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The pendulum between yes and no

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.  

The pendulum between yes and no

Scott Miker

When I was about 23 years old I started to read books that inspired and motivated me to take control of my life.  I started to be willing to take risks and I would disregard the opinions of others. 

It was a very important time in my life.  For years I felt constrained and confined to moving in the direction that others thought was best for me.  This was my way of breaking free from this limiting and hopeless mindset. 

I remember reading books that talked about early childhood programming.  The argument was that we are constantly told what we can’t do.  We are constantly told “no” and that this negative reinforcement starts to build a very enslaved mind. 

I think that there is a lot of truth to that.  By going against the internal voice inside of us, we get away from living with purpose. 

But I also think there is great value in limitations.  When we are children we have to have this discipline in our lives.  Without it we would eat nothing but candy and would never go to school.  In other words, we only listen to short-term urges and ignore what is best for the long-term. 

So the answer isn’t to be one extreme or the other.  The answer is to understand both and balance the two.  We have to understand that both exist together and both add value.  We can’t ignore one or we will run into problems.

Ignoring short-term pleasures for too long will burn us out.  Ignoring the future will leave us wasting our resources and setting us up for future failure and struggle. 

For me it felt like swinging on a pendulum.  I would swing a little too far on the conservative, long-term, boring-decision side and would get depressed.  Then I would move too far on the wild, do-whatever-makes-me-happy-now side. 

Over time I would be better at managing this and wouldn’t go to the extremes.  I would stay closer to the center and would realize when I was shifting too far to one side. 

Now that I have children I see this play out all the time.  In fact, this morning I had a conversation with my 3 year old about why she can’t just keep eating some leftover cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  As children we don’t understand that we have to suppress urges in order to build a better future – and avoid a stomachache! 

But for me the way to utilize this was to rely on habits.  By building positive habits we don’t have to struggle as much between what we want now and what we want in the future.  We simply start to build positive habits, slowly over time.  As we build our positive habits they start to drive us where we want to end up. 

It makes it easier to make positive decisions because we break them down into very small steps initially.  Then when the choice becomes habitualized and automatic, we can add more to it. 

So it isn’t about deciding between a bacon double cheeseburger and broccoli.  It starts with choosing a regular cheeseburger without the bacon.  Then slowly becomes a chicken sandwich or fish or some other step that takes us closer and closer to eating healthy without the discomfort typically associated with eating healthy or dieting. 

It isn’t about going out today and buying a new boat because your bored or putting all of your money into a retirement account.  Instead it is about adding a small percent of your income into a savings account.  Then after you adjust to the lesser take-home pay, you increase the percentage slightly. 

This has been the key for me to balancing between yes and no.  Instead of wildly swinging from one to the other, we can build habits that take us towards success and happiness, between short-term and long-term, between yes and no.