Thursday, July 5, 2012

[THP] Building New Habits & Breaking Old Ones

Part of a Facebook Event called The Happiness Project (not to be confused by the book of the same name... no relation)

Going into this event, it may be useful to know some of the concepts for building new habits and breaking old ones. Some of these are ideas from the book, but nothing here is content from the book, unless specifically mentioned. One Path of Least Resistance is (or what Shawn calls, "The 20-Second Rule"). Shawn uses this guideline to help build new habits, and break old ones. Take "20 seconds" (or more... the more the better) away from any task you want encourage yourself to do and add "20 seconds" to any task you want to keep yourself from doing.

Time and time again in psychological studies, it comes up that one of our very base natures is to do what is easy, or to not do at all. This is as deep as biology, because to rest is to conserve energy, even on a molecular level. What it was for our ancestors, the cavemen, was we needed to rest to conserve limited energy for when we needed to do other things, like run from that cave bear. Activity was done largely in bursts. The same is true of other animals. Do you know how much your house cat sleeps?!? 16-20 hours a day. His wild counterparts aren't much different. We are all wired to mostly do nothing.

So the next time you find yourself sitting on the couch doing nothing, instead of out exercising when you know it makes you feel good... Or why you end up sitting home on the couch playing video games, even though it's far more rewarding to go out with friends, understand this---it's not because you're lazy. It's that you're extremely good at conserving energy. Problem is, this becomes an obstacle when trying to form new, healthier habits.

However, this "Path of Least Resistance" attitude can also be used to our advantage. For example, it's far easier in our minds to "Opt-in" (i.e., "option-in," meaning, the choice was made to include you in the option) rather than change our course of action. Organ Donor registries have discovered in recent rears that the mere phrasing of a question can mean the difference between less than 10% of people signing up to more than 90% of people signing up. That is,

"Would you like to be included in the organ donor registry?"
(Check yes to be included.)


"Would you like to not be included in organ donor registry?"
(Check yes to be excluded.)

It's a big decision! So the easier choice is to not check the box at all. The first example got 10% of people to become organ donors. The second received 90% participation in the organ donor program. Just because it's easier to not make the decision. Do I? Don't I? Do I really need my organs when I'm gone? Do I want them to cut em up before they bury me? AHHHH! I don't know, I don't wanna think about this, now, and I've been here long enough! Huge difference in participation rates.

We can think about this when it comes to our daily lives and make new things easier to make a habit, and things we want to quit, more difficult to deal with. Shawn tells the funny story of sleeping in his work-out clothes, because it was more of a pain to change out of them that it was to just go with the flow and put on his running shoes and exercise for the day (exercising in the morning has particular benefits to the mind -- buy the book for details).

On the flip side, if there's a habit that you want to stop, make it more difficult to engage in that habit. Say you want to want to watch less TV. One way to accomplish this would be to remove the batteries from the remote controls and put them in a drawer. Even the small act of adding that much time to watching TV (first I have to find the batteries) can be dissuasive enough, especially if you've left a book you want to finish right by the remotes. That makes the path of least resistance reading a book, rather than watching TV.

In moving forward with your Three Good Things, try to make this exercise as easy as possible. If you're on Facebook, this is as easy as joining The Happiness Project Facebook Event (tagged here as "This Happiness Project"), and you'll get a daily reminder to post your Three Good Things (plus Blogging/Journaling reminders on Sun/Tue/Thu). If you're not a daily user of Facebook, or you would rather participate on paper, try leaving a notebook on your pillow so that your remember to write down your Three Good Things before bed. (You can use this trick for your Blogging/Journaling task, too!)

For your Meditation task, find some music you like that lasts for 5 minutes for the breathing exercise, and one that lasts 20 minutes for the positive visualization exercise. (Ah ha! Didn't know you could music, now, didya? Yes, this is perfectly legit, though music without lyrics is probably the least distracting. IMHO. YMMV.)

Right now (in the Facebook Event) we're discussing simple ways for people to do their Five Conscious Acts of Kindness. There are all sorts of great ideas!

Next up... What's My Mountain?

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