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A Simple Framework For Achieving The Things That Matter In Life

A Simple Framework For Achieving The Things That Matter In Life

We’ve all read numerous posts about achieving success, goal setting, visualising our wins — and usually in 7 steps or less! To be fair, there are some snippets of wisdom in a lot of them. It always seems that at some point, there’s a key part of the process that eludes the reader. The fluffy bit, the bit that really needs understanding, some careful explanation, or practical demonstrations.

This article isn’t a how to become a millionaire in 6 weeks or 5 ways to chisel your abs in 20 minutes a day. Getting what you want takes hard work. Realise this early — there are no two ways about it, it’s just that some of us need a framework to help us make things more predictable, tangible, and manageable.

The basic premise:

  1. Intent – Decide on the goal.
  2. Learn – Learn everything.
  3. Practice – Try and try again.
  4. Forgive – You will mess it up. It’s OK.

Who’d have thought it was that simple, right? We could leave it right there and I’m sure you’d figure it out, but let’s get under the hood a little and look at some practical examples of this in practice.

Me and my Rubik’s Cube

I’m starting with something tangible and personal to me. A few years ago, we had a very talented university student working for us on his sandwich year to get some real-life coding experience. He’s super smart and he could do a Rubik’s Cube in less than 20 seconds. It blew my mind. Most of us spend our childhood in awe of anybody that could do more than two sides of the cube and here in front of me was a real person doing it in almost the blink of an eye. It occurred to me that I too could do this… somehow.

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Set the intent: “I’m going to be able to do the Rubik’s Cube.” No parameters, just a binary decision — “I will complete the cube.”

The following weekend, I searched the web for everything to do with solving the cube, finding numerous tutorials and videos. It turns out that there are certain “algorithms” that simplify the solving process. Settling on a series of videos by a particular guy, I watched them over and over.

After a while, boredom and frustration kicked in and the escape questions started to materialize: “what am I doing?”, “isn’t there something better to be doing?”, but I’d restate my intent. I forgave myself for the distraction, proceeded to get my shit together, and started on making notes.

With my brand new Rubik’s Cube, the practice began — making more notes, pausing Youtube, practicing moves. You get the idea. Within a few hours, I’d competed my first cube. I was elated. Following a “recipe” is one thing, but knowing the previously impossible was now possible was mega. High on knowledge, I needed to be able to do this without my notes or a recipe. This was where the hard work came in and, frankly, the forgiveness.

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A whole day later, Sunday evening, I’d nailed it. I could do the cube in under 5 minutes without any prompting, notes, or Youtube. There were multiple times in the run up to this that I’d felt like giving up, frustrated with myself, frustrated that I’d never get this day back — you know how it feels. This is where the forgiveness part really kicks in. It’s easy to recognize in oneself when you feel like this. The hard part is to know what to do. Forgive yourself. Literally just say it to yourself “Yeh, I messed that up. Don’t stress, I forgive me, it’s part of the process.” I’d have a break for a few minutes, a giggle that I’d just had a word with myself, and get back on with it. I’m pretty sure that forgiveness is the first step to patience.

Summary:

  1. Intent – Complete the Rubik’s Cube.
  2. Learn – Find and learn from people that have already mastered the cube.
  3. Practice – Memorise the techniques. Try over and over again the things that you’ve learnt.
  4. Forgive – Mistakes are fine, have a word with yourself.

In this particular case, I stopped practicing once I knew that I could do it in under 5 minutes. Which means that now I would be hard pressed without a refresher (more learning, practicing, and lots of forgiveness) to complete a cube. I’m happy with that.

So this is a nice tangible example, but how would this framework work on something bigger, something way less tangible, something that we can all empathize with?

Making Happy

Wooah… that’s a big jump. Solving a Rubik’s Cube is one thing but happiness is a whole different matter. How can a framework as simple as this possibly scale to something as intangible and huge as general happiness?

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We all have times in our lives when we feel low, or that things could be better than they are. Sometimes, we see snapshots of other people’s amazing lives on Instagram and wish that our lives were that good. It happens. The problem is that being happy is subjective, so trying to learn how to be happy is difficult. You can’t just search for “how to be happy” without ending up with a lot of personal opinion or ambiguous generalizations.

