You come home from a hard day at work feeling like you could use a stiff drink.
You contemplate sleeping in and skipping your morning workout because you stayed up a little later than usual last night.
Your kid is throwing a tantrum in a store because he wants you to buy him a toy.
When deciding what to do next in these kinds of situations, we often think only of factors salient in the short term: What am I in the mood for? Can I afford it? How much patience do I currently have for dealing with discomfort?
But no decision is ever entirely singular. Each decision reverberates. Each generates a bit of momentum in a certain direction. Each etches a shallow groove that makes it easier to travel the same path the next time around.
Every enduring habit began with a momentary choice.
This is true whether a behavior is desirable or not. The first time you open your Kindle app instead of TikTok when waiting in line or turn to porn when feeling lonely makes it more likely you’ll do it again the next.
It’s true for establishing general norms in your life. Splurge for the upgraded airplane seat once, and it becomes harder to tolerate the economy version on subsequent flights.
And it’s true for determining interpersonal standards. How you allow a boss or significant other to treat you at the start of a relationship will establish a trajectory for how they treat you ever after.
Of course, there’s plenty of room in life for occasional indulgences and one-off decisions.
But in circumstances that will repeatedly arise, when you sense there are greater stakes at play, don’t just ask yourself, “What do I want to do right now?” but “What pattern do I want to set for the future?”