Since my last post I’ve made some progress in my quest to cut back on my Netflix and Twitter habit. I’ve read two books and have started a third. All in all, I’ve probably watched about 45 minutes of Netflix, a significant decrease in my average. I’ve even played a little PUBG, which I’m still basically terrible at.
The two books I’ve read go along with the theme of changing my Netflix habit into something more productive. The first book, “The Power of Habit, Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg explored what habits are and how they are formed. It talks about how habits and routines are formed and how its possible to change them. In short, the book shows that habits become powerful ingrained operating procedures that for all intents and purposes become ingrained ways of living.
Habits are something that we all have, and they aren’t easy to change. Duhigg in the book, citing studies and real life experiences, shows how personal habits, as well as habits built out of the social fabric, influence and dictate actions to a large extent. He makes the case that much of how organizations and societies function, in addition to individuals, is driven by habit and routine. It makes a lot of sense and the book is well written and interesting.
The second book that I read, called, “Willpower”, focused not on habits, but on willpower. This book focuses on the topic of self-control, what it is, and how it is a resource we all pull from. It also goes into detail about how it is depleted on a day to day basis, and how it can be replenished. It was an interesting book, and shows that while you may be able to attribute willpower to being able to do something, nobody has an infinite supply of it. It also touches on the topic of habits and routines, and shows that with the use of a little “willpower” and self-control, it is possible to change deeply ingrained habits.
While I’m probably confusing what was in one book with what was in the other, they both show that it is possible to change and offer different “tactics” for going about it. The willpower book in a roundabout way describes some tactics to help build up better exercises such as monitoring yourself, building to-do lists, and not tackling too many projects at once. Their research reports that making small changes instead of many big changes all at once is more effective in actually bringing about change.
The book on habits, describes how habits follow a pattern of: cue -> routine -> reward, and how its possible to identify these parts of a habit so that you can become aware of how they function. From there you can focus on replacing the routine part of a habit with something healthier or more productive.
In a way the two books approach a similar topic but in different ways.
The habit book offers a broad outline of how to approach going about changing habits.
The willpower book talks about what willpower is and why we struggle with things such as decision fatigue and shows how different activities such as emotional regulation and decisions deplete our energies for self-control.
Reflecting on both though, they have given me a little insight into how these topics affect my day to day life. It’s harder to start working on an SICP exercise after spending a long day at work. By that time on most days I’ve depleted my finite willpower reserves to a level where its easier to fall back into the habits of mindless distraction and internet browsing.
While both books make it no secret that changing behavior is hard to do, the habit book touches on the key concept of a “key stone habit”, one, that when built, has the effect of changing other habits for the better. For a lot of people, this habit is exercise, and it leads them to eat better, smoke less, etc.
I have the nagging feeling that my stragety for getting through a lot of the material I want to, while working fulltime, is going to require one big change – waking up early.
Sleep replenishes our ability for self-control. If I can develop the habit of waking up at 4 or 5 in the morning (which means going to bed much earlier) I’ll have hours in the morning to work on whatever I want to with a fresh mind. For me, getting into the habit of waking up early could potentially be that keystone habit. I’ve long suspected that to get more done I would have to do this. In fact, I managed to do this once in the past for a few months. I think it’s time to make it a long term change. It takes too much self-control to spend a day at work and then come home and expend more of it focusing when its easier to do something mindless.
Anyway, at least I’m keeping up the new habit of writing a blog entry at least once a week. If you’re interested in those two books they’re both good reads. Chances are they’ll provide a little new insight into the way your mind works and reinforce some things you may have thought for a while with some research they talk about. They’re both good quick reads.