Lying Is Good For You: Building Habits

Starting a habit isn’t always easy. The proof is in the number of people who say they want to start a new habit who don’t actually end up doing so. Or maybe they’ll start but stop before it’s really become a habit.

Habit – a regular tendency that is hard to give up.

Lally’s study claims that it takes anywhere between 18 days to 254 days to form a new habit.

How can one actually achieve such a feat that requires an incredible amount of discipline? First of all we have to acknowledge that it is difficult to maintain something just because we see the benefit of it in the future. If you are one of those people that can do it by just intentionally making the decision, kudos to you! If you are like me then you have to use a different way. The good news is it works just as well. Here it is… it’s time to lie again!

There’s this story about a mouse that’s put in a cage. Scientists would ring a bell at a certain time and then put cheese in the cage. Over time the mouse associated the sound of the shrill bell with cheese and would come out of its little house when the bell was rung and wait, even if the cheese wasn’t forthcoming. The bell didn’t sound attractive but the cheese was attractive. Over time the mouse would come out for the bell because to it the bell = cheese. We’re not mice though so what can we do? We use the horse and carrot stick method.

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Looks ridiculous right? The carrot is the reward after you’ve done the hard work of doing whatever the new habit requires you to do. This way we associate the reward with the work. For example, I love movies! When we got back from a service on Sunday that’s the first thing that I wanted to do. Unfortunately for me, I lived with very wise, orderly parents who would have me do the dishes first (after we’d made and eaten breakfast) before watching any film. Doing the dishes was work. Watching the movie was the carrot. My love for movies was so strong that I would speed through the dishes to have my carrot – ahem – I mean watch my movie. You couldn’t motivate me to do the dishes because it wasn’t something I looked forward to, but because I looked forward to watching movies, the labour of doing the dishes was no longer as hard as it seemed initially. Over time I stopped doing it as an inconvenience and started viewing it as a sort of key, a key to me watching the movies that I wanted to watch on a Sunday afternoon. I’ve used this same trick to exercise daily, write more consistently and to drink enough water each day – all things I never used to do.

So what are the practical bits you can use for you. The only thing you need to do is to make a list of the things you love. Lie to yourself until you believe that you can’t do one of those things until you’ve actioned out the habit you’re trying to build, then reward yourself with the thing you love at the end – and repeat. Make sense?

A short real-life illustration of the effectiveness of this technique:

Mom: Where are you?

Me: I’m in the kitchen. I’ve just started doing the dishes.

Mom: We’ve started watching a movie, come watch with us – you can do the dishes after.

Me: I don’t like doing dishes well after we’ve eaten. I’ll finish up fast then come watch when I’m done.

True story.

I’m a dish dog now!

See you tomorrow for Lying Is Good For You: Trumping Fear.

 

 

Weird Game #1

Weird games. They’re weird right? Not hard to assume considering it’s in the name. Unfortunately my mind is capable of coming up with such oddities. Furthermore, my mind insists on me being an active player of these games. Here is the first… of many.

You want to know why I walk quickly? The first reason is I have longer-than-average legs. The second is that I’ve spent some time in London where at any given time most people will be in a rush, especially in tube stations. But the number one reason is this weird mental game I play.

At each street crossing I imagine that once I step foot on the tarmac, two cars, from both directions, are trying to make a Joe-meets-tarmac pancake. Stepping back is not an option as the path behind me has fallen away into oblivion. The only way forward is… well, forward. However, my legs are in iron braces, so I cannot run. What to do now? Walk baby! Walk like the wind!

It’s quite a comical sight. My mind doesn’t even have the decency to only suggest it at night. It brings such thoughts up in brought daylight. It won’t even be a suggestion! It has simply become an order my body follows at every street crossing. It wouldn’t be a weird game without awkward consequences now would it?

You’ll see me gliding across the street as I walk. If Google says walking to said destination should take me an hour, I’ll get there in two-thirds that. Why? All to avoid the awkward gawking directed towards someone who will walk like a normal person before the intersection only to act like a man on fire after it.