Apalla #30 – Psychology, Part 5

In our final section on psychology, we’ll be talking about the science of habits.

Habits are the building blocks of our lives. They are the small micro-routines that we go to, the heuristics that we use. Because of this, our habits can often have long-term outcomes — good or bad.

Most people want to build up better habits than what they have now, and there’s a couple of methods for doing it. I’ll go over some of the big ones here:

Change the environment. You can build your environment to work for you and your habit-building, by adding cues. For example, if you want to make a habit of reading before you go to sleep, you can try placing a book on your bed, that way when you go to sleep you’ll always see the book. You can use the same process to make bad habits harder — for example, placing the junk-food in an inaccessible place. 

Connect habits to rewards. Habits are primarily driven by reinforcement, which is the feeling we have after doing it. Unfortunately, reinforcement often works against us — we feel really good after playing video games, but not so great after working out. Because of this, playing games gets strengthened into a habit, but working out does not.

The best way to circumvent this is to connect naturally reinforcing tasks to non-reinforcers. For example, you could play games while working on the treadmill. That way, you get the work in from exercising, but still feel a rewarding sensation. 

Connect habits to micro-tasks. In addition to connecting habits to rewards, you can also reduce their chunk size. The iconic example of chunk sizing is with New Year’s Resolutions. Many people set out at the beginning of the year to work out more. How do they do it? Well, they decide to go to the gym for one hour every single day. 

For a person who has never gone to the gym before this, that’s a pretty massive leap. In other words, their task chunk is big — it’s a massive endeavor. Instead, you want to make your task chunk small when you start out. For example, try instead to do ten push ups every 3 days, and then work up from there.

Combine existing habits with new habits. New habits are formed based on something called retention power. The average retention power of a habit is 30 days, meaning that it takes 30 days to build the habit. However, this time is not set in stone — you can actually accelerate retention power by connecting a new habit to an existing habit. For example, say you already have the habit of drinking a cup of coffee every morning. If you wanted to build a meditation habit, what you could do is decide to meditate for ten minutes right after — or right before — drinking the coffee. This anchors the new habit to one that is already solidified, and makes it easier to work it into the routine.

Well, that’s it for psychology. This was a big topic, but it’s also an important one. Our next topic is a surprise — I’ll let you find out what it is for yourself!

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