So I know what you are thinking, “New Years already? I just got used to writing the current year”. Well, get used to it friend because lady time ain’t waiting around for us to get caught up!
So here we go again the cyclical nature of setting a nice fluffy goal or two and then hoping they stick. News Flash, they probably won’t stick… I have already written the many reasons why in last years post. Now, I am not trying to be pessimistic here, just honest. Lying just leads to regression.
So how do we implement change?
Well, I can attest, iteration tends to have a bigger influence than blunt white-knuckle willpower. Please allow me to elaborate. Whatever task is easy will most likely get done. Conversely, whatever task requires the maximum amount of effort will likely be delayed or not be a sustainable initiative. Of course, there are exceptions. But instant gratification is only human nature. Now that we have these facts, we can bend probability in our favor by training our brain’s reward system.
Here is a quick explanation from Psychology Today,
Dopamine is one of the brain’s neurotransmitters—a chemical that ferries information between neurons. Dopamine helps regulate movement, attention, learning, and emotional responses. It also enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them. Since dopamine contributes to feelings of pleasures and satisfaction as part of the reward system, the neurotransmitter also plays a part in addiction.
This is why humans like things that are simple. Whenever we mark a task off our to-do list, we get a surge of dopamine in our system that gives us a high, a feeling of accomplishment. This is also why social media and our cell phones are addicting. The darn notifications and “likes” on our content make us feel wise and popular. Sophisticated product managers know this and use our human nature to profit. Well today, we are going to use this strategy to cause change!
So whatever goal you want, ask yourself, “how can this be simple?” I’d also add, how can it be enjoyable. Example, let’s say you want to cut back on time spent using social media (a personal goal of mine last year). How can you transform this desire into a game? Here’s what I did.
First, I recognized it’s super hard to just stop using social media. Everyone is on there. If I just quit cold turkey, I’d miss out on all the cute baby photos of my relatives/friends. This acknowledgment allowed me to understand the root of what I am drawn to and the habit I wish to stop. Now that I know the root cause of my addiction to social media, I can find simple alternatives.
Note: Be mindful with the chosen alternative. You do not want to trade one bad habit for another. Now that I have my alternative way of staying connecting to my close friends, I made a roadmap for the behavior I wanted to change. This roadmap allowed me to measure progress thus feed my Dopamine urge and allow me to feel like I was progressing (lack of progression will cause you to quit early).
Here’s an example roadmap:
- First Quarter of the year, block social media on my work computer.
Second Quarter of the year, block all social media notifications on my cell phone.
Third Quarter of the year, remove all social media applications on my cell phone.
Fourth Quarter of the year, set aside sometime one day per week (in my case Saturdays) to view social media on a personal computer that is not always available.
During these times of progress, I had extra time. I used that extra time to read more. Which was also a personal goal of mine.
Related: How I read 36 books a year
Finishing a book on my reading list gave me the dopamine surge I was looking for because it showed me that I was progressing in my ultimate goal of being smarter. A funny observation, I re-wired my brain to actually feel depressed when I was on social media. This is because I knew it wasn’t helping me get smarter. Nowadays, when I log on to the old time-suck (social media) I constantly look at the clock in paranoia because I know I am wasting precious time.
And yes, I fell off the bandwagon a few times and screwed up. But I then felt embarrassed because my reading progress would be delayed as a consequence.
- Find ways to break the task down and make it easier
- Find ways to iterate behavior change via a timeline (weekly, monthly, it’s up to you)
- Identify why you want to change in the first place. Build a source of healthy alternatives around the root cause.
- Bonus: Have a friend or Partner help hold you accountable for the times you fall back into a bad habit.
Hope this post helps! Please comment if you have any additional tips for implementing change! Happy New Year!
This has been another post in my rant series where I pontificate my opinion. Be warned, I am an expert in my opinion.