Tag Archive | Habit(s)

On Habits and Celebration

Fragment from imaginary dialogues

“You may have learned that it takes at least 40 days to form a new habit.”

“Doesn’t it?”

“From the book Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg I learned a very important principle:

Emotions create habits.

Habits can form very quickly, as long as you have a strong positive emotion connected to the behavior. This means celebration is one of the most important aspects of habit creation. 

BJ has a beautiful word for that positive feeling we get from experiencing success: Shine.

There are two key aspects to celebration: 
Immediacy. Celebrating during the habit or immediately after.
Intensity. The more intense the feeling, the more impactful it is.

There are many ways you can celebrate. They can involve 
physical movements (eg deep breathing, smiling, a little dance, raising your fists in victory, etc), 
verbal statements (eg ‘Yes!’, ‘That’s like me!’, etc), 
bringing to mind things real or imagined,
one or more senses (visual, auditory, kinesthetic), 
or any combination of these. 

He stresses the importance of experimenting and finding/creating celebrations that feel natural to you, and suggests cultivating a bunch of them, for various contexts (private and public).

For instance, one of my go-to celebrations involves Brian Johnson, one of the people I look up to most. Every day he posts a little video in which he shares reflections and ideas with the world on how to optimize your life and live at your highest potential. He calls these little videos ‘+1s’ (plus ones).

He often ends these videos by saying ‘plus one’ and making a specific gesture with the fingers from one hand. Picturing him doing this always makes me smile. So I recently thought to myself: what if I used this as a celebration? I imagine him saying it, I say it along with him, and sometimes make the same gesture with the fingers. It works.”

“What are you experimenting with at the moment?”

“Humor.

I started studying humor because I think it’s a beautiful life skill. At one point I thought: what if I used humor for celebration?

For instance, sometimes when I get a very small win I imagine a huge amphitheater of people cheering for my accomplishment. The contrast between the smallness of the accomplishment and the bigness of the imagined celebration has a humorous effect.”

Celebration Optimization

Fragment from imaginary dialogues

“BJ Fogg’s book Tiny Habits is excellent.”

“Is it better than James Clear’s Atomic Habits?”

“It complements it beautifully. Tiny Habits approaches habit creation from the perspective of behavior-design. I hadn’t heard of behavior-design before. Now it’s something I want to master.

Let’s go back to James Clear’s four rules of habit-making:

Make it obvious. (Cue)
Make it attractive. (Craving)
Make it easy. (Response)
Make it satisfying. (Reward)

From Atomic Habits, I’d understood how important rewards are for habit creation. From Tiny Habits I got another piece of the puzzle:

When it comes to rewards, timing matters. 

In behavior-science, reward has a very specific meaning. Something counts as a reward only if it affects behavior, and it affects behavior only if it occurs either during the activity, or immediately after. That’s when dopamine is released and associated with the behavior. If the reward occurs outside this time-frame, it does not affect behavior, because the association with the behavior is lost.

One of the most powerful rewards is celebration. These ‘micro-moments of positivity’ – beautiful concept which I know from Brian Johnson – are essential for habit creation. In the words of BJ Fogg:

Emotions create habits.

“How can I optimize celebration?”

“What’s the main obstacle?”

“Remembering to celebrate.”

Celebrate remembering to celebrate.

Also, you can stack it with your Gratitude practice. I call this practice-stacking.

Every time you celebrate, say ‘Thank you‘ and, in the moment, improv-style, find one thing around you that you’re grateful for.

Habit Seeds

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

When installing a habit, it’s important to start small, and to make it fail-proof. You want to identify the smallest possible unit of the habit that is too small to fail – the atom, so to speak.

You can think of these tiny little habits as seeds that you can nurture and grow.

The best soil for new habit-seeds is the already existing structures – like other habits.

This way, engaging in the old habit becomes a trigger for the new little habit.”

“So, using your model, there are different types of seeds, which grow different types of habits. 

A 1-burpee seed will grow into a 5-burpee seedling. 
A 5-minute writing seed will grow into a pomodoro writing seedling.”

“You could say that.”

“What if you had a universal habit-seed that could grow into all others?”

“What do you have in mind?”