The thing with happiness is that it’s so personal it’s hard to know what it means, so if we reframe this to improve our current happiness rather than to just “be happy,” we have a (relative) starting point. A key difference, and a tangible one at that. So step one is complete — the intent is to become happier. Finding evidence of how people have made themselves happier is much easier (all of a sudden those aspirational Instagram and Facebook posts become a little more useful).

Now that we’ve set the intent, it’s time to learn as much as possible from people that appear to have happier lives. What do these people do? What don’t they do? Where do they live? How do they live their lives?

For me, this meant reading books, autobiographies, watching documentaries, reading blog posts, and talking to people, asking them questions about their lives and what makes them happy. I’d inadvertently stumbled on one of the things that I would start to practice: communicate and listen more.

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You will start to find patterns that happier people tend to practice in their lives and you can narrow these down into a small list and start practicing. Trying not to veer off into a full-blown happiness post (as frankly, these things are personal). I’ll list a few of the things that I found and decided to work on:

  • Exercise
  • Family time
  • Meditation

As it turns out, we’ve just created a list of intent. To be happier, I intend to learn about and practice exercising and mediation and create more family time. OMG — a self-referential list of meta-intentions that will help us with the larger intention (be happier) that actually seems kind of tangible. The only problem is now that we’ve created this list, we have to figure out how to execute these sub intentions — what?

It’s pretty easy as it goes. For each one, we can apply the same model: What’s the intent? What do I need to learn? What can I practice? Don’t worry if I mess it up and move on.

Pulling out exercise as a sub intention:

  1. Intent – Exercise.
  2. Learn – I researched various things and tried them — climbing, boxing, etc.
  3. Practice – I settled on boxing and a local gym.
  4. Forgive – It was hard, but every time I wanted to give up, I knew it was early days and forgave myself for feeling that way. Or I’d chosen the “wrong exercise” — that’s OK, find another.

In my case, after a few weeks I’m practicing all kinds of new things. I can feel the improvement and I’m feeling happier already. Learning from my Rubik’s Cube experience, I made the conscious decision to continue to learn and practice so that I didn’t lose momentum. More than a few times I’ve missed the gym or worked late and missed dinner with the kids. I’ve forgiven myself, knowing that it’s just a blip and that, as part of the tangible results that I’ve been creating for myself, being flawless or perfect was not one of my intentions. :)

A quick summary:

  1. Intent – Be happier.
  2. Learn – Who are the happier people and what do they do?
  3. Practice – How can I actually practice what I’ve learnt?
  4. Forgive – I’m not perfect — get over it.

Go and do

There’s isn’t really anything that we can’t do once we decide. It’s just that sometimes we need some scaffolding to hold our ideas together. Hopefully this little system will help you as much as it’s helped me, I’d love to hear what you’ve achieved. It’s not a perfect system, and it will surely evolve into something better, but it’s a start. And a start is a good thing.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via hd.unsplash.com

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Last Updated on March 25, 2020

How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

Habits are hard to kill, and rightly so. They are a part and parcel of your personality traits and mold your character.

However, habits are not always something over-the-top and quirky enough to get noticed. Think of subtle habits like tapping fingers when you are nervous and humming songs while you drive. These are nothing but ingrained habits that you may not realize easily.

Just take a few minutes and think of something specific that you do all the time. You will notice how it has become a habit for you without any explicit realization. Everything you do on a daily basis starting with your morning routine, lunch preferences to exercise routines are all habits.

Habits mostly form from life experiences and certain observed behaviors, not all of them are healthy. Habitual smoking can be dangerous to your health. Similarly, a habit could also make you lose out on enjoying something to its best – like how some people just cannot stop swaying their bodies when delivering a speech.

Thus, there could be a few habits that you would want to change about yourself. But changing habits is not as easy as it seems.

In this article, you will learn why it isn’t easy to build new habits, and how to change habits.

What Makes It Hard To Change A Habit?

To want to change a particular habit means to change something very fundamental about your behavior.[1] Hence, it’s necessary to understand how habits actually form and why they are so difficult to actually get out of.

The Biology

Habits form in a place what we call the subconscious mind in our brain.[2]

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Our brains have two modes of operation. The first one is an automatic pilot kind of system that is fast and works on reflexes often. It is what we call the subconscious part. This is the part that is associated with everything that comes naturally to you.

