Triggered Rewards

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that a lot of research has been conducted on the process of habit formation. We humans develop habits quite easily, and scientists have wanted to know why. So years of research have helped psychologists discover a pattern in human behavior called the “habit loop.”

The “habit loop” works like this: The brain records the feelings that a person has whenever that person performs a certain behavior. The brain also remembers the circumstances that gave rise to that behavior. So whenever a person responds to a situation in a particular way and then has a good feeling as a result of his actions, the person’s brain records the experience. Then, the next time the person faces a similar situation, his brain remembers the action he took the last time and prompts him to take that same action again.

When a repetitive behavior produces a positive feeling each time a person performs it, that person’s brain causes him to form a habit. And that explains the “habit loop” that governs our lives. A certain “trigger” (or “cue” or “reminder”) will cause a person to perform the behavior that his brain has attached to that trigger, and then the “reward” that he experiences will reinforce that behavior in his subconscious.

This is why you perform habitual behaviors without even thinking about them. But the good news is that a person can circumvent this process to force himself to learn good habits instead of bad ones. The key is to find a “trigger” that will help you perform the behavior you want to perform and then find a “reward” that will reinforce that behavior in your life. If you do this long enough, the behavior will become permanent, and you will perform it routinely without even thinking about it. And good habits can enhance your life.


Repetitive Organization

One of the things I explain in Make That, Break That is that bad habits are overcome, not by trying to defeat them, but rather by “overwriting” them with better habits. Once a person understands how habits are created and then utilizes that newfound knowledge to develop the kinds of habits that he wants, that person’s bad habits will tend to fade away.

In Make That, Break That, I also delve into the different areas of life where new habits can be beneficial and where their creation can have a domino effect of giving rise to even more good habits. And one of those areas where a new habit can have an ongoing effect is in the area of organization.

Most of us are terribly disorganized. And while it would not be good for us to totally abandon those spontaneous aspects of life that make life worth living, we often create more stress for ourselves than we ought because we are disorganized in everything we do.

Just think about it! Up to 90 percent of what you do in your life is repetitive. You brush your teeth every day, you eat every day, you go to school or to work almost every day, and you go to bed every night. But while these parts of our lives are the parts we do “automatically” and without thought, the irony is that these parts of our lives are the parts that are most important, because these repetitive parts of our lives are the parts that affect all the other parts.

It is vital, therefore, that we forge good habits of organization. It is vital that we create habitual behaviors in the repetitive parts of our lives so the non-repetitive parts can be more productive and more fulfilling. Wise is the person who maximizes his health and happiness by minimizing his stress.


Who's Your Friend?

When you want to relax and have fun, what kind of people do you spend your time with? When you go out to dinner with friends, what kind of friends do you choose? Our friends tell us everything about us, because people tend to choose friends who reflect their own values.

No man wants to feel uncomfortable when he is playing golf with another man, and no woman wants to feel uncomfortable when she is shopping with another woman. So when a person wants to relax, that person will instinctively select a companion who wants to talk about the things that interest him and wants to do the things that make her happy. To look at your friends, therefore, is to look in a mirror. We choose friends who reflect our personal interests.

This is why, in the Bible, the apostle Paul could say, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’” Two things happen when we spend lots of time with other people. First, we choose people who already reflect most of our priorities and morals. And second, we adopt the remaining priorities and morals of those with whom we spend our time. We become like them.

So one of the best habits you could develop to make your future brighter is the habit of spending time with people you want to emulate. Obviously, you don’t get to pick your coworkers or your neighbors. All of us have to learn to get along with difficult people. But when it comes to those friends that you choose to draw close to you, start looking for ways to bring admirable people into your inner circle. Seek out friends who are doing the things you want to do and succeeding in those areas of life where you want to succeed. Your friends will dictate your future in a very big way.


How's Your Attitude?

Generally speaking, are you an optimist or a pessimist? Do you see the glass half empty or half full? All our lives, we have been taught that attitude is a choice. Attitude is not a matter of genetics or a matter of upbringing or a matter of the circumstances impacting our lives; a person’s attitude is a choice that he makes regarding the way he will respond to the world around him.

But I would actually go a step farther. I would propose that a person’s attitude is a habit. It is something that is learned through a repetitive response to inner feelings and the external world, and it eventually becomes an automatic reaction to everything in life.