“As we’ve talked before[<link], the atom of the Meditation practice is 1 mindful breath. I call it the 1-breath meditation.

The universal habit-seed could be 1 breath. Let’s call it the mindful habit-seed.

This way, you turn the process of habit creation into Presence/Mindfulness practice.

You can start by planting mindful habit-seeds into key existing habits. This is a meaningful practice in itself. However, at a later time, you can grow these seeds into new mindful-habits, or use them to reclaim existing habits, that is, to turn them into mindful-habits.”

On Habits and Randomness

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“Habit creation (habit-making) and elimination (habit-breaking) is one of the most important meta-skills. An important part of my work involves coming up with ways to optimize this process.”

“What do you consider the essential pieces of information in this endeavor?”

“The structure of habit, and James Clear’s four rules of behavior change, from his wonderful book Atomic Habits.

The structure of habit:

Cue
Craving
Routine
Reward

The four rules of habit-making:

Make it easy.
Make it obvious.
Make it attractive.
Make it satisfying.

The four rules of habit-breaking:

Make it difficult.
Make it invisible.
Make it unattractive.
Make it unsatisfying.

“What are you working on at the moment?”

“On the reward aspect of habit creation, prompted by some very interesting pieces of information I came across recently:

Whenever you’ve completed a good habit, it’s vital that you allow yourself to feel good about it. The reward at the end of the behavior is what will make you want to do it again in the future.

To understand why that is, we need to take a look inside the brain. Every behavior involves multiple brain regions and neurochemicals, but the neurotransmitter dopamine plays an especially important part.

Many people think dopamine is released when the brain gets a reward, but that’s actually not quite accurate. Dopamine is not released during a reward, but in anticipation of a reward.

(Patrik Edblad)

Dopamine is not about pleasure, it’s about the anticipation of pleasure. (Robert Sapolsky)

This is a really big idea, with extraordinary practical application.

You’re familiar with the two types of behavioral conditioning.”

Classical and Operant Conditioning?”

“Yes.

In classical conditioning, reinforcement is based on repeated exposure.

Stimulus A produces a certain physiological response (eg emotional).
Stimulus B appears right after or at the same time as A.
Through repetition, B becomes associated with A, which produces a transfer of the physiological response from A to B.

In operant conditioning, reinforcement is based on repeated exposure to reward and punishment.

The most powerful reward is an intermittent reward, a reward where success is not guaranteed.

When you reward a behavior only some of the time, you add the word “maybe” into the equation. And, in the words of neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky, “Maybe is addictive like nothing else out there”. (Patrik Edblad)

Both types of conditioning have application for habit creation.

Quoting Patrik Edblad again:

The best way to learn a new behavior is through continuous reinforcement, in which the behavior is reinforced every time it occurs.

The best way to strengthen an already established behavior is through intermittent reinforcement, in which the behavior is reinforced only some of the time.

In the first case, one of the best ways to do it is through celebration.

Reinforcement can take many forms, but the simplest and most effective I’ve found is behavior expert B. J. Fogg’s “celebration” technique. As the name suggests, all you have to do is celebrate each time you’ve completed your habit.

For example:
– Do a fist pump.
Tell yourself, “
That’s like me!
Put on a big smile.

By deliberately self-generating positive emotions, your brain will pay attention. It will come to associate your routine with feeling good. And soon, it will start releasing dopamine each time it anticipates your habit.

(Patrik Edblad)

This is an instance of classical conditioning.

In the second case, I’ve been experimenting with randomness.

I told you a while ago about my system for randomly retrieving bookmarks from a folder [<link; medium read].

I set up a bookmarks folder named ‘Rewards‘.
Whenever I discover something that could work well as reward (eg something I tend to procrastinate with), I save it in the folder.
Whenever I want to reward myself for a behavior, I randomly extract something from the folder.”

“But there’s a difference between randomly getting a reward and getting a random reward.”

“I’m experimenting with combining the two.

I get a random reward every time. However among the rewards there are some that are very powerful.”

Super-rewards?”

“You could say that.

Relative to those, the rest feel like filler.
Getting the super-reward feels like winning the jackpot.
The chance of getting it is very small, but it has a powerful effect just by being there.”

