Lead Engineer, Michael Kirk-
Saving 21+ hours per week is too monumental to hold back because it’s not an engineering study. These are the science backed, mind hacks you can use to break time consuming social media and video games habits. Credit to the book The Power of Habit for providing the ideas that will be found in this article. IMO Power of Habit book is better than Tao Te Ching.
For anyone daunted by the ‘wall of text’ in this article. I recommend reading the sections Brain Fundamentals and Brain Lifehacks. That will change your life.
For the last 4 months I’ve been off Social Media, played zero Video Games, and watched zero fiction TV. These tips also helped me consume Zero drugs, including Caffeine, Alcohol, Weed, Ibuprofen, etc… I also have been doing cardio every day. As a result, I’ve read over 20 nonfiction books in 4 months. This article is how you can apply scientific research to your brain to change your habits.
>That must have been hard
I admit there were approx 3 hard days, and to be specific, those ‘3 hard days’ were more like a difficult, willpower taxing 5-10 minutes each of those 3 days.
>But Video games/TV/movies/Social media are part of my personality
I thought so too. But more likely you simply have formed a habit of using video games or similar for entertainment/stress reduction/boredom killer. (feel free to insert Coffee/any entertainment in place of videogames)
I can’t believe I’m not playing video games or using social media anymore.
It has been found that your thinking part of the brain does not have access to read the mind of the automatic/habit part of the brain. Unfortunately this means 80-90% of your daily decisions happen without you knowing about it.
This automatic/habit part of your brain works in an order. Experience a ‘Cue’, perform a ‘Routine’, receive a ‘Reward’. This can apply to seemingly everything you do. You wake up and automatically turn on the shower and are soon rewarded with warm water and a clean body. However if your kid wakes up crying, your routine has been interrupted and you may feel ‘mopey’.
Imagine a stronger situation, your daily coffee. A typical day, you may do your pre-work routine and crave a coffee. You have been programming your brain that ‘going to work’ is a Cue for the Routine of getting caffeine. If anyone has willingly tried to quit caffeine, you will notice this ‘mopey’ feeling as you reject your automatic brain’s cravings. Caffeine withdrawal won’t occur for a few more hours, that is not what causes the mopey feeling. On a similar note, you may have cravings when you experience cues such as being tired, bored, you want to stretch your legs, you want social interaction, etc… All of these have a routine your habit part of the brain will attempt to satisfy your need.
You may notice that on a vacation you will forget to do a habit. It may be the evening and caffeine withdrawal is setting in, or you realize you didn’t binge eat in the evenings. You never experienced the Cue that caused you to automatically get Coffee or binge eat food.
The easiest way to eliminate a bad habit is to eliminate a Cue. If you drive by a fast food restaurant that you often stop by, you could eliminate the cue by taking a different route. You won’t feel mopey at all, as your habit brain will not have activated for that Cue.
However, if at 5pm you feel the need to call and order pizza, you won’t be able to eliminate the time 5pm. A solution here is to change the routine. The necessity is to have the same reward. In this case any food will prevent you from being mopey. On a similar note, it was found Cigarette smokers could replace a cigarette with a cup of coffee.
It was suggested to write down 3 lines answering the question ‘how do you feel’ every ~15 minutes to pinpoint what reward you are looking for. After a few days, I found I was getting coffee because standing up and walking over to the coffee machine cooled me down. I simply needed to get cool off.
What if you crave the rush of energy caffeine gives you and there is no way to replace the craving. It was found that post-surgery patients who wrote a plan for “how they would walk to end of their driveway” were walking 2x faster than those who didn’t write a plan down. Having a plan for dealing with pain and acknowledging the moments of hardest pain will prepare your thinking-part of the brain to fight the habit part of the brain.
If you were successful and quit a bad habit, but… relapsed. There is good news. Analyze the situation that caused you to relapse. Whatever caused you to cave is your strongest Cue. Being aware of strong cues will prepare you for your next quitting attempt. You can form a plan for dealing with that situation.
