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Make consistent choices to strengthen positive habits

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.  

Make consistent choices to strengthen positive habits

Scott Miker

Everyone wants success and happiness.  While most people don’t have the ambition to work towards goals and they simply go through the motions of life, you can rise above that with the right habits.

Habits are incredibly important in determining our future because our behavior is about 95% habit.  This means that what determines most of our actions throughout the day we have done in the past over and over and formed a pattern in our mind.   

We make a decision when we are faced with a new situation.  Then when we face a similar situation in the future, we are more likely to follow the same thought process and choose a similar course of action. 

This isn’t always the case.  When we are children we learn early on not to touch the stove.  This is because we get instant feedback to tell us not to do that again.  The sudden jolt of pain creates a strong emotional response and that is enough to stand out and tell us NOT to do the same thing next time.

But most of life’s decisions are not the same.  The difference is that the feedback is not as quick or extreme.  Instead of a sudden jolt of pain, we experience a slight increase or decrease in pleasure or we don’t experience a change at all.

What this does is it starts to have us choosing short-term gratification over long-term success and happiness.  We eat the cookie and it tastes good so it is reinforced.  We eat broccoli and it doesn’t taste good so we don’t want to do it again. 

Over time, if we continue to follow this pattern we will build up habits that focus on short-term pleasure over long-term pleasure.  We start to sacrifice the future for the present moment. 

If we do this enough, it will start to degrade our future.  We will keep stealing from the future to have more today.  Then when tomorrow comes, we have less so we have to steal more from the future.  We do this over and over and over if we developed bad habits. 

Once we realize this, we can start to change.  We can improve our future by making sure our daily choices and habits align with our future goals.  We can sacrifice a little gratification now for more happiness later. 

We can choose broccoli instead of the cookie.  We can invest our money instead of spending it on a flashy night out.  We can exercise instead of sitting on the couch watching TV.   

These choices are not likely to be reinforced naturally.  Because the benefit of that choice is delayed, it doesn’t get hard-wired into our brain.  So the habit doesn’t form as quickly or easily as choosing the short-term gratification option. 

Therefore, you have to work at it.  You have to keep making that choice over and over and over.  It can start to stick and become as automatic as any other habit, but it won’t happen without a focus and conscious effort towards maintaining the positive behavior.

Orison Swett Marden, who founded SUCCESS magazine, said, “The beginning of a habit is like an invisible thread, but every time we repeat the act we strengthen the strand, add to it another filament, until it becomes a great cable and binds us irrevocably in thought and act.”

So you can start to form positive habits that happen automatically and take you towards the success and happiness you crave, but you have to keep making the choices that will improve the future.  It will take a little sacrifice, but in the future the benefits will start to make it easier and easier to keep doing what got you there. 

Remember each time you make that positive choice that you are working to build the right habits.  Reinforce those choices by making sure you keep at it and keep working those habits to help you improve.  This will lead you directly towards success and happiness.