The second mode is the conscious mode where every action and decision is well thought out and follows a controlled way of thinking.

A fine example to distinguish both would be to consider yourself learning to drive or play an instrument. For the first time you try learning, you think before every movement you make. But once you have got the hang of it, you might drive without applying much thought into it.

Both systems work together in our brains at all times. When a habit is formed, it moves from the conscious part to the subconscious making it difficult to control.

So, the key idea in deconstructing a habit is to go from the subconscious to the conscious.

Another thing you have to understand about habits is that they can be conscious or hidden.

Conscious habits are those that require active input from your side. For instance, if you stop setting your alarm in the morning, you will stop waking up at the same time.

Hidden habits, on the other hand, are habits that we do without realizing. These make up the majority of our habits and we wouldn’t even know them until someone pointed them out. So the first difficulty in breaking these habits is to actually identify them. As they are internalized, they need a lot of attention to detail for self-identification. That’s not all.

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Habits can be physical, social, and mental, energy-based and even be particular to productivity. Understanding them is necessary to know why they are difficult to break and what can be done about them.

The Psychology

Habits get engraved into our memories depending on the way we think, feel and act over a particular period of time. The procedural part of memory deals with habit formation and studies have observed that various types of conditioning of behavior could affect your habit formations.

Classical conditioning or pavlovian conditioning is when you start associating a memory with reality.[3] A dog that associates ringing bell to food will start salivating. The same external stimuli such as the sound of church bells can make a person want to pray.

Operant conditioning is when experience and the feelings associated with it form a habit.[4] By encouraging or discouraging an act, individuals could either make it a habit or stop doing it.

Observational learning is another way habits could take form. A child may start walking the same way their parent does.

What Can You Do To Change a Habit?

Sure, habits are hard to control but it is not impossible. With a few tips and hard-driven dedication, you can surely get over your nasty habits.

Here are some ways that make use of psychological findings to help you:

1. Identify Your Habits

As mentioned earlier, habits can be quite subtle and hidden from your view. You have to bring your subconscious habits to an aware state of mind. You could do it by self-observation or by asking your friends or family to point out the habit for your sake.

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2. Find out the Impact of Your Habit

Every habit produces an effect – either physical or mental. Find out what exactly it is doing to you. Does it help you relieve stress or does it give you some pain relief?

It could be anything simple. Sometimes biting your nails could be calming your nerves. Understanding the effect of a habit is necessary to control it.

3. Apply Logic

You don’t need to be force-fed with wisdom and advice to know what an unhealthy habit could do to you.

Late-night binge-watching just before an important presentation is not going to help you. Take a moment and apply your own wisdom and logic to control your seemingly nastily habits.

4. Choose an Alternative

As I said, every habit induces some feeling. So, it could be quite difficult to get over it unless you find something else that can replace it. It can be a simple non-harming new habit that you can cultivate to get over a bad habit.

Say you have the habit of banging your head hard when you are angry. That’s going to be bad for you. Instead, the next time you are angry, just take a deep breath and count to 10. Or maybe start imagining yourself on a luxury yacht. Just think of something that will work for you.

5. Remove Triggers

Get rid of items and situations that can trigger your bad habit.

Stay away from smoke breaks if you are trying to quit it. Remove all those candy bars from the fridge if you want to control your sweet cravings.

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6. Visualize Change

Our brains can be trained to forget a habit if we start visualizing the change. Serious visualization is retained and helps as a motivator in breaking the habit loop.

For instance, to replace your habit of waking up late, visualize yourself waking up early and enjoying the early morning jog every day. By continuing this, you would naturally feel better to wake up early and do your new hobby.

7. Avoid Negative Talks and Thinking

Just as how our brain is trained to accept a change in habit, continuous negative talk and thinking could hamper your efforts put into breaking a habit.

Believe you can get out of it and assert yourself the same.

Final Thoughts

Changing habits isn’t easy, so do not expect an overnight change!

Habits took a long time to form. It could take a while to completely break out of it. You will have to accept that sometimes you may falter in your efforts. Don’t let negativity seep in when it seems hard. Keep going at it slowly and steadily.

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Featured photo credit: Mel via unsplash.com

Reference

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