Beautiful Models: Meta-Decisions

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I don’t masturbate, nor will I masturbate EVER again.”

“Why?”

“Because I CHOOSE not to.”

“Is the desire still there?”

“Yes, but much fainter, like a muffled sound in the background.”

“How did you do it?”

“The essential thing to realize is that the desire to masturbate is a HABIT.

Like those ‘hitchhiker weeds’, it stuck to you at some point along the way. And it is in your power to rid yourself of it.

With the right strategy, ANY habit can be undone.

The process starts with a singular decision. That’s what I call a meta-decision, a decision that eliminates a thousand other decisions.

A meta-decision is a profound CHOICE.

A meta-decision is a 100% COMMITMENT.

Not 99.99%.

100%. NOTHING less.”

“The difference doesn’t seem like much.”

“The difference, while apparently insignificant, is HUGE.

Whenever the desire arises is a decision-point.

With anything less than 100% commitment, the decision is between whether to give in to the impulse or not. Sometimes it’s easy, other times – especially when in an unresourceful state – it’s not, and it takes a lot of effort to talk yourself out of it.

It’s a struggle.

Successfully keeping the impulse in check may seem like a victory in the moment. But the impulse will appear again and again and again. This can be during the course of a single day. But day follows day, week follows week, month follows month, year follows year… it adds up.

A useful exercise to realize the sheer magnitude of it is to project it far into the future.

You have to realize at a visceral level that, over the years of your life, you’ll have to fight it a THOUSAND times again.

You’re undoubtedly familiar with chunking-down.”

“Breaking down a problem into smaller pieces to make it more manageable?”

“Yes. The exercise is an inversion of chunking-down. Focusing on the sheer size of the problem. We could call it chunking-up.

With a 100% commitment, on the other hand, whenever the desire arises, you simply and serenely say to yourself ‘I don’t masturbate‘… End of story.

It’s effortless.

You won’t get there instantly. You build up to it. But it starts with a DESIRE to get there, and a BELIEF that you CAN.

I CAN!

This is a mantra worth repeating a thousand times, until it sticks. Because when it does, it will stay with you FOREVER.

The masturbation habit will also stay with you forever, unless you do something about it.

Contrast these two against one another. Which one would you rather have?”

“Isn’t it restrictive framing?”

“It’s strategic framing.

The choice is symbolic.

One choice symbolizes the extraordinary life you know you want. 
One choice symbolizes the small life you’ve been living until now.

Make your pick.”

“Another meta-decision?”

“Good eye.”

Beautiful Habits: Appreciating Ideas 2

If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants. (Isaac Newton)

A cugeta inseamna a cugeta MAI DEPARTE. (Nicolae Iorga)
Translation: To think means to think FARTHER.


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“The structure of the titles of some of your posts – ‘On [topic]‘ – reminds me of Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic [<link].”

“That’s because they are inspired by Seneca.

The name of the blog is inspired by Marcus Aurelius.
The dialogue format is inspired by Plato.

In part, it’s a little playful reminder to express gratitude to all the people whose lives have touched mine through their ideas.”

“Is this practice different from the one we’ve talked about before [<link; medium length]?”

“Yes.

That one is focused on ideas, so contextual. Whenever I encounter an idea, I express gratitude for the idea, and to the author.

This one is focused on people, and macro-focused, so an instance of Big-Thinking [<link; medium]. I express gratitude to all people who have influenced me with their ideas.

I acknowledge and honor being part of a collective process [<link; short] that is much bigger than I am.

I acknowledge and honor standing on the shoulders of Giants.

With a grateful heart, I’m drinking from and building on the Collective Wisdom of Humanity, and dedicate my life to bringing my own little contribution.

On Implementation 2

The question you should be asking isn’t, “What do I want?” or “What are my goals?” but “What would excite me?” (Tim Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek)


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I implement this wisdom?”

“Here’s a few ideas.

Use the question as a filter.

Whenever you look at a set of options, ask yourself:

What would excite me?

Order the options based on how exciting they are; eliminate the unexciting ones.

Expand the question.

For instance, you can use it in the context of Self-Awareness.

