I recently read a very interesting book on building positive or dissolving negative habits. It is called "Atomic Habits" by James Clear.
I acquired many takeaways from that book such as:
- start off slowly when creating a new habit ex. start off by going to the gym for 5 minutes only
- focusing on the system or process to build a positive habit rather than the goal itself ex. set a time and location to perform the behaviour and strive to avoid missing twice in a row
- make the new habit part of your identity ex. "I am a person that makes healthy food choices and not I have to lose weight."
Our brains love rewards and are constantly seeking that "good feeling" with the least amount of effort. That is why those bag of chips or the chocolate bar on the kitchen counter are so appealing. Willpower is not the answer. If the brain sees something it wants - look out! The fast food and processed food industry is very much aware of this human tendency. Hence, their products are filled with salt, sugar and fat as well as a variety of combined textures. The "feel good" neurochemical dopamine is released in the brain's reward centre when a craving is acted upon. The mere anticipation of a pleasurable experience is enough to drive up the levels of dopamine. Social media, video games, pornography and certain drugs are more examples where instant rewards can be attained. Left unchallenged, the desire for even more dopamine hits increases and more and more exposure to the original source is sought.
Moderation or elimination can be applied to certain habits that do not reflect the beliefs that we presently hold. In his book, James Clear talks in more detail, about the backbone of every habit or automatic behaviour that we have and how to use this information to effectively create or eliminate any habit.
Every habit is made up of:
Cue - ex. see the chips
Craving - ex. feel the desire to eat the chips
Response - ex. eat the chips
Reward - ex. feel pleasure as the bag empties
The trick is to use this framework to develop a newer, more positive habit.
Cue - ex. create a healthy, encouraging environment - chips gone, fruit bowl on the counter
Craving - ex. feel the desire for the sweetness of fruit
Response - ex. grab an easily available fruit
Reward - ex. feel satisfied with less because of the healthier, higher fiber choice
So with these ideas in mind, I am going to implement my own system to encourage more writing.
Cue - I have assigned myself a specific area and time slot exclusively for writing
Craving - I enjoy (natural ability?) writing so the desire is there
Response - I am starting small by only writing as much as I feel without judgement, within a 2 hour period or less
Reward - Feeling satisfied for showing up and producing one or more lines of thought
My goal is to produce a more regular blog and another book. James Clear talks about tracking your progress - be it a food journal or a fitness tracker. The daily increase in words and time spent writing is my tracker. He also talks about having an accountability partner. Telling others what you are up to does help encourage you to follow through on what you said you would do.
So there you have it. Another year, another opportunity to express who you are and nurture your natural abilities. Start small, make it attractive with little rewards along the way and every once in awhile review your progress and tweak your system so boredom does not knock you off your path.
Happy New Healthy Habits for 2020!