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The Amazing Secret Behind All Habits

The Amazing Secret Behind All Habits


    “21 days for a habit to sink in…” 

    “Habits must have positive reinforcement…” 

    “You must go ‘cold turkey’ for a real habit to sink in…” 

    Have you ever heard these myths about habits?

    They may not be necessarily wrong, but they are incomplete.

    Habits tend to be like fleeting, mystical “pots of gold” for us humans–we want them, and reach for them, but they’re often just out of our grasp. They promise a better life, filled with more success, more productivity, and better results in every arena.

    But they’re hard to set. 

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    Of course, the problem with most habits is that they’re not something we can just think about–we need to actively try to implement them, remind ourselves to think about them, and even keep written reminders in the corners of our homes that remind us to think about them!

    In a word, habits are difficult.

    I don’t know how many times I’ve met someone with a particular character trait–for example, the proverbial “strong and silent type”–and told myself that I’d work to “be more like that.” I can’t remember how many times I’ve read about an historical person who’s personality I wanted to “borrow” and make my own–like Einstein’s journaling habit, or Ben Franklin’s creativity, for example.

    These are the types of habits that we all want–the specific aspects of character, personality, and daily habits that promise to make us into perfect specimens of humanity. However, as you probably know, these habits are also usually directly contradictory with our own genetic predispositions.

    In other words, we’re trying to pit our voluntary habit-creation neurons against our involuntary makeup–not a match that will be won easily.

    Thankfully, there’s a better answer. 

    The answer to the questions “how to set a habit that sticks” is one that’s deceptively simple–but don’t disregard it for its simplicity. It’s a “secret” for that reason; something as seemingly complex as “habit-setting” we assume to be much trickier than it really is.

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    To say Charles Duhigg wrote a book that helps with habit-setting would be an insult to his name–the man wrote the book on the subject, after years of study, experimentation, and many hours of research, testing, and interviewing. It’s more a treatise on habit setting than a simple guidebook.

    For our purposes, though, we’ll focus on the truly simple method of habit-setting in human adults, using research that Duhigg proved and wrote in his book, The Power of Habit.

    The Habit Loop

    Duhigg describes a habit not as a singular effect in the brain, but as a “chain” of related events–the “Habit Loop.”

    The Habit Loop is made up of three components:

    • Cue/Trigger
    • Routine
    • Reward

    The Cue or Trigger phase is what “triggers” a certain routine–technically, this is the start of a habit. A Cue can be anything from walking past the snack machine at work when you go to the restroom, or it can be more complex, like seeing a particular sign on a particular road when you’re driving with a particular person.

    The Routine is the part of the habit loop that’s triggered. It’s “what you do” after the Trigger. You see the snack machine and immediately feel hungry. In trying to chase a reward (usually subconsciously), your brain pushes you through the Routine until the Reward is reached.

    The Reward is exactly what it sounds like–though it doesn’t need to be an actual positive effect. It’s simply the final stage of a habit loop, telling the brain that the Routine is finished. Because our habits usually end in reward, like “eating a bag of chips and feeling satiated,” or “running a mile and feeling accomplished,” we describe this stage as a reward.

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    So how do you change a “bad habit?”

    Duhigg thankfully doesn’t leave us with just this scientific explanation of a habit loop–he goes further to describe what we can do to target and change a specific habit from one we think is “bad” into one we’re happier with.

    It starts with making the subconscious Trigger and Routine stage something we’re conscious of. The most effective thing his test subjects did was genius, and delightfully simple (in theory!):

    Duhigg told them to keep an index card and pen or pencil with them at all times, and make a tally mark each time they found themselves going through their habit loop.

    A great example of this was his nail-biting test subject. Every time she felt the urge to bite her nails–or actually found herself biting her nails–she made a tally on the card.

    After a few weeks, her index card was full of tally marks (she had to start on the back of the card!), but she was acutely aware of the Trigger phase–she knew exactly when she would have nail-biting urges would strike.

