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Cover image for Form Great Habits to Take Control of Your Life

Form Great Habits to Take Control of Your Life

taillogs profile image Ryland G Originally published at cdevn.com ・3 min read

Staying Objective

The concept of "self" is one of the most critical, and yet potentially anxiety inducing aspects of existence. It allows the wonderful and awful experiences that makes us, "us", but it also makes objective self-analysis a real challenge.

It's important to remember that there are countless subconscious decisions and mechanisms influencing what you do and how you feel, ALL THE TIME. Have you ever wanted to go to the gym and you couldn't muster up the energy or willpower? Doesn't it feel crappy to not do things YOU want, because of chemicals being released in your brain that you seemingly can't control?

Habit Formation, the Human Autopilot

It's easy to forget that your brain isn't magic. It obeys rules and patterns, and those patterns and rules can be taken advantage of, and even hijacked.

The specific mechanism I want to discuss, is the brains ability to form habits. Wiki says the following about habit formation:

Habit formation is the process by which a behavior, through regular repetition, becomes automatic or habitual.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of nonsense around this subject, but if you look in the right places there's some real science too. This article gives a good outlook on forming a new habit, the key takeaway is below.

On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In Lally's study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit.

This isn't the mythical "3 week habit cycle", but the time it takes is less important. More importantly, we have empirical proof that given enough time, you can make yourself do things automatically.

So what's the catch, why isn't everyone doing this?

It's hard, really hard. Your conscious likes to feel "in control". So the notion that you can be trained like a monkey, isn't pleasant. But that's not the objective outlook, so why should it be your outlook? If you stop viewing yourself as "you", and instead as a meat container that can be trained to do things automatically, the possibilities are infinite.

Activating Autopilot

I hate running. But I know it's objectively one of the most time efficient ways of staying healthy, and it's always practical (no gear, or equipment needed). So for the past few weeks, I've forced myself to run every day. Even though I've forced myself to adopt a lot of habits already, starting a new one is never easy. Every part of you will want to stop, but that's when you have to override your biology with logic. Just remember that n days from that exact moment, you'll be on autopilot reaping the benefits of that behavior without the stress you currently feel.


Pic Source: Great article on habit forming

You'll also be surprised by how fast the behavior can become enjoyable. With running, I didn't factor in the fact that the act itself would make me feel better, thus increasing my enjoyment of running and making the habit easier to form. You can use this for other aspects of your health such as eating right, and drinking enough water. Even if you start out struggling, the benefit of the activity might make you healthier and therefore make the next day easier.

Takeaway

Remember, you can force yourself to do anything you want. It may not be instant or enjoyable at first, but that's your subconscious brain naively putting the short term ahead of the long term. And eventually, if you can build up enough good habits, adding new ones should be quite a bit easier.

If you want to learn more about habit formation, I highly recommend the book, "The Power of Habit" which covers this topic in depth.

Posted on Jul 25 '19 by:

taillogs profile

Ryland G

@taillogs

Head of Product Experience at Temporal. previously lead architect and low-level systems programmer for scale out SaaS offering. Game engine developer, ML engineering expert. DMs open on Twitter.

Discussion

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A great read! Thank you!

Regarding running... I’ve been doing it for the past 275 days and it’s now something I couldn’t live off of. I love it now although I didn’t enjoy it this much at the beginning...

I can see how my mind and body reacts to it and it’s just so powerful! I don’t run a lot, around 15-20 mins per day, but the benefits are huge!!

 

So glad you like it. Also it’s inspiring to hear the end game for running, will help me keep getting out there. Thanks for sharing.

 

" If you stop viewing yourself as "you", and instead as a meat container that can be trained to do things automatically, the possibilities are infinite."

This particular line make sense to me sometimes when I get frustrated with what I am doing when I don't want to do it.

Thanks for the article. It was worth reading.

 

So glad it resonated with you! It’s so easy to forget that our choices are more than just what we think.

Getting to the point where you can really trust your conscious self over your basic emotions/impulses is key to long term happiness.

 

Nice post Ryland, didn't read 'The Power of Habit' yet though. Anything about breaking bad habits? I understand it depends of a lot of factors too (smoking for 10 years x 1 year) and the habit itself, but do they talk about a similar timeline to make this bad habit weaker and eventually vanish?

 

I've had to break a lot of bad habits. Specifically with smoking it's a bit complex because there is a real physical dependence there. That being said, for most people the psychological addiction is actually the harder one to break.

My number one tip for breaking a bad habit is to not do that at all. Instead, focus entirely on building new good habits, and use your current bad habit as the reward mechanism. As long as you're building healthy habits, eventually they will improve your health, mood, attitude enough, that you can make a serious attempt at quitting the bad habit for good.

Most people who are doing something unhealthy and try to quit fail. They fail because they don't have an internal support system prepared to handled the change. Make sure you're healthy as possible, this will give you a good chance of succeeding.

If you have more questions feel free to ask!

 

Completely agree ! i'm still trying to get some habits, it's about 1 year.. probably i have to change approach. i think that some habits about healthy food, physical activities can need more time, especially because maybe after a while, you could interrupt them. Anyway, great article, good points !

 

I think each healthy habit you acquire makes the next one a little bit easier because you are a healthier person making the choice.

 

Thanks for the article, really interesting, I've started to work out recently for the first time ever so nice to have some tactics going in :)

Wanted to share this little app that gamifys good habit formation, it's super fun and a great community too, some people might get a kick out of it:
habitica.com

 

That's a really cool idea. Gamification never really worked for me but I know it helps a lot of people.

Good luck on working out! Make sure to stick with it.

 
 

Motivation is fleeting, discipline is always!

 

Before even reading I checked to see if "The Power of Habit" was mentioned. Good read, a pretty good tldr for "The Power of Habit"

 

A pretty good tldr for "The Power of Habit"

I take that as a great compliment

 

I had not seen the 3 R's of habit formation graphic before, very cool way to visualize it.

 

It’s super cool. Highly recommend reading the original post that image came from too!