Luminary Perspective

March 22, 2006

Overwriting Bad Habits

Filed under: Efficiency, Motivation, Spiritual Growth — Luke @ 1:48 am

In life we tend to follow patterns. Most of them we are not conscious of. I used to think my life unstructured, yet I spent a good deal of time in repetitive, unproductive actions such as habitual procrastination, daydreaming, playing computer games, and watching movies. Now I have consciously restructured my life to where I clean up, go to bed at the same time, eat regular meals, and often do chores that are “not my job”. These are now habits, and often happen without my thinking of them, or with very minimal conscious thought. I still have a good many improvements left to make, but these are encouraging to me.

The secret to forming a habit to perfection is said to be to do it for at least 28 days straight. If you can do the same thing for a month, it becomes a habit. This refers to it going into your long-term memory where you don’t hardly think about it. Your short term memory, of the past 3 days or so, is sensitive to much shorter repetitions. If you blog one morning for the first time, it is likely that the next morning you will think of whether you want to do it again. If you follow through, then the third morning it is even more easy to remember.

Breaking undesirable habits is the same way. Earlier this month I had a webcomic addiction. I would visit 5-10 sites with daily updating strips, and read them. Then one day while brainstorming about a blog entry, I had the bright idea that I could quit reading them without missing them, simply allocate a day or two at the beginning of each month to catch up. Reading the comics daily was a bad habit, but reading them monthly would not be so bad. For the rest of the month, I would have all that time (and mental workspace) free to work on blogging instead.

For the first few days after that, kept getting urges to connect and read the comics. But I was able to prevent myself from doing so, and remember my commitment, because I had aleady abstained from reading them the previous day. This gave momentum towards the new “break the habit” pattern I was introducing. Since that first day, I have not looked at a webcomic. I typed urls for them a few times, but always closed the window before it loaded.

Part of what helped me introduce that “breaking” pattern was the introduction of the blogging pattern, with which I associated breaking the bad habit. However, I think part of what I used to introduce the blogging pattern was the pre-existing webcomic-reading pattern. I realised that the act of sitting and writing at a computer is not much different from sitting and reading at a computer, and since I was doing one on a highly consistent daily basis it wasn’t near as much work to introduce the other. In short, I was able to leverage the bad habit’s rhythm into the creation of a similar-yet-better habit, and this in turn helped me break the bad habit.

O habits
V  everyone has them : not always good : necessary for growth
E bad habits
R  usually not consciously acquired : have rhythm
W good habits
R  need rhythm : usually acquired consciously
I switching
T  start with both at once : establish good one, then break bad one

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