Suppose you want to have ‘just 1 cup of coffee’ after quitting. This is dangerous. It was found that mice who received a drug after quitting instantly remembered the routine/reward system and would continue where they left off.
This might seem depressing that you cannot go back to caffeine, but I have some positive news. First, you ‘get over it’, and stop thinking about it. Second, it was found that AA members who believed in God were more likely to stay off Alcohol. It may seem bizarre, but those people believed things could get better. Simply having the belief that in time, things will be better, can keep you off bad habits.
Finally I want to mention Willpower. This is a real thing that can be seen in ‘cookie studies’. A person will be given an absurdly long test, ~600 questions. Those with chocolate chip cookies in the middle of the table that they are not allowed to eat, will answer less questions before giving up(vs no cookies on the table). If you take on a habit, expect to allocate willpower to it. Changing multiple habits at once will likely mean failure, similar to being unable to finish the test with tempting cookies in front of you.
The book noted ‘keystone’ habits, habits that when changed would cause you to spiral into a tremendous positive lifestyle. The example they used was an overweight, low paid person who started exercising, lost weight, and soon quit smoking, restarted college and finished, and became financially successful.
I was a bit skeptical of this as unlike most of the studies involved rats, humans, and corporations, this was a mere anecdote. However I will now share my anecdote of a keystone habit.
Using the lessons, I have replaced evening weed usage with alcohol, then replaced alcohol with caffeine. This weirdly worked extremely well with seemingly 0 cravings. However now I was having 5 cups of coffee per day. This is where I needed to brace for pain. I had attempted to quit before, so I had taken note of my Cues and was prepared for the tough spots.
Going from 5 cups of coffee to 4 cups over a few days was no big deal. 4 to 3 cups over a few days was no big deal. No mopey feelings. 3 cups to 2 was a bit harder, previously I would have a morning cup, an afternoon cup, and an evening cup. I stuck to a morning cup and evening cup. Then 2 cups to 1 cup, leaving that precious evening cup. And from 1 cup to 0.5 cups.
Finally I quit. That quitting day from 0.5 cups to 0 cups was difficult. It was painful, but it was only painful for 1 day. I attempted to drink water as a replacement, and that helped slightly. During this ~2 week quitting period I let myself enjoy video games and anything that would help me take my mind off things.
Next I started to exercise, doing daily cardio. This was difficult to start up, but I made the habit a simple ‘cardio daily’. A mere 5 minutes of biking, no intensity requirement. Just move my legs for 5 minutes all while wasting time on social media. After a few days of this 5 minute cardio, I naturally wanted to keep going beyond 5 minutes and I wanted to go faster. I’d start to get fancy and do HIIT and long distance cardio until I got injured doing a 2 hour session. The habit was so strong I biked for 2 hours. Worried about losing this habit, I did arm cardio for a week until my body got repaired and I started again a mere 5 minute workout. Today I’m still doing daily cardio and I felt a bit guilty when I took a day off when my wife gave birth to our second kid.
After starting cardio, I noticed the toxicity of social media. It was a time-sink with limited benefits. I easily replaced social media with Video games. Upon this change, I realized I was playing too many video games, and it provided no benefits. Quitting video games was difficult, but I had a plan to read enjoyable nonfiction books whenever I felt the craving. Friday night seemed to be a strong urge to play video games, but I spent some willpower to fight through the pain. Its been months and I haven’t played video games or used social media. Instead I’ve spent time on Efficiency Is Everything, read books, bulk cooked and cleaned the house.
Quitting video games and social media used to seem crazy, but now it feels normal.
I feel like I’ve reached a neutral state, with cardio and no caffeine in my life, I don’t feel tired. With books and no empty entertainment, I feel fulfilled. I’m looking at other potential habits to transform, but my list of bad habits is almost gone.
What could you accomplish with the ability to conquer the habit part of your brain?
All credit to Charles Duhigg and his book The Power of Habit for changing my life and saving 21 hours per week.