LIFE AND LEARNING:

Your Best Bet To Ending Bad Habits Isn’t Willpower.

The answer might be “shocking.”

Image by Vivek Doshi from Unsplash
Skinner’s box visualized. Image from Pixetic.

Habits Make You, You

Think of your life as an equation, where the result describes where you’ll end up by the time you die. That equation would be the sum of every single habit you’ve made.

Creating a habit takes four ingredients: a craving, a cue, an action, and a reward.

Jake was lonely so he craved a sense of belonging. Some people might crave money, while others might crave attention or power. The bottom line is that we crave things that fill in the places we’re empty and make us happy.

A summary of THE book on habits, identity, and life — Atomic Habits. Source

Ever wonder why you don’t feel like working out as soon as you get home from work? One of the reasons is because it’s hard to see the benefits of it right off the bat.

You don’t just go in to the gym for an hour and come back looking like a Greek God — it’s the result of constant work. It’s no wonder why we’d normally go watch a show on Netflix instead. Not only is the lever right in front of you, but the feedback it gives your brain is so much more instant and powerful:

The unwanted effects of putting things off, and how you can fix them. Source

Going for the habits your brain chooses for you is like playing a video game with its default character forever. Sure, you’re not dead or anything — but how do you expect to level up?

That’s the problem with conventional, brain-generated habits. Plugging negative habits into your “life-equation” leaves you with negative results. If you want to do something more, you’ll have to design the habits that’ll help you get there.

What’s The Right Way?

All habits start with a craving.

Putting Yourself In The Right Box

When you put a mouse in a Skinner box, you’re putting it in a situation where it’s mind generates bad habits by default. When you put a human in a situation where a bad habit is the easiest (or only) option, even the most dedicated people crumble.

Why motivation isn’t the secret to keep going. Source

If you know you’ll always choose the path of least resistance, all you have to do is make good habits frictionless and make bad ones seem like a waste of time.

If you want to watch less TV, throw out the cable that connects it to your outlet. If you want to stare at a screen, you’ll have to spend $10 to order another one and wait for it to arrive at your doorstep in three days.

Feedback Loops

Around the same time he conducted the first, Skinner wanted to see if he could turn the tables with another experiment.

A productivity guru on changing your environment. Source

Think of feedback loops as cycles of positive and negative reinforcement you can adjust to make habits stick better.

When I struggled to follow through with a habit even after I changed my box, feedback loops never let me down.

  1. To make your penalties as uncomfortable as you can.
  2. Making sure those penalties are good habits (so you aren’t accidentally changing your box and making things harder).

Change Your Habits, Change Your Life

Locked inside everyone, there’s infinite potential. Habits are the key to unlocking them. But your journey to becoming the best version of yourself can’t start unless you get rid of toxic habits first.

I write about things every week(ish).