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The Book About You looks at Life’s Law ‘Understanding Payoffs’

Life’s Law ‘Understanding Payoffs’

The following is an adapted brief summary from the book by Dr. Philip C. McGraw called ‘Life Strategies’, Vermillion Press, London, England, (1999) pages 88 to 108, on one of the 9 ‘Life Laws’ or basic rules that govern our universe and human behaviour.

Life Law #3: Understanding Payoffs    “People do what works.”

Understanding the concept of ‘Payoffs’ will help you understand why you behave in certain ways, especially when self-sabotage seems to be involved.  At the heart of this principle is the statement:

“The behavior you choose creates the results you get.”   or  “You get the results in life you have because of the behaviors you choose.”

Payoffs exist in everyone’s life; they are highly influential in driving behaviours.

There must be some positive reward for any behavior to continue.  No matter how strange or illogical the behavior may seem to be, there has to be some ‘payoff’ for the behavior to continue.  Your thinking and choices act powerfully to condition you to repeat the behavior that brings about the desired payoff/s repeatedly – whether you ‘want to want to do it’, or not, you do it.  Otherwise, other behaviors replace any unrewarded behavior.  Therefore, if you do different, you will have different.

However, you can be blind to the cause or impact of your payoff system.

For example, someone might be saying that they are lonely yet they stay at home night after night.  Not being with others means that person is escaping the greater anxiety that can come with the fear of being rejected by others.  Which is the greater payoff?  Behind the behaviors you don’t want…..will be some sort of payoff support systems.

The payoff is usually the ‘comfort’ that comes from avoiding some sort of risk involved with the fear of rejection.  Most payoffs involve relieving or avoiding serious pain, or minimize the fear and anxiety of potential pain.  These can be as addictive as the most powerful drugs.

Sometimes, the payoff is because “It’s easier not to…” – taking the path of least resistance.  This kind of payoffs prevails only because we take the easiest path between two painful situations.  There is some kind of reward for avoiding what they don’t want to face … and this is the ‘payoff’.

This is the basic principle behind training animals, except that it happened to you during your childhood.  Reflect on a child’s early years.  They are punished for doing wrong and rewarded for doing right.  Sounds simple but this is how behavior patterns begin and continue into adult years.

Even people who abuse children or enjoy a masochist lifestyle learned such behaviors through a sick but logical progression of rewards and punishments.

It’s also the pull of the immediate reward of the payoff behavior versus having to face the other situation.  To choice to delay facing the other situation comes into play.  When you choose the immediate reward behavior, you see the consequences; you choose the ‘right now’.  As a result, you reap the reward of ‘right now’.  This is counter to facing the real issues, which brings benefits for the time to come.

The hardest behaviours to spot are those automatic behaviors that started in childhood. 

At that point, the behavior provided some protective, escape mechanism from a perceived threat, such as being abandonment.  We need concentration and time to sort out what are the cause-and-effort connections in your life that have continued into the ‘now’.  If you do different, you will have different.

The most common payoffs systems include:

a.  Monetary payoffs – behaviors that keep someone working to have money to get what they ‘want’ versus facing other issues, such as relationships with others.

b. Spiritual payoffs – behaviors that stop us from facing God and prevent the peace, a sense of rightness, knowing God and healthy morality.

c. Psychological payoffs – behaviors built around the payoffs that             involve acceptance, approval, praise, love, companionship, finding security, promoting greed, punishment or fulfillment, feeling part of a group, of belonging as a contributor or leader.

d.  Physical payoffs – behaviors that contribute to physical health,             such as eating the wrong things versus good nutrition and exercise, sleep, proper weight management.

e.  Achievement payoffs – behaviors someone does to gain that feeling of accomplishment, recognition from others, an inner awareness of a job well done.

How do we find these payoffs?

First, devote some time to identifying the behaviors, choices of thoughts you want to eliminate.  Then ask yourself “What am I getting out of this?  What is my payoff, healthy or otherwise?”  Once you have identified the sustaining payoffs, you can target those consequences for change.

1.  Begin by identifying 3 of the most frustrating and persistence negative behavioral patterns or situations in your life.  Be thorough in your description of each.  These would include things you do that are causing harm to others or to yourself.

2.  For each one, identify the specific behavior, describe the pattern and try to put into words the degree or intensity of the pain/harm to the behaviors.

3.  Keep asking the question “So why is this behavior an issue?  What am I afraid of?”  Do this repeatedly until you can get down to the roots of the behavior.

4.  Next, write down two or three sentences about the consequences of breaking the pattern for your life.  Again what is it that your fear?

5.  For each of the patterns, do your best to find out the payoff that is feeding and maintaining these negative behavioral patterns.

6.  What were the major payoffs you found?  What are the self-talk statements you need to replace?  What would Jesus say to replace them with?

What Might be some of your Payoffs?

You may print this page as a help for your understanding.


Question to   Consider:

1 to 10

1. Monetary rewards seem to drive my goals.
2. I can see some unexplained behaviour patterns in my life.
3. I feel blocked when it comes to helping my spiritual life.
4. I know some of the steps to letting God into my life but   don’t.
5. I can see payoffs in my life because my diet, exercise,   etc. Is not what is best for my health.
6. I find I do things for acceptance of others rather than   for me.
7. I sometimes catch myself doing things for no good reason.
8. Destructive childhood behaviour patterns still exist in my   life.
9. I respond best to other’s praise rather than knowing I’ve   done a good job on projects.
10. I delay doing things for my own best interests.
11. I know I could have better peace with God but can’t get   there.
12. Even though I have good plans, something pulls me off my   plans.
13. My relationships show signs of self-destructive patterns.
14. I have some destructive behaviour patterns from my past.
15. I consider the ‘punishment’ when  I start a project.
16. My coping with pain methods can be self-defeating.
17. I can see some of my self-destructive habits in my family.
18. I chose immediate rewards rather than tenacity on my   plans.
19. I give into my body’s desires for choice of food rather   than stick with a good, healthy diet,
  20.    I can see self-sabotage behaviours when I want what is   good.

Total Points:


What was your score? _______

The higher the score, the more Payoffs are working in your life.  What will you do about it?

 You can buy this book HERE on The Book Depository – Delivery worldwide!

Susanne Fengler. Blog Author




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