The average human makes 35,000 decisions a day. You get 35,000 chances a day to improve your life, and as many to blow it to pieces. 

It may seem like too many, but from the moment you hear the alarm go off until you get out of bed, you make a dozen new decisions while you gauge whether to hit the alarm off or give yourself 10 more minutes of sleep. 

The choices and the decisions you make create your life, and whether you do them consciously or unconsciously, they will snowball into a giant lump of success or make your life story take a sad turn for the worse. Therefore, a change for the better, whatever that means in your internal system of values, requires steady, conscious daily decision-making. 

Why Conscious Decision-making is Crucial for Breaking Bad Habits

Let’s say that you are trying to lose weight, learn a new language, become a better listener, or ditch toxic behaviors in relationships. All these ask from you to break an old habit and develop a new one. 

To lose weight in the long-term in a healthy way, you need to say ‘pass’ to the second beer in your friend’s house or the comfort cookie bag after a bad day at work and say yes to long afternoon walks or to weekends spent cycling instead of binge-watching series. And you need to do this day by day, over and over again.

To learn a new language, you need to read, listen, or watch your daily 30-minute class and practice your oral language skills by getting yourself to talk to native speakers. 

To become a better listener, you need to be aware of your thoughts and emotions, know your shadow side, and notice when it comes screaming for attention in relationships,. You need to understand whether you are ready to fully show up for another person or you need to attend to your (legit) selfishness. 

To become less toxic, you need to become aware of your toxic patterns and what keeps you stuck in them.  

How to Make Decisions that Benefit You

In order to make beneficial decisions, you need to first get them to awareness. So, the fact that you know you make thousands of decisions a day is a good start. 

Awareness and Self-sabotaging

The next step is to catch your decisions before you get into acting upon them in unwanted ways. 

This takes practice and daily dedication. The more you observe your awareness, notice the tiny decisions, and avoid acting upon them in the way you don’t want to, the better your decision-making process will get.

Shedding the light on awareness can be a tricky process. We often sabotage ourselves unconsciously. Dr. Perry has an excellent post on the basics of how to stop sabotaging yourself, which I recommend. 

Dopamine Receptors, Those Nasty Tricksters

Now, there is another deeper layer on the works of the underdog, which can make it hard to break a poor habit or adopt a good one. It is about dopamine receptors, the chemical story behind our tendency to slack, procrastinate, avoid deep work on ourselves — in short — to prefer instant gratification. 

You can watch what is the role of dopamine in breaking bad habits in this dopamine detox video:

Dopamine Detox: Reset Your Mind in 1 Day by Andrew Kirby

Essentially, due to overstimulation, dopamine receptors become satiated. So many easily available stimulants make your brain numb. 

To increase your ability to engage in cognitively, mentally, and emotionally meaningful work on yourself, you need to retrain your dopamine receptors. You need to get bored enough to be able to extract more juice from less frequent and not so bombastic stimuli.

Understanding your dopamine receptors is useful when you want to take new action on those habits, patterns, and behaviors that you have brought into awareness. 

How to Practice Your Dopamine Muscle

Here is when extensive decision-making again takes place. Each time you decide to starve your dopamine receptors, you teach them to work for you and your new good habits. 

When your dopamine receptors are in starvation mode, it’s key not to panic. To avoid the panic starvation mode, you can go back to the awareness that brought you there in the first place. 

1. Deal with discomfort

To make this process a success, you have to be prepared to deal with discomfort. This process is similar to an addiction detox, which is impossible if you don’t know how to make the old discomfort a new comfort. 

2. Love the difficulty

One way to do it is to “fall in love” with the new behavior or thinking, as well as the thought of mastering “difficult” emotions, which is a prerequisite for deep cellular change. Carrying slightly more complex emotional, mental, and physical states than the ones you are used to develops maturity and instigates growth.  

3. Relabel

You can use a trick to make this easier: rename the difficult states with positive labels. Let the label carry the final goal in mind. 

So, whenever you find yourself slipping back into the old mode, remember that it is the dopamine fooling you to resort to the old ways. Each time you make a decision to win over dopamine, you are investing in your self-development. 

You Are More Likely to Stick to Intrinsically Important Decisions

Of course, this is not a simple process and may include a bit of a back and forth in the zig-zag spiral of the freshly enlightened decision-making. Enlightenment is never easy. But as long as you work on yourself and shed light on your unconscious processes, it gets easier. 

Finally, once you start making decisions that benefit you, about things that motivate and inspire you intrinsically, you will be more likely to stick to them. Therefore, getting to know yourself and your deepest wishes and desires is another benefit of making your decisions work for you and your success.

Featured Image Credit: Markus Winkler on Unsplash  

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