    What this young lady discovered was that her Habit Loop looked like this:

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    • Cue: The desire to bite her nails (caused by stress, wanting something to do, whatever)
    • Routine: Instead of biting her nails and carrying on about her day, she now must tally it up on the card.
    • Reward: The reward of biting her nails (less stress, anxiety, whatever) was still there.

    She still bit her nails, but her Habit Loop changed slightly so that she was more conscious of her “bad” habit.

    The second step of the Habit Loop

    The second thing Duhigg told her to do was to change the Loop slightly–just the Routine phase.

    This time, he had her add an “–” dash next to each tally mark that represented when she effectively fought the urges: when she recognized the Cue to bite her nails, but didn’t:

    • Cue: Desire to bite her nails ensues.
    • Routine: Instead of biting her nails, she actively remembers her task and marks a dash on the index card.
    • Reward: She’s given herself the small satisfaction biting her nails once provided–without needing to bite them.

    …and you can guess what happened. 

    Sure enough, after a short amount of time (remember, she’d already spent a few weeks building a new Habit Loop for nail-biting), she no longer needed to bite her nails! The urges were still sometimes there, but her Habit Loop had changed so that the Reward was no longer biting her nails–it was the satisfaction of making a tally mark and a dash when she didn’t bite them!

    The power of this exercise is immediately and effectively useful to any of us–whether we bite our nails, smoke, drink too much, or whatever. We can use the Habit Loop and the science behind it to set new habits for ourselves that remove “bad” habits, set new “good” ones, or even make drastic personality changes in our lives.

    I’ve experienced these effects first hand, and it’s an amazing and powerful system. Give it a shot, and let me know what you think!

    (Photo credit: Workflow Loop via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on April 6, 2020

    15 Best Productivity Hacks for Procrastinators

    15 Best Productivity Hacks for Procrastinators

    Let me guess.

    You should be doing something else rather than reading this article. But due to some unknown force of nature, you decided to procrastinate by reading an article about how to hack procrastination. You deserve a pat on the back.

    Fortunately, procrastination is not a disease. It’s just a mindset that can be changed, however, here are some productivity tips you need to start getting work done:

    First, you need to acknowledge that procrastinating is an unhealthy habit. Not only you’re prioritizing unimportant things, basically, nothing gets done. Still unsure if you’re a procrastinator? Check out this article: Types of Procrastination (And How To Fix Procrastination And Start Doing)

    Second, your commitment to change is very important. You should be physically, emotionally, and mentally determined to change this habit. If not, then you’ll just succumb to the tempting lure of doing other things rather than your tasks or chores.

    Here are sthe best productivity hacks to improve productivity and keep yourself from procrastinating at work:

    1. Give (10+2)*5 a Try

    Let’s start with a classic but very effective hack called (10+2)*5 created by Merlin Mann,[1] author of 43Folders.com. Don’t worry. This is not a complicated Mathematical formula you need to solve.

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    The (10+2)*5 simply means 10 minutes work + 2 minutes break multiplied by 5, completing 1 hour. It is crucial to stick with the time limits and not skipping work and break schedules. The point of this is for you to create a jam-packed routine of work and break schedules. The result? You will eventually skip your break schedules.

    2. Use Red and Blue More Often

    Clean your desk and remove things that might distract you. According to a Science Daily study[2] about which colors improve brain performance, red was found out to increase attention to details while blue sparks creativity. Surrounding your workplace with these colors not only benefits your brain, it’s also pleasing to the eye.

    3. Create a Break Agenda

    List all the things you want to do on your break, be it surfing the web, checking your emails, snack time, taking selfies, Facebook/Twitter—everything.

    Like the (10+2)*5 hack, squeeze these in between work time but the difference is you schedule these activities for ONLY 20 minutes. Eventually, you’ll take your break minutes wisely. You’re finishing tasks while sidetracking to doing the things you enjoy.

