Life Choices and Commitments: A Reinforcing Loop
Our life choices and commitments feed on each other causing them to form a reinforcing loop. This type of loop is the causal relationship of two variables that affect each other in the same direction. If one grows the other does as well.
The opposite is also true: the reduction in one variable causes the other to diminish.
The choices we make in our lives often lead to commitments than, in turn, propel us to additional life choices that reinforce our commitments. This cycle can only be changed by different life choices that modify or lower our commitments.
An example of the reinforcing relationship between life choice and commitments is living a lavish lifestyle. This includes owning the nice, large house, which brings an equivalent set of large commitments for its upkeep, and owning the luxury car that requires the expensive insurance policy and the high lease payments. The list of related high lifestyle choices goes on with commitments that could potentially impact happiness, the ability to afford the lifestyle, and the complexity associated with keeping it all going.
It is easy to imagine how this type of reinforcing loop is manifested in our individual and collective lives. The U.S. national debt, for instance, is one of those reinforcing loops that can continue to grow until choices are made to reverse its direction and lower the required commitments. Even though a two-variable reinforcing loop is an oversimplification of how life works, it is a valuable tool that helps us understand how our choices ultimately affect our lives.
A personal example of the life choice and commitment relationship is the choice I made to pursue a Ph.D. in organizational systems at Saybrook University. In addition to requiring an academic commitment on my part, this decision also brought a number a related commitment changes that have been difficult to bear. My time—time I share with a family, a job, community work, hobbies, and a social life—had to be drastically modified by life choices to lower their commitment and allow for my studies. Comparing notes with my classmates, they all have experienced this same model. Unfortunately, our life choice of being students at mid-life has resulted in situations such as missing important family events because of our commitment.
So how do we live with our choices or how do we modify them? To answer this question we introduce a third variable to the model: the “impact to happiness.” The way this variable participates in our model is by forming another reinforcing loop with the other two variables. This second reinforcing loop acts as a balancing loop for the first. Causal loops work in parallel and only one can be dominant. The “impact to happiness” variable in this system acts as its regulator. All life choices affect it and, in turn, it affects the commitments we keep. The happier we are in a situation, the more committed we will be to it. The opposite is also true: as we get unhappier, our commitments waver and we ultimately make life changes.
Going back to my personal example, I am happy with my choice of pursuing the Ph.D., which reinforces my commitment even in the face of conflict in other aspects of my life. It is the “impact to happiness variable” that keeps a healthy watch on our life choices. When we ignore it and make the first causal loop dominant, we lose sight of what truly matters and we struggle to maintain the commitments generated by our life choices.
Making the second loop the dominant one allows our happiness drive the magnitude of our commitments. In this fashion, our life choices will be naturally regulated and we will enjoy a more balanced life.