IT HAD BEEN ABOUT TWO HOURS after I’d told myself to write this article that I actually started putting words down on the page. Half way through cooking my breakfast, I decided that it would be a great idea to watch some useless shit on Youtube. I watched some guy suplex his wife, learned that the Big Show lost 160lbs, found out about Louis CK’s charisma secrets, and watched that fucking asshole’s Here In My Garage video. I then transitioned into watching clips of video games which I don’t even play, to facts about cats which I already know, and a scene from a movie which I’ve already watched.*
If a bullet flew through the window, smashed into the front of my skull and sent my brain showering across the room, nothing of merit would be lost. My iPhone would clatter to the floor, and Youtube would sing out my eulogy in that god-forsaken voice they all do where they go high and low like they’re on Class A drugs.
This has got to stop.
The DNA of our time on this planet is constructed out of habits. What we routinely do shapes what we are, and in an age, the internet, porn, social media, instant messaging, dating apps and cat memes are competing for your attention, it has never been harder to get yourself to a place where you can focus on what needs to be done. The problem we face as we get older with more responsibilities and distractions being thrown at us is that it feels like we have less time, and it’s decidedly more difficult to manage that time in a way that keeps us productive.
And if you’re anything like me, being unproductive makes you feel like crap.
I imagine that you’ve tried to break a lot of your habits. You’ve spotted what they are; maybe it’s jerking off too much, binge watching Netflix, or like me, disappearing down a seizure of YouTube Recommended For You bullshit. Whatever the habit is, you’ve tried to break it, and I’d bet, in most instances, the instances that matter, you failed.
So you feel like crap, and you begin to question whether you’re as good as the people who don’t fall prey to the same distractions.
But this doesn’t have to be the case. Because like me, you’ve probably been doing it all wrong.
You’ve been looking at habits the wrong way.
DON’T TRY TO STOP YOUR BAD HABITS
I want to die with it in my mouth.
When you enact a habit, what you are actually doing is completing a neural circuit in your mind. Your mind says: “I want friend chicken”, the circuit begins, and so you find fried chicken and eat it. And the circuit closes and gets stronger.
That’s what happens.
Every time you successfully enact a habit, especially one tied to a reward (like dopamine release from eating fried chicken), you further ingrain that habit into your mind. This is why it’s so unbelievably hard to stop doing the habits that we want to change the most. They’re usually our strongest ones, and every time we fail, we only make them stronger.
Think about that: the habits we want to get rid of the most, are usually the ones we actually reinforce the most.
I think the reason for this is simple: our strategy for stopping habits sucks. When we have a habit we want to change, we dedicate all our focus to stopping ourselves from doing that habit, which drains our willpower, until we fail and reinforce it. The reason it is so draining is that the circuit is constantly trying to complete itself, it’s constantly moving into a brick wall until eventually, the wall comes down, and it can complete itself; by eating junk food, masturbating to cat memes, whatever.
The trick then lies in not stopping ourselves from doing our bad habit but instead redirecting it elsewhere. The reason you fail to stop your bad habits is that you put all your attention into stopping them, instead of replacing them with something else you enjoy.
The fundamental principle of neuroplasticity is that neurons that fire together wire together, and that every circuit in the brain that is followed the most, is the one that gets the strongest, at the expense of others.
This means that every habit you chose over another, causes the chosen habit to strengthen, and the ignored habit to weaken. Or in other words, the best way to get rid of a bad habit is to not ignore it but to give a better habit preferential treatment instead.
- Instead of browsing my phone I will read 5 pages of my book.
- Instead of jerking off I will do press ups until I’m tired.
- Instead of biting my nails I will file them.
- Instead of staying up all night on my phone I will switch the lights off and meditate in bed.
This is a lot more effective than:
- I will not browse my phone.
- I will not jerk off.
You’re giving the circuit somewhere to go instead. That’s the key.
But it’s not perfect.
FIND YOUR TRIGGERS
Habits do not exist in isolation. I didn’t end up browsing Youtube on my phone out of nowhere, I consciously put myself in a situation where I was tired, distracted, and had my phone on me. I don’t end up on Pornhub at 3 am because I want to, I end up there because I’m staring at my phone with no willpower when I’m tired and kind of horny.
We engage with bad habits long before the bad habit enacts itself. We engage with them when we put ourselves in the situation that encourages them.
Shit habits are nurtured in shitty situations which are often the result of shit habits themselves… Fuck my head is going to explode.
People often drink when they’re anxious, or smoke when they’re bored, or fight when they’re drunk, or cheat when they’re emotionally loopy. Behavioral outcomes exist because of chains of choices that stretch far beyond the final decision, and those choices usually exist within poor habits, that are nurtured by poor environmental triggers.
If we’re trying to change our habits, not only is it essential to replace them with better ones, but it’s essential to also spot the triggers that encourage them.
