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Why Do We Always Slack off?

Why Do We Always Slack off?

Life Hackers, have you ever paused to think why hacking your habits and behavior occupies you from time to time? Or why doing things better and faster will always earn you the respect of those around you?

Let’s take a minute to take a closer look at our evolutionary past and and the first human hackers.

In the past, we were part of a hunter/gatherer society; all were working to get an edge in an unforgiving environment. The tools we used and the techniques we invented gave us an advantage over rivals and made our existence more bearable, sometimes even triggering the next evolutionary leap.

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Take for instance the story of fire…

In the beginning (about 1.7 million years ago), humans discovered they could use fire. They didn’t know how to control it at first, but little by little they learned its advantages, how to manipulate it, and ultimately even how to create it from scratch (no pun intended).

Before we knew how to create fire, we used to “harvest it” from our environment which required a great deal of effort. It doesn’t grow on trees; quite the opposite, it sets them ablaze. Tribes would fight each other to own it and would invest considerable time and effort to maintain it.
…And then, someone found how to create it themselves.

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Just imagine the Eureka moment in which humans learned how to create fire and were able to reproduce the process. Imagine the ensuing era and the leap we’ve all made as a result. Those same feelings/hormone surges/thoughts the cave men and women felt back then are the ones you’re experiencing today when you hack a need.

Hacking was a trait that was developed in us through years of trial and error, or in other words, evolution. It was a trait driven by necessity. One can argue it is the key to our evolution. For me, hacking is much more than just about inventing or changing the functionality of a tool or behavior; hacking is about me masting my environment, but I, as most of you, also find myself slacking from time to time (i.e. not doing the things I need to do when they need doing). This brings up an important question: if my ancestors developed the hacking trait, why do I experience behaviors today that hold me back? Or, in other words, why do I slack?

Well, two reasons that come to mind:

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#1 Distractions over time

From the discovery of fire to maintaining it, and eventually creating it at whim took time; a lot of time. Why? The first hackers had an unstable environment with many threats and distractions, and it was a challenge to simply survive; we just didn’t have the brain capacity and ability to focus only on fire creation.

Just as our ancestors struggled with their environment, we too are constantly battling our environment. Granted, there isn’t a saber-toothed tiger roaming our backyard to distract us, but the seemingly constant distractions over time eventually break our willpower and lead us to slack.

We must learn to commit and focus. Distractions will never go away, so we must learn to control them, and fend them off so we can hack and make our leap forward.

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#2 Our success is the reason we fail

Minjung Koo and Ayelet Fischbach from the University of Chicago explain in their research that the reason we slack is because we can’t focus in the “here and now”: we are often distracted by things that we’ve done or the benefits we’ve derived from those accomplishments, which they call “to-date thinking”. Instead we should be focusing on the job we need to do or “to-go thinking”.

You might say that we start as good hackers, accomplishing a thing or two, only to finish as slackers. We pass time by reading about other people’s hacks, trying to copy rather than invent new ones. That’s why serial entrepreneurs are scarce (they don’t stagnate on past success) and repeat Nobel Prize winners are rare; the discovery of maintaining fire postponed the discovery of how to create it.

What’s it to you, you ask? Don’t rest on your laurels, and keep the saber-toothed tigers at bay!

More by this author

Haim Pekel

Haim Pekel is an entrepreneur and shares tips on productivity and entrepreneurship at Lifehack.

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Last Updated on November 15, 2019

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, why?

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]

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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?

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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.

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.

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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.

More About Changing Habits

Featured photo credit: Mel via unsplash.com

Reference

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