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The Obsession with New Things Is Burdening Our Brain

The Obsession with New Things Is Burdening Our Brain

Commercial organizations depend and thrive on our natural curiosity. That’s right, companies know that people are driven by a strong obsession for obtaining new information, products and services. Just take a look at cellphone companies, and how they constantly find ways to upgrade you to new phones and contracts. Also take a look at your inbox. You’ll no doubt find countless emails arriving every week that are ads and promotions for new stuff.

Now, it’s not that new stuff is bad. It’s just that when we attempt to consume too much new stuff it can be damaging to both our well-being – and our purse.

With companies desperate to keep introducing new and upgraded products, it’s no wonder that low-quality, or even faulty items are becoming more common. And it’s the same with information. There’s so much of it online, that the quality has undoubtedly become degraded. This can negatively impact our psyche and spiritual health.

If you look carefully at the information on offer, you’ll see that only about 10% of it is of high-quality. The rest is fake, throwaway or just pure garbage. To use Hollywood as an example, you’ll tend to find that approximately 10% of all movies are exceptionally good. The other 90% of movies range from average to bad. Unfortunately, as this latter category makes up the bulk of movies coming out of Hollywood – they’re most likely to be the bulk of our viewing time too.

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Recommendation Is a Curse

We usually find out about all this new stuff from “big names” such as celebrities, experts, authority figures and popular online platforms.

Let’s say you fancy purchasing a new book from Amazon. You head over to their site and are immediately presented with an eye-catching section called “New Recommendations.” This is where you’re likely to go to when browsing for a new book purchase.

It’s the same with songs. If you are looking for a new artist or album, Google Play, iTunes or Spotify will be happy to help you out by instantly showing the latest releases.

How about movies? You can hear about these in many ways, but it’s common for Grammy or Oscar award-winning movies to be titles that most people would be keen to watch.

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It appears that our reliability on “authority” for recommendations and good information started decades ago. These were the days before the internet. Consumers had to rely on “big names” to recommend good stuff (eg., movies, music and products). Information was the same too. People relied heavily on experts to tell them facts, and to give opinions on what information was valid and relevant.

When Obsession Becomes Exhaustion

Despite what you might think, the traditional perception about experts is rapidly being proven to be outdated. Clearly, reviews by experts of books, songs and movies don’t represent the true value of these things.  In many cases, the so-called experts may present low-quality stuff to the public as today’s audience has mostly stopped paying attention to what really constitutes good quality. Read more to find out Why It’s Time to Reboot Expertise

As an example for you, think of some of the latest mobile apps that online stores push. Despite impressive screenshots and features, it only takes a minute of using the apps to discover that they are next to worthless. Luckily, you have an uninstall option.

It’s not just products that can leave a bad taste in our mouths – it’s also information. The internet is a great thing, but its downside is that it offers us too much choice – and way too much information. (And often this information is unreliable or blatantly wrong.) It’s no wonder that many of us suffer from “new stuff fatigue”. We’re literally bombarded 24/7 from all sides with ads, news and information.

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Let’s be honest, our brains have limited space and energy, and too much new stuff will have a tendency to burn them out. Not only that, but when the majority of the new information is bad information, this leaves little space to accept and process good information. Find out here How Clutter Drains Your Brain (and What You Can Do About It)

Everything You Take in Matters

Our obsession with new things is in our nature, but we can turn things around by controlling what we consume.

For instance, everyone of us can take control of the information we receive. This can be achieved by only selecting and picking the best and most relevant information from online and offline sources. By doing this, we’ll then have the time and space to properly study and absorb the information – instead of having our minds constantly overloaded.

Once you start being selective with information, you’ll quickly discover that the recommendations of experts are no longer necessary. You’ll unearth an intellectual freedom that you never knew was possible. And you’ll begin to enjoy information again, just like you did when you were a small, curious child.

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While it may initially be hard to take control of incoming information, don’t let laziness stop you. Make a determined effort to cut out the dross. This way, you’ll leave yourself with only valuable and appropriate information.

Here’s an idea for you: instead of watching movies based on what’s featured in the latest magazines or online sites, dig into the genre you like, and check out gems you’ve missed all these years. You’ll find that these movies tug on your heart strings. They will be movies that you genuinely enjoy, rather than movies that you’re expected to enjoy.

It’s the same with music. Forget the latest releases, step back in time and choose to listen to artists who made you happy when you were younger. As soon as these songs start playing, you’ll feel a tingle in your spine – and an accompanying lift in your mood. Truly, you’ll be energized by the songs, and you’ll have found your way back to what you really enjoy.

But please don’t take my word for it. Try being selective with your choice of entertainment, information and products, and see what difference it makes to your life. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

More by this author

Brian Lee

Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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