Ask yourself about the activity you’re engaged in,

How exciting is this?

You always have two choices:
change the activity to a more exciting one (selective)
make the activity (more) exciting (creative)

As concerns the latter, ask yourself:

How can I make this exciting?

How can I beautify this?

How can I play with this?
How can I make it fun?

You can also use it in the context of habit creation.

Remember James Clear’s four rules.”

“Make it obvious. (Cue)
Make it attractive. (Craving)
Make it easy. (Response)
Make it satisfying. (Reward)”

“You can upgrade the third one to,

Make it exciting.

Which brings us back to,

How can I make this exciting?”

On Implementation

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“We’ve talked before about reclaiming verbal empties [<link; short read].

How’s the implementation going?”

“What you said made perfect sense in the moment, but then I forgot about it.”

Implementation must be foremost on your mind at ALL times.

Focus on this meta-level first.

Repeat it over and over and over and over and over and over again, until EVERY TIME you encounter a piece of wisdom, you think to yourself:

How can I implement this?

Then, think of ONE little thing you can do to initiate the implementation process.

For instance, concerning verbal empties, the first step might be to simply notice them. Turn noticing verbal empties into a practice. Once it becomes a habit, move on to the next little step.

Make it a Game to discover ALL the verbal empties in your life, and ACTUALLY reclaim them.

Beautiful Systems: Implementation

Learning is behavior change. (Eben Pagan)

LIVE the words.

Turn the words into WORKS. (Seneca)


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I optimize Implementation?”

Think of it as an essential Life-System.

To optimize any system, you have to identify its context, its function, and its components.

Start with the Macro-Perspective.

What system is this a subsystem of?”

“What if it’s part of more than one system?”

“Use the ONE Thing model. Identify the most important one.”

“I’d say the Learning System.”

“Think of the Learning System as the background.

What’s the scope of the system?

“I’m thinking its scope is the creation of persistent structures…

Habits! Its scope is habit creation.”

“Think of habits as the compass.

What’s the most powerful habit creation tool you know?”

“James Clear’s Four Rules of Behavior Change (from his book Atomic Habits):

Make it obvious. (Cue)
Make it attractive. (Craving)
Make it easy. (Response)
Make it satisfying. (Reward)”

“Use the Four Rules as a model. Pass everything you want to implement through this filter.

How can you make it obvious?
How can you make it attractive?
How can you make it easy?
How can you make it satisfying?

You’ve identified one important component of the system.”

On dealing with time-sinks

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“There are some activities that tend to swallow big chunks of your precious time if you let them. I call them time-sinks.”

“Haven’t you eliminated non-essentials?”

“I have. But it’s a matter of proportion. Or, to use a different model, opportunity cost. The more time you give an activity, the less time you have for others.

Time-sinks come in two flavors, big and small.
Either one big time-block – activities that are hard to disengage from.
Or multiple small time-blocks – activities that stealthily compound.”

“What strategies do you use for dealing with them?”

“One strategy is setting limits.

Always have an exit strategy.

It can be a limit per session. ‘I’m going to read for half an hour, then take a break.
It can be a limit per day. ‘I’m going to check social media for no more than 10 minutes per day.‘”

“So you track your time?”

“Yes. Not for all activities. Only for certain time-sinks.

The idea is to identify failure-points and give them special attention.

Another strategy is setting focus.

Let’s say you want to read for x minutes. 
If you focus on finishing the chapter (outcome), and the chapter takes longer than x minutes, you will likely exceed the allocated time.
If you focus on reading for x minutes (process), you’re much more likely to succeed.

So the key is to focus on the process not the outcome.

Another strategy is setting intention.

This is a kind of priming.

If you don’t set the intention, you’ll default to your habitual patterns. Depending on the habits you’ve formed, it can work for or against you.

Make it a habit to set the intention right before engaging in an activity.

You’re essentially setting up a life-algorithm.”

“Can you give an example?”

“For instance:

Set a timer to 25 minutes.
Focus on the process not the outcome. (Priming; Practice: Selective-Focus)
Ignore ALL distractions. (Priming; Practice: Deep-Focus)
Stop / Interrupt yourself after 25 minutes. (Priming; Practice: Discipline)”