So, intention and discipline aren’t helpful to change your lifestyle or to get your shit together? Sure. Intention gives direction. Discipline has a special place in the brain, only occurs after repeating a daily action. Contra-intuitive right?
What a mind fuck! I got frustrated that it was so hard to be my authentic self: I finely found my true identity as a cooking veggie farmer on high heels (previous post) away from constructed consumer life and got completely stuck.
What’s the point of all that freedom now, huh, Sophie?
But admittedly, pretty clever from nature too: no shortcuts to getting what you want in life. Intentions are no match for our old habits; they are just indicators.
I could decide to work every day in the garden from now on. Still, because I never did that in my life, it took an awful lot of (intellectual) energy to keep control over those powerful old habits or that destructive lifestyle.
It’s too much top-down (rational) thinking while we need a bottom-up process (subconscious). People who always want to be in control often are restless. It doesn’t work because they spend too much time in their head and underestimate the human side of life, the flow. Just like politics is becoming more and more about controlling the people, instead of creating a bottom-up and meaningful society.
Then what? Focus on how to execute an action and repeat that action until it seeps through to another neural part of the brain. In other words: it’s better not to focus on the big goals, but on the actions today. Every day. The brain thrives on repetition.
Rewards are beneficial when you try to change your lifestyle, like putting money for tobacco in a jar and safe for a trip or going for a coffee in your favourite bar after buying healthy groceries. We use rewards for children all the time when they finish their plate or for potty training. It’s a powerful trigger that stimulates intrinsic as well as extrinsic motivation. In fact, we are designed to be motivated; craving for rewards is more powerful wired than the actual reward itself (think about it!). Hunger is the most powerful motivation. We do anything for that.
Imagine Facebook without the likes or Instagram without the hashtags? Would it also be used like that on a massive scale? The explosion of dopamine makes us crave for more, and before we know it, we grab our phone 200 times per day without knowing why, unconsciously. Marketers know what they are doing.
The power of reward decreases with time. After finishing my book, I decided to hit the gym, a place I dislike because of pumping music, sweaty bodies, and screens everywhere. But I had to do something to get my worn-out, anxious body back on track, so I hired a personal trainer. This idea turned out a massive reward because two weeks later we all went in lockdown. The gym closed but working with a PT outside was allowed.
There is no rule for how many repetitions it takes until a new habit/lifestyle is achieved. Three weeks seems to be for business people who want to sell a service or product. I worked at least three months with my trainer until I went on my own without having to overthink it.
I had to do something to get my worn-out, anxious body back on track, so I hired a personal trainer.
We know that willpower is finite because of ego depletion (this post). But it does work as a muscle: repeat on a regular base and start with light weights. Build it up slowly instead of going all the way (like most New Years resolutions)
As for our garden: in the beginning, I just grabbed my boots and got a look around, or I took the dogs for a walk to the vegetable garden instead of the forest. Sometimes I only worked for five minutes only before collecting my reward: a fresh beer. It became a part of my routine to check the garden, and it became easier to use the ‘heavy weights’: pulling weeds. Perseverance is an automatism, a second nature, and resides in a deeper part of our brain, controlled by habits.
James Clear writes in Atomic Habits that habits are obstacles to get what you want. Of course, we want a perfect garden, healthy body, cook unique dishes or quit smoking from week one. But you first have to go through the pain. Build character: A win-win situation for the die-hards because those who settle or think they can solve everything with money never really get what they want.
I love how our nature has a sense of humour or found a way to survive.