Friday, December 3, 2010

Habits and Patterns

"Sow a thought and you reap an act; Sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; Sow a character and you reap a destiny.”
Samuel Smiles

Creating Positive Patterns

The neural network of the brain is a patterning system. It takes inputs and forms patterns from them. It evolved to enable your organism to repeat learned behaviors. Every time you perform a thought or action, it increases the probability that you will perform that thought or action again. That’s how the brain works.

So you need to be very, very careful what thoughts and behaviors you do in your life. Because, without being aware, you can end up with life denying habits and patterns that don’t serve you.

Building Unconscious Competencies

The above diagram shows the NLP Staircase of Learning model. Through repeated actions, you build unconscious competence. You build an unconscious part that knows how to accurately repeat and perform the learned behavior. This might be a physical behavior, an emotional behavior or a cognitive behavior. You can end up with habits and patterns of physiology, feeling or thought.

Behaviors that were learned in one context or time of your life, may no longer be appropriate or useful in your current context or time of life. What at first appeared fun, exciting and interesting, can swiftly become something that is slowly killing you. Or put more accurately, you may be killing yourself by repeating old patterns of thinking and behaving.

That’s what addiction is all about. Nobody starts off doing something they truly believe will kill them or damage them. They start off doing the behavior, believing they are getting some sort of benefit. The smoker gets stimulation, peer group acceptance, or maybe even a sense of being ‘cool’. The drinker gets relaxation, camaraderie and an altered state. But once the pattern of addiction has formed, once the brain and body have changed the number of chemical receptors to match the elevated levels in the bloodstream, the person is hooked. They are slowly killing themselves – performing slow suicide – and it’s not so easy to stop.

Negative habits, patterns and addictions are absolute life denying enemies to happiness. They take away from your life. They take away not just quantity, but more importantly they destroy the quality of your life. Drugs, smoking, drinking excessively, overeating are all enemies to happiness. They might provide some small secondary gains, some side benefits, but they do so at a primary cost to your health and the quality of your mind/body.

If you want to maximise your life enhancing chances for happiness and joy, you’ll want to look after your health. It’s that simple. If you are addicted to anything that is slowly damaging your mind or body then STOP it. Seek professional help. Do whatever it takes to stop addicting. Your long-term happiness and peace of mind depends on it.

The facts are our friends. I can’t say it any simpler or more bluntly than that. Negative patterns and addictions will damage your mind and body. Think carefully about what your outcomes are for your life and if you decide you want to live a life of happiness and meaning, then work assiduously to stop and remove any negative addictions from your life.

Focus on positive outcomes

Instead, clearly specify the positive outcomes you want in their place. Focus on what you want and not what you don’t want in your life. Remember the power of negation. Focus on positive outcomes. Set health and wellness, and the happiness they support and engender in your life, as high values and priorities. Develop and stick to a good balanced diet. Start exercising. Look after your body. Look after your brain. Keep toxic chemicals and drugs away from your precious cybernetic loop. Make an agreement with yourself to only support positive healthful actions and behaviors in your life.

The great news is, that every time you refuse to do something negative and instead replace it with a positive behavior or thought, it will increase the probability of you doing that positive action again. You can create positive habits and patterns in the same way as any other habit or pattern. By choosing to sow only positive thoughts and actions in your life you will reap a destiny of happiness and meaning.

The thin edge of the wedge

My father taught me many years ago the wisdom of the saying ‘Beware the thin edge of the wedge!’ This thinking tool particularly applies to the issue of habits and patterns and especially the forming of addictions. The way a wedge works is that one end is very pointy and thin. If you are splitting wood for example, a wedge can be easily slipped into the thinnest of cracks. Then slowly but surely the wedge can be driven deeper and eventually, the thick end of the wedge will cause even the strongest of logs to split and fall apart. If you tried to drive the thick end in first of course, you would have great difficulty and it would not work.

It’s the same with behavior and thoughts. The thin edge of the wedge is when you allow yourself or someone else to do or think something that is negative or harmful. “It’s only once” you say. But it’s the thin edge of the wedge. Before long, if you aren’t careful, one drink becomes two, two drinks become four, and then you’re at the thick end of the wedge, addicted to alcohol and destroying your life and happiness. So look for and beware the thin edge of the wedge in your life. It’s vitally important for your life enhancing long-term happiness.

Thinking Tools – Repetition
Repetition leads to repetition. The repetition of a thought or action increases the probability of repetition

Thinking Tools – The Wedge
Beware the thin edge of the wedge!

Create life enhancing patterns in your life

The take home message from today's post is to make sure you are creating life enhancing patterns and behaviors in your life. Sow positive thoughts and reap life enhancing habits. Do this continuously every day, in small and ever increasing ways, and you and those you love will reap the life enhancing rewards of an incredible destiny.

What positive pattern or action could you do right now?

Want to learn more, get a copy of my book: Avoiding the Enemies to HAPPINESS!

life enhancing thoughts,


  1. Thank you so much, Grant. This post was a wonderful way to start my day. I recommend reading it EVERY morning! Important points, put so well.

  2. Hey Jean, thank you so much too for your lovely positive and supportive comment. What a great pattern to do in life, taking the time to respond positively to others. If we all did the same, what a wonderful world it would be!

    smiles, Grant

  3. This goes to the heart of personal control...or should I say the mind?

  4. Hey Sully, once again an incredibly perspicacious observation. Yes, the 'heart' of personal control.

    Our heart brain is involved in the core competency of desire, wants and values. However, we need the wisdom of both our head brain (and in particular the left hemisphere) and our enteric (gut) brain to have the courage and intelligence to know when to follow the heart's desires and when not to. For example if we repeatedly 'eat till our hearts content' then we'll end up over-weight and unhealthy.

    Self control, and the patterns that are engendered in the distributed neural networks of head, heart and gut through doing self controlling, are crucial for life success. You've called it well.

    Thanks muchly for your great comment.

    cheers and smiles,

  5. Sorry to veer off topic, but I read one of your articles in ETC. and found you reside in Melbourne, Australia. I would like to invite you into the Victorian Chapter of the Australian General Semantics Society. We hold regular meetings and talk about a variety of topics. Please contact me at cortexreboot[at]! :)


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