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Habits – Nerdful Mind #84

August 22, 2021 by Simon Mannes

We're creatures of habit.

We need to be. Thinking about every single movement and decision as if it were the first time we did it would take way too much time - let alone that it'd be exhausting.

Some habits serve us, others don't.

That leaves two questions. What is a habit, and how can we know which ones serve us?

A habit is "an impulse to act on a behavior with little or no conscious thought" (Nir Eyal). It starts with a trigger (a cue), then we do an action (the habit/routine), and get a reward. E.g.: I stumble over a hard problem at work, I open Slack or Gmail, and I'm distracted from the problem.

How can we determine which ones serve us, and which ones don't?

Some habits help us stay healthy, like brushing our teeth after getting up and before going to bed. Some help us grow personally, like journaling or meditation. Others aren't that nice, like the distraction habit from above.

You can discover bad habits. Either catching them while you're doing them or afterwards, when thinking about what you did. A bad habit is something that you, if you're honest with yourself, would rather not do in that situation.

Like my hard problem → open distraction habit from above, when I'm mindful I notice the urge and let go.

“We will be more successful in all our endeavors if we can let go of the habit of running all the time, and take little pauses to relax and re-center ourselves. And we'll also have a lot more joy in living.”—Thích Nhất Hạnh

If you want to stop habits, you can either:

  • remove the trigger (e.g. by disabling notifications or training mindfulness)
  • make the action harder (e.g. by blocking certain apps during focused work or by putting your phone in another room)
  • decrease (or delay) the reward (e.g. make it a rule that you must tell it a friend if you slip up)

Or you can do the opposite to create new habits (more on habit forming here).

Habits are necessary, and many are perfectly fine. It's just great to make a conscious decision from time to time.

Reading Recommendations

Finding a Way to Measure and Study Our Internal Attention

“It’s been found that people with mental health disorders can have negative attentional biases, which means they focus more on negative events than positive ones. These individuals can also take longer to disengage from negative stimuli compared to healthy individuals. Despite years of study, findings have been inconsistent and …”

Changing Habits: Interview with Dr. Amy Bucher, a Behavior Change Designer

Highlights from Nir Eyal’s interview with Dr. Amy Bucher, author of “Engaged,” a book about behavioral change design. Surprising insights on how to change habits!

Microservices Pattern: Sagas

“Implement each business transaction that spans multiple services as a saga. A saga is a sequence of local transactions. Each local transaction updates the database and publishes a message or event to trigger the next local transaction in the saga. If a local transaction fails because it violates a business rule then the saga executes a series of compensating transactions that undo the changes that were made by the preceding local transactions.”

→ Also read the comment section, a great discussion with many interesting points!

Weekly Mindfulness Practice

Try to take one deep, conscious breath every time you sit down today. Conscious breathing connects our mind and body with the current moment.

When done regularly, it works wonders for clarity and stress relief.

End Note

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Have a great week


PS: What do you think about this? Please hit reply and let me know. I'm curious!

PPS: If you want to learn more about habits, I recommend checking out Nir Eyal's work and his book "Hooked". I've also heard good things about "Atomic Habits" by James Clear, but I haven't read it yet.

PPPS: Yes, there are other habit models, I just chose one.