Understanding Our Habits   

Do you have any bad habits in your life that you are having a hard time breaking? I don’t know anyone who intentionally plans to develop bad habits, however they seem to make their way into our lives without our being aware of them. At least not until they start to wreak havoc into our daily living.

Back in 2013 I wrote a book titled, A Life of Excellence. In the book I share some insightful words from Dr. Tom Morris as it relates to our habits. He says:

Good habits usually result from thoughtful, rational decision making plus personal discipline and repetition. When establishing a new habit, getting started is generally the hardest part. For example, we might start a new exercise and diet routine because we observe our bodies slowly deteriorating or we know of people our age who’ve suffered heart attacks. We calculate a shortfall in our retirement needs and tighten our budgets so we can direct more financial resources to our retirement accounts. As we implement these necessary changes over time, they become permanent habits in our lives, and ultimately will lead to our future well-being.

Bad habits, on the other hand, are usually not the result of logical thought or careful deliberation. Frequently, they are a result of pleasurable sensations that make us feel good. And if it results in making us feel better, then we are prone to doing it again and again. Repetition sets in and behold—a new habit has formed.

In this day and time, good feelings often have far greater power over our ability to reason. Once established, these bad habits are much more difficult to break because they are rooted in the strength of personal feelings and pleasurable sensations.

Over the years I have wondered how people develop patterns of living that lead to such destruction in their lives. Why would anyone allow destructive habits to form and then be so helpless to overcome them?

Recently I had an aha moment upon reading some profound words by author James Clear. He says we value the present more than we value the future. We prefer instant gratification over delayed gratification.

He asks the question, why would someone smoke if it dramatically increases the risk of lung cancer? Why would someone overeat when they know it increases the risk of obesity and heart disease? The reason is clear; the consequences of bad habits are delayed, while the rewards are immediate.

Think about it, smoking may result in a painful death in ten years, but it reduces stress and eases nicotine cravings, now. Overeating is harmful in the long run but tastes wonderful in the moment.

With our bad habits, the immediate outcome usually feels good, but the ultimate outcome feels bad. With good habits, it is the reverse: the immediate outcome is unenjoyable, but the ultimate outcome feels good. The French economist Frédéric Bastiat explained the problem clearly when he wrote, “It almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa . . . Often, the sweeter the first fruit of a habit, the more bitter are its later fruits.”

The bottom line is that you pay the price for your good habits in the present. The price you pay for your bad habits is in the future.

This is why wise people are very forward thinking. They understand that there is a cause and effect relationship between the choice I make today (in the present) and the life I end up with in the future.

Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.


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