May 17, 2015

Want to do what needs to be done but don’t know how? Well, now you do …


OK – this is big. No,  bigger. THIS IS BIG. This is the kind of insight that comes once in a decade. So read on,  and pay attention.

A lot of people face a conflict between what they would like to do, and what the society requires them to do to be successful. Most of the time we know what we should be doing.  Study well, work smart and hard. Don’t procrastinate. Eat less, exercise more. Not a rocket science, right?

We could probably fill a library just with the books on weight loss. Most of these books will tell you WHAT to do. As if that is the real problem. Lots of dieters get extremely knowledgeable on nutrition, yet that doesn’t help. You know you shouldn’t eat the extra piece yet you can’t stop yourself.

Some books go further and claim that the answer is in cultivating the desire to lose weight. Imagine yourself the way you want to be. Put your current picture on the fridge door. Eat naked in front of a mirror.

Does it help? About as much as health warning pictures on cigarette packs. Not that it’s completely useless. But doesn’t quite solve the problem.

A lot of factors determine our behavior.  And,  of course,  habits play a big role. How big a role? Apparently nearly 50% of our behavior is habit driven.

Habits are developed independently from logical thinking. Even people who are unable of retaining memories are capable of developing habits.

This means that habits offer a unique tool for overcoming our irrationality.

Once developed and maintained, habits work without fail every time.

Let’s have a quick look at how habits form. Each habit requires a cue (something that triggers it, can be time, company of other people, emotional state, etc.), routine (what you actually do) and reward.

The most obvious part is the routine. It’s what you actually do. Like go to the gym or have a drink in the evening.

A cue is a bit harder to find. Some habits (especially bad ones) can have multiple cues. An alcoholic will drink when he’s sad, when he’s happy, when he has company – the list goes on.

The most difficult bit is the reward. A lot of the times it’s not obvious. For example, intoxication is very rarely the reward of an alcoholic. It can be company of other people, sharing, escape from daily routine, forgetting about problems.

You can neutralize a bad habit by recognizing the cue, introducing a new routine to replace the old one and keeping the reward. Alcoholics attend AA meetings as a way to substitute drinking with talking and sharing.

Similarly, you can create your own new habits by setting a cue, doing the routine and rewarding yourself.

Consider Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity secret. A very simple trick allowing writers to keep writing went viral, and it has a very simple habit forming mechanism at the core, where the reward is looking at the chain of the days you wrote something on your calendar.

Again,  this is big.  We are finally given a tool to truly alter our behavior. A tool so powerful that it trumps logic and instincts. So use it, and use it wisely.

Books to read:

If you read just one book on habits, it should be this one. It gives specific advice on how to put the habit engine in motion, and is extremely powerful.

This is an in-depth book analyzing the nature of habit formation as well as the ways to analyze and create habits.

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