Making habits, not choices

Drink this.

Drink this.

Not this.

Not this.

Research has shown that our brains only have so much decision-making capacity, and only so much willpower. After a certain point, if we’ve been spending the day making tough choices and denying ourselves our desires, we just run out of brain space to do it.

Because of this, some people recommend not worrying about the little financial decisions – the coffees and cute scarves – because you’ll be out of willpower when the big ones come up – a gorgeous $200 pair of shoes or that cool-looking $100 video game.

The thing is, a decision only takes energy the first few times you make it. Then, you make it into a habit. Habits are automatic.

I used to live near a lake, and there was a cute coffee shop between my house and the lake. Most days, after work, I would go for a walk around the lake and buy a latte on the way. It was a habit, and it was awesome.

Now, I’ve changed the rule. I still love a good latte – but now I only buy them when I’m going to sit down and enjoy them, whether it’s by myself or with a friend. I didn’t have to cut something I liked out of my life, I just changed the rule: not when I’m going for a walk and not at work.

I’ve also made rules like “at happy hour, buy one drink,” and “pack your lunch,” and “furniture comes from Craigslist.” Sure, I break these rules occasionally, but having them means I don’t need to expend the mental energy every day to decide whether or not I’m going out to lunch.

Do you make rules for yourself? Have they made your decision-making easier?

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