    4. Set a Timetable for Your Tasks

    Like any other habits, procrastinating is a tough wall to break. Replace this habit with another habit. When you’re assigned a task, set a timetable for each step. Let’s say you have a big research task. Here’s a sample timetable:

    9:00 – 9:10 am – Set up all your tools, browser tabs, emails, coffee, etc..
    9:10 – 10:00 am – Internet research
    10:00 – 10:45 am – Look through existing files
    10:45 – 11:00 am – Break time!
    11:00 – 12:00 pm – Outline the research report

    Deadlines are the best hack for getting things done. Setting a specific time to finish a task creates time pressure even if the deadline has passed.

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    5. Take It Outside!

    Do yourself a favor and don’t ruin the comfy vibe of your home. If you need to work on a stressful project, do it in a library or coffee shop. You’ll never finish it anyway. Your cozy sofa and toasty bed will just lure you into napping yourself to doom.

    6. Become Productively Lazy

    Instead of finding all sorts of ways to unproductively procrastinate, use your habit to look for shortcuts and new ways to finish your tasks. Staple multiple papers at a time or master the 3-second t-shirt folding technique. A strong drive combined with laziness sometimes bring out the productive and creative side you never knew you have!

    7. Assign a ‘Task Deputy’

    It could be your colleague, your supervisor, or your significant other, anyone who has the unforgiving guts to reprimand you when you procrastinate. You could go the extra mile by paying up unfinished tasks or times you open your Facebook or watch a funny cat video on YouTube. Let’s see how five bucks every time you procrastinate will change you.

    8. Consider a Gadget-Free Desk

    According to a study by Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, average users check on their phones 150 times per day and having your phone just an elbow away just creates sizzle to this habit.[3]

    Removing mobile devices and gadgets allows you to focus on your work without the constant interruption from notifications, calls, and text messages. It eliminates the very distracting ambiance and the urge to unlock your phone just because.

    9. Prepping the Night

    Before hitting the sack to oblivion, prepare everything you’ll need the next day. This will probably take you 15 minutes tops, saving you more time for coffee in the morning.

    Spin class at am? Pack up your gym clothes, shoes, socks, etc. or better, create a checklist so you don’t miss anything. You can also prep your food into containers and just grab one before leaving.

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    10. Do a 7-Minute Workout in the Morning

    Exercising is proven to increase productivity and stimulate release of endorphin or “Happy Hormones”.

    Take a jog outdoors and get warmed up for the day. Don’t feel like running outside? Hop on a treadmilli. It’s a great investment and there are a lot of ways you can use a treadmill like endurance running and metabolism training. On a budget? Here’s a 7 minute, no-equipment needed workout you can do at home:

    11. Set-up Mini Tasks

    If you’re given a big project, break it down into mini tasks. Create a checklist and start with the easy ones until you finish. Got an article to write? Just start with the title and the first sentence. Or perhaps you have a visual presentation to make?

    Spend 15 minutes on your outline, take five minutes coffee break, then finish the first two slides. Accomplishing something, no matter how tiny, still gives you that sense of fulfillment.

    12. Create an Inspirational Board or Reminder

    I found these mini desk chalkboards from Etsy you can use to write motivating quotes.

    Or you know what? Simply write “Do it now!” and stare at it for 10 seconds every time you feel like dropping by on Reddit.

    13. Redecorate Your Room

    Redecorating my room motivates me to maintain that ‘new’ look for some time until I get use to it and eventually stop. So I redecorate again and again, it became a monthly habit really. Here are some DIY ideas you can do to any room without spending much.

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    14. Ready Your Nibbles

    You know that trip to the pantry? It’s just seconds away but it took you several minutes just to get your fruit snacks in the fridge. Before starting a task, prepare your nibbles on your desk to avoid zoning out and losing yourself on the way to the pantry.

    Bonus productivity hacks you can do at home:

    15. Schedule Your Chores

    Write down your chores in a weekly basis with matching day and time when you should be doing these.

    For the artsy folks, you can create fun chore charts like these or simply stick the list somewhere visibly annoying e.g. mirrors, doors, TV. The trick is listing as many chores as you can for the week and including unfinished chores the following week. Who likes seeing a long list of chores first thing in the morning?

    More Tips to Overcome Procrastination

    Featured photo credit: Glenn Carstens-Peters via unsplash.com

    Reference

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