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Brain Damage Pill

Brain Damage Pill

photo of bitter little pill

    “Not exercising is like taking a brain damage pill.”

    Whoa. That’s pretty strong language. I know it’s true that exercising increases alertness, energy, and the ability to concentrate, and that it improves physical and emotional well-being. But brain damage pill? Isn’t that going too far?

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    No. That’s exactly as far as I need to go.

    After several years of failing to transform my off-and-on running habit into a permanent, lifelong habit, I have finally discovered a powerful key to achieving my goal: the highly emotional, simple, concrete self-advertisement. I have learned that using this “brain damage pill” metaphor stimulates me to behave in the way my “higher self” wants me to behave (go for a run), even when my “lower self” is feeling exhausted, unenthusiastic, or tempted by couch-potato pursuits and sleep. The brain damage pill metaphor has proven to be magic.

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    I gained insight into the “why?” behind this simple technique for behavioral change from the new book, Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. The authors assert that there are six principles for making ideas “sticky” and influential, and #5 on the list is, “Make messages emotional; make people care.”

    The Heath brothers cite an example of the head-to-head competition of two anti-smoking ad campaigns, both targeted at teenagers, in the late 1990s. One ad took an analytical approach and had the tagline, “Think. Don’t Smoke.” The other ad (from the famous “The Truth” campaign) showed body bags piling up outside the headquarters of a major tobacco company, and implied that teens were being lied to and manipulated by conniving, rich tobacco executives. In follow-up studies of the ads’ effectiveness, seven times as many teenagers remembered the body bag ads as remembered the “Think. Don’t Smoke” ads. Pushing the right emotional button beats out rational, research-based analysis. Every time.

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    For years, I tried to motivate myself with the knowledge that aerobic exercise is good for my body and brain. We’re all aware of studies that prove the undeniable benefits of daily exercise, the most compelling being that the habit significantly increases the length and quality of our lives! And yet, “Exercise because it’s good for you” has always been strangely devoid of motivational potency.

    Even the shocking phrase, “Not exercising is like voluntarily injecting myself with an early-death serum” hasn’t galvanized me. Premature death still seems like a long way off, and I can always rationalize that I’ll start the work of prolonging my life tomorrow.

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    Not exercising is like taking a brain damage pill hits the sweet spot. It’s true (for me). It’s simple. It’s concrete. It’s emotionally powerful. The implied consequences of ignoring it are immediate. It imperils my highly valued mental acuity. I would never pop a brain damage pill… so, obviously, I must exercise today!

    Rob Crawford, a school administrator who loves baseball and acoustic guitars, writes on productivity, impact, and self-management at Crawdaddy Cove.

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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