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Changing Habits

People often think something they do is bad and then try to stop right away. Like smoking or spending lots of time on Facebook.

Often they don't do anything at all about it for a long time. Then they abruptly try to quit their "habit". (Peeing isn't call a "habit". People usually only call something a "habit" if they think it's bad.)

First they didn't judge their activity. They weren't thoughtful. Then they get super judgey. They think of a reason it's bad and now view it as totally unacceptable.

If something is a significant part of your life, or you otherwise find it difficult to stop, then don't try to quit abruptly.

Pay attention to what you do. Pay attention to how you feel about it. Try to understand why you do it. Try to learn more things about it, both good and bad. Write down factual notes about what you do including thoughts and feelings you have as part of the activity. Think of it as an information-gathering phase.

Don't threaten the activity. Then that part of you will get defensive. Do introspection. Be more thoughtful, present and mindful about it. That isn't an attack. Don't attack that part of yourself.

Once you understand yourself better (gather information for longer than you think is enough) then you can calmly analyze what you learned and consider if you'd like to make any changes and what problems you could run into.

What's good about the activity that maybe you don't want to give up? Maybe you can find another way to get it, and get that working first, and then after that's already successful then you could quit the original activity since you don't need it anymore.

When you quit it should be easy. If you have a good solution then you won't have much temptation, relapses, mixed feelings, etc. If you're running into those kinds of issues then stop trying to quit and go back to the learning-but-not-changing phase.

This all fits with the general pattern I advocate of powering up first (especially by learning) and then doing things when they're easy. Trying to do things when they're hard is inefficient and you'd be better off learning more instead of putting so much effort into doing this one thing early.

Elliot Temple on January 1, 2017


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