In the last article, we went through how changing our environment will help us build better habits by eliminating the cues for our negative habits. Just reading through you start to think, well how hard could that be. Maybe you made some minor changes to your environment and implemented some of the tips, just to find out that it wasn't as easy as you thought it would be. You are probably sitting there saying, I lack the self-control to make these changes, or maybe you don't believe that changing the environment you are in can affect your habits all that much. I want to lead this article with a perfect example of how the environment can change your habits.
The best way that I can relate to this is to take you into a small part of Military History. We are going to go back to around 1971 and the Vietnam War. That year two Congressmen went and visited soldiers that were stationed in Vietnam. Surprisingly they found out that roughly 15 percent of the soldiers there were addicted to heroin. Further research would find that around 35 percent of soldiers stationed there had tried heroin while being there, while 20 percent of them were fully addicted. A very severe problem. Typical response from the Government and most people's first thoughts would be that there needs to be a major overhaul to the area, start putting people into rehabilitation programs, and get them clean.
However, Lee Robins, who was one of the researchers in charge of working through this issue came up with a finding that pretty much upended all beliefs about addiction. Robins was able to find that once these same heroin-addicted soldiers returned home, only around 5 percent of them relapsed within a year of being home; and just 12 percent of the returning soldiers relapsed within 3 years. In more stark terms, roughly 9 out of 10 returning soldiers eliminated their addiction. What was the major change?
- No immediate access to the stress cue for their bad habit
- Not surrounded by others who contributed to their bad habit
- Back in a stable environment where they were happier and no longer needed the heroin to get by
Now, you might say that they must have had tremendous self-control to resist the urge to relapse. However, contrary to popular belief people who appear to have tons of self-control are not that different from those of us that are struggling. Disciplined people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require a lot of willpower and self-control. They spend less time in tempting situations.
If you read Self-help books about success, you will find a common trend. Perseverance, grit, and willpower are essential to success. To improve these qualities you don't just wish you were a more disciplined person; you have to create a more disciplined environment.
Our bad habits are Autocatalytic, meaning that the process feeds itself to continue ie...
Feel bad -> eat junk food -> Feel worse for eating junk food -> eat more junk food.
Watching TV or your phone all day makes you feel sluggish -> you watch even more because you don't have the energy to do anything else -> feel horrible about watching nothing but tv or your phone.
This is referred to as cue-induced wanting where an external trigger causes us to compulsively crave to repeat a bad habit. You begin to notice something, and then you want it. It happens all the time and we don't even notice it. BLUF(bottom line upfront), you can break a habit, but your highly unlikely to forget it.
The most reliable way to cut our bad habits is to break them off at the source. To do that, we have to reduce exposure to the cue that causes it.
- Can't seem to get work done? Leave your phone in another room.
A big one for us junior developers:
- Continually feel like you aren't enough or not good enough? Stop following social media accounts that trigger your jealousy or envy.
If you have read any of the other articles you can see that this process is the inversion of the 1st Law of Behavior Change. Instead of making it obvious, we want to make our bad habits invisible.
Self-control is a short term strategy, not a long term solution. We can usually resist temptation once or twice, but eventually, we cave. The secret is to make the cues of our good habits obvious and the cues for our bad habits invisible.
Next, we will go into the 2nd Law of Behavior Change: Make it Attractive and start with learning how to make the cues for our wanted good habits irresistible. Thanks again for all the likes and shares along with the feedback.