The habit of gravity?!

This morning I was browsing TED talks and I came across this talk about habits that go way further than human daily activity. Rupert Sheldrake takes a rather uncontroversial point of view, which is the reason this video was censored at first. TED decided to release the video after many negative comments about the censoring. In science there are a few things we take for granted, like the existence and stability of gravity and that our mind is in our brain. This talk questions these generally accepted scientific ‘truths’ creating space for new questions. What implications do you think this has for the idea that we should use the creation of habits to change our behavior?   Image courtesy of zuzzuillo/...

The polar bear

Stopping behavior that we are accustomed to is really hard. If we like the behavior we want to stop it is even harder. The problem with habits and routines is that they are really integrated into our everyday life. To take the easy example of smoking or sugar craving: there are many moments of the day where the routine of smoking or eating exists. Every time such a moment comes by, we will be reminded of our so loved behavior. Habits and routines are hard to stop because we already know that way and it is really easy to slip back into this behavior. It is all autopilot. Struggling with the bear In the novel ‘The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky one brother asks the other to not think of a white bear. The brother is perplexed by this request. Experimental psychology used this beautiful example in their labs and asked participants to not think of white bears for five minutes. Every time they did think about a white bear they were asked to ring a bell. Other participants were told to think of anything they wanted (no prohibitions). If they came across the thought of a white bear they also had to ring the bell. The prohibition to think about white bears caused an obsession to the subject to many participants. They had to ring the bell much more often than their college-participants whom could think about white bears as often as they wanted. Back to sugar and cigarettes Even though the study was about only five minutes, it is evident that people are giving themselves a hard time when they try to not think about something. The problem with this formulation is that the ‘thing’ we are...

Changing is not simple

Failing hurts, so do everything to make success more likely. When we try to change, a mistake that is often made is to think in goals and abstraction (Tiggelaar). To reach a goal you will have to act, so you need behaviors. Realizing which behaviors are necessary is a huge step forward on your way to achieve your goals. So think in behaviors, not goals or abstractions. What behavior are you targeting? Thinking in terms of goals brings two problems. Firstly we don’t realize which new (repetitive!) behaviors are necessary and secondly we don’t realize how to implement these new behaviors into our daily routines.   Habits: tiny entities The best thing about habits is that they don’t take a lot of effort. Once a habit is in place we perform the action without much thought and there is little motivation needed (Fogg). That is why they are so great! The only problem is how to get a habit in place. Next to the importance of triggers (see below) I want to endorse the importance of baby steps. A major change is harder than a small change. Trying to change step by step is a way to make the complicated process easier. You might wonder why you want to make the process easier? Our brain associates (new) activities with how we appreciate these activities. If you keep on pushing yourself, you will do things ‘against your will’. This will create a negative reaction towards the wanted behavior. This negativity will greatly influence your chances of success, so avoid it with baby steps! Triggers To think about behavior, we need a trigger. The trigger itself is not motivating, neither does it make the action easier. It just reminds you to...