Good (and bad habits), and how to use them or lose them

 

Habits, both the good and the bad, drive behavior. As we can create and change them at will (with a little effort), they are a fabulous hack for transformation and change. So, how do you take advantage of good habits and break bad ones?

how to build good habits and how to break bad habits

THREE HACKS TO BREAK A BAD HABIT

Sticking to the tech theme, let’s see how you could break the habit of using your phone in bed before sleep.

  • Make it invisible. An hour before bed, set an alarm to turn off your phone and hide it in the closet.

  • Make it difficult. Choose a closet in some other part of your home (in the kitchen for example), so that the difficulty of getting to it is greater than the urge to check your email.

  • Make it uncomfortable. Better yet, choose a closet in the unheated garage, with a camera that detects if you sneak in to take a peek and publishes the picture on Instagram, telling the world that you could not resist. Yes, public humiliation is very effective for changing habits.

These three approaches apply to any type of habit. And the opposite works to create good habits: make it visible, make it easy, make it comfortable.


Let's start with an example. Have you ever tried disabling all notifications on your devices? What did you feel? Relieved? Calmer? Or like you were missing out on all kinds of vital information?

There is no shame in feeling withdrawal, because our way of using technology quickly becomes a habit. Our brains strive to spend as little energy as possible, so it doesn’t like to change its habits, we feel the tug to keep doing whatever it is we have been doing.

According to neuroscientist Dr. Sarah McKay, the brain, while remaining plastic and adaptable throughout life, changes only if it has a good reason to do so. Finding a motivating reason is the first step to learning a new skill—or making a change of any kind.

That's why habits and choice are part of the same conversation. Going back to the relationship we have with our devices, does choice play a role in your use of technology on a daily basis?

Dr. Greg Wells, co-author of The Focus Effect, reminds us that technology is not a problem in itself. It is incredible, positive, and useful. However, passive rather than intentional use is what wreaks havoc.

Habits, or how to hack optimization

Habits save us both time and energy. Imagine the energy you would expend if every time you saw a door, you had to think about how to open it.

We all have the ability to create habits consciously. I decide to do exercice every morning. At first I need to force myself out of bed, and after a while—somewhere between 18 and 254 days—it becomes automatic. I miss it if for some reason I don’t get up. That’s when I have created the habit. Creating a habit is easier if you make the thing you want to do very visible (reminders, post-its, etc.), because the brain will tend to forget anything that takes too much energy. It also helps to take things step by step (5 minutes of exercise, and then 10, etc. before attempting an hour of Crossfit). This way, every time you reach a goal, you get a hit of dopamine that encourages you to move on to the next one. And if it’s too hard to achieve, you’ll drop it.

Aristotle went further. He said that habits create us: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.”

In light of this definition, what does your use of technology say about you? 😉

Indeed, if you use the phone to remind you to take a break every 50 minutes to take a walk outside, where you count steps with your smart watch, your tech could contribute to your excellence, just as adjusting its settings to automatically switch to Night Mode after sunset would (limiting exposure to blue light to preserves production of melatonin) could help you sleep, which makes you better at everything. The device creates the habit for you.

On the other hand, if you compulsively check Facebook or Instagram or email all the time, even when having a conversation with your partner or your children, or you lose the notion of the time in front of a screen, that’s another story.

A SELF-ASSESSMENT

I propose an exercise. Every half-hour for half a day or even a whole day, take a few minutes to note how you used technology (computer, apps, smart phone, smart watch, smart anything) and evaluate your use on a scale from 1 (non-chosen or thoughtless habit) to 10 (fully conscious thought-out aware choice).

Often, awareness is enough to change a habit.

 
Anne TragerHacking habits