Did you know, however, that your attitude is more than just an attitude? It is more than just a way of thinking or behaving. Your attitude actually affects your health. People with positive attitudes have a higher tolerance for pain than people with negative attitudes, and positive people have less stress in their lives than people with sour dispositions.

Just like any good habit, therefore, the habit of a good attitude can be learned over time. In real life, good experiences and bad experiences tend to balance out. But because our attitudes are based on perceptions, not reality, those perceptions can be reshaped if we will follow the simple steps that are necessary for creating a new habit.

In Make That, Break That, I explain the simple steps for forming a new habit, including the habit of a better attitude. And while the bad news is that these steps will take time to implement in your life, the good news is that they can make a lasting difference. A new habit, once acquired, can truly change the trajectory of your life and the perceptions that shape it.


A Required Response

How do bad habits arise, and why do we seem to have more bad habits than good ones?

Bad habits arise when we find ourselves in difficult situations that require a response. To deal with these situations, we will do whatever is necessary to minimize the discomfort and put an end to the dilemma. In a difficult social situation, for instance, we might tell a “little white lie.” Or during a difficult yet important test at school, we might take a quick glance at another student’s paper. And when we are a tiny bit short of having the cash we need to pay for the pizza we ordered, we might “borrow” a little money from a roommate who keeps his wallet in his desk drawer.

But the problem with these socially acceptable compromises is that they teach the brain a shortcut to solving that particular problem. So when a similar situation arises in the future, the brain will remember the action that got you out of hot water the last time, and the brain will prompt you to engage in a similar activity. Whether you know it or not, your brain remembers the connection between the problem and the solution that brought you immediate relief. So the brain will “write” that solution to its hard drive. And when you repeat the action a few more times, a habit will be formed, a habit that will become subconscious, spontaneous, and automatic.

We rarely think about it while it is happening, because habits are formed gradually over time. But habits are habits, nonetheless, and they can dictate the course and the outcome of our lives. So our habits can appear to be “innocent” while they are taking shape. But the things we do routinely and with little thought are the things that will define us unless we change them.


A New Beginning

Bad habits are easy to acquire. They are obtained slowly over time, and they usually remain “invisible” throughout our lives. Most of the time we aren’t aware of them, because they are manifested on a subconscious level. Nevertheless they exist, and they impact every area of our lives. They affect our health, our relationships, our finances, our careers, our hygiene, our physical mannerisms, and even our reputations. Bad habits shape our lives in more ways than we can imagine.

What bad habits do you recognize in your life? Worse yet, what bad habits do others recognize in you that are hidden from your view? A bad habit is any activity that is performed routinely and without thought that can negatively affect your life. But while all of us have a few bad habits, most of us would like to overcome them. Most of us would like to grow and achieve the destiny that God designed us to achieve. We want tomorrow to be better than today. But we know that we are powerless to shape the future unless we can gain control over those pesky habits that rob us of our potential and plague our lives with mediocrity.

So take heart in the fact that bad habits can be overcome once we are able to recognize them. Utilizing the principles that I explain in Make That, Break That, you can replace your bad habits with good ones, and you can write a new script for the rest of your life.

Your bad habits have the power to destroy you, but good habits have the power to overwrite the bad ones and propel you toward greatness. So make an effort to learn how habits are formed in your life and how you can circumvent that process to develop the habits you want. Don’t settle for the status quo.


Attention to the Detail

Not long ago I was watching a golf tournament on television, and I noticed something I had never really noticed before. I watched the player who was leading the tournament while he was preparing to take his next shot, and I noticed how meticulously he was preparing himself for that shot.

I think most of us have played golf at one time or another in our lives. If not, we have certainly hit golf balls on a driving range. So most of us know what it is like to stand over a golf ball before taking our swing. But this guy was taking a really long time to get set for his shot. He was considering everything from the slope of the green to the speed of the wind and from the bent of the grass to the humidity in the air.

But then it occurred to me why he was taking so much time to hit his shot. Professional golfers are so good that the difference between winning and losing is often one shot. In fact, a tournament can often come down to missing a 30-foot putt by a quarter of an inch. So for that reason, golfers at the highest levels give careful consideration to every little detail of every shot they hit. They don’t even take a one-inch tap-in for granted.

So golfers know what all of us need to know. In the same way that a golf tournament is comprised of about 260 shots, each one extremely important, so life is comprised of all our little deeds that come together to write the storyline of our lives. If our habits cause us to waste “shots” on things that are steering us away from our goals, those habits must be eliminated. Time is too precious to waste on behaviors that rob our potential.

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