In my own life, I almost never watch porn. I think it’s kinda of bizarre to watch two people fuck. What am I? Some kind of digital cuckold? I’d rather do it myself. But when it was late at night, and I was scrolling through my phone, I’d almost always inevitably end up watching it.
It just seemed to happen.
But what’s worse is that it wasn’t just scrolling the internet that led me to porn, it was that I was feeling lonely as well. That’s how I was choosing to deal with that emotion in that moment.
Curbing it from my life was, and still is, a great factor in what gives me energy during the days, and motivation in my dating life. I just feel more alive, and often reach teenage boy levels of horniness (don’t knock it). It’s more enjoyable. But in order to get rid of it, I had to be hyper aware of the factors in which it was induced. Both circumstantially and emotionally.
This is part of what I call taking responsibility for your life.
When you decide enough’s enough, and you ante up, isolate your bad habits, spot the triggers and start building better ones.
Because if you don’t, you don’t really care about your life as much as you like to believe you do.
SNAPPING OUT OF AUTOSUCK™
One of the things I often do when I find myself flagging is I stamp my feet and smash my fists into my palms. It sounds dumb (and looks it too), but the physical shock that runs through my body allows me to refocus. I’m physically trying to shock myself out of autopilot.*
Because that’s what our brain does. It goes on autopilot. Or as I like to call it: Autosuck™.
When The All Blacks are playing a rugby match, they feel the pressure like any other side. But what makes them so successful is that they’ve learned to handle that pressure; they’ve learned to thrive under it.
Gilbert Enoka, the All Blacks mental skills coach has a concept called blue-head thinking and red-head thinking. Blue is where you’re engaged, alert and making clear decisions, red is where you’re distracted, stressed or just out of it.
I believe when we fall victim to habits, we exist within that spectrum of red-head thinking. We don’t really want to engage with what we’re doing, but we’re in a state were not capable of making clear decisions. So we engage with bad habits.
To recenter themselves, The All Blacks do all kinds of things; McCaw stamps his feet, and Read would stare off to the farthest point of the field. The action itself isn’t important, what’s important is that it allows you to shock yourself back into the correct state of thinking – it allows you to interrupt the Autosuck™.
In your own life, this will be the autopilot that sends you to the nearest fast food joint, drinking when you don’t want to, and binge watching brainless television.
Find a way to shock yourself. Find a way to snap out of it.
HABITS OF IDENTITY
We don’t just engage in habits of action, but we engage in habits of thinking.
Maybe it’s fantasies, maybe it’s negative self-talk, maybe it’s the way we see people. Our thoughts construct narratives in our minds, that if we let them, will play out on autopilot. When these narratives cause us to doubt our worth, become paranoid of others, racist, bigoted, or ultimately unhappy, it begins to bring into question whether they’re worth keeping around.
Just as we change how we spend our time, we can use the principles of reconstructing habits to change how we think.
To give an example, I used to fantasize about how my life ought to be all the time, I would constantly imagine scenarios (usually based on desires like fame, women, and money) where these desires would already be met. The mechanism by which this worked was that my fantasy was centered around me being anyone but myself.
The message there being: if you are anyone but you, you will be happy.
It was a bullshit way to live.
Nowadays, when the habit flares up, I consciously redirect my thinking towards how I am going to get my needs met. Instead of fantasizing about results, I think of ways to get them.
Guess which method ends in me taking action?
THE BEST HABIT OF ALL
Habits form our actions, thoughts and the happiness of our lives. It’s not good enough to settle for automated results, and automated thinking when we can instead develop techniques to design a lifestyle that we enjoy.
But here’s the thing. Changing habits, and developing yourself – it takes time. In fact, it takes years. The downside of knowing what you want to change about yourself, and trying to change it, is that you’re constantly exposed to failure, and you’re constantly aware of your shortcomings.
This can make life pretty unhappy. It’s not nice to walk around thinking you’re a loser. Believe me, I’m an expert in this. The trick is to pay attention to the process, and not get stuck comparing where you are, to where you want to be. Change exists in thousands of micro changes that exist in moments, that multiplied over years, form a new, stronger, more capable identity.
It’s important to remember that.
I often say that the best habit of all is courage; the courage to face yourself, your fears and take action. In many ways that’s true. But in equal measure to that is this; the habit of happiness. The habit of learning to enjoy your life as it happens, rather than getting bogged down on what it’s not. Because it’s exactly that happiness, that’ll give you the longevity to persevere.
That’s about everything I have to say on this. Good luck.
Don’t blow another day on Youtube. Do something new.
*I refuse to link you to any of them.
*I get so introverted and in my head after days of reading and writing that I can barely speak to people. My close friends and loved ones will say ‘I’m somewhere else.’ This is annoying for them to deal with, and makes it hard for me to socialize. And as a guy who likes hitting on girls in bars, this is a death sentence.
I learned to get out of it by, and I’m not joking, clenching my fists and yelling “get out of your head Visko! You’re a being a fucking weirdo!” – it works every time without fail. I even do this in bars full of people.
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