutrition information on some of the menus.  If you are more interested in finding a low calorie option, rather than the burger with the most bacon, you can.

However, suppose that you don’t understand systems and habits and you aren’t moving towards your long-term goals.  You will still get information that supports your previous buying patterns.  This will not, necessarily, be where you want to go.  Instead of noticing the nutrition information printed next to an item, you will continue to view the menu for the cheesiest burger or the super-sized, double-something.  

You can gain control of your future or you can allow others to control your habits based on their goals and objectives.  Stores want to sell more, not less.  If you are trying to pay off debt they are not likely to talk you out of purchasing that unnecessary item.  Just the other day I was in the mall and heard a woman tell the sales person she couldn’t “really” afford the item.  The sales person responded “but you can take it home and try it on again and if you decide it is too much then bring it back.”  The sales person has the goal of selling the item.  They are not focused on what is best for you long-term.

Only you can decide what direction to go.  Others will continue to try and influence you based on their goals.  This may align with your goals or it may not.  The only way to truly avoid their influence is to gain control of the systems and habits in your life.  Then you can do the work to try and figure out how to manipulate your decisions to accomplish your goals.