Habits, Decisions and Attention
Wednesday, March 26, 2014 13 Comments
Why Crazy/Busy People NEED Habits
. . . Making friends with setting them in place to serve you
©Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from the Time & Task Management Series:
Habits, Decisions & Attention-1
Say hello to the HABIT habit!
It seems to me that every March tends to be “habits” month around the blog-o-sphere. Good habits, rotten habits, lapsed habits; developing new habits, tweaking old habits, breaking bad habits — I always seem to run into a bunch of “habit” posts every March.
Why is that?
I’m guessing it’s because there’s been just enough time since New Years for practically everyone to have fallen off the Resolutions Wagon — except, that is, for the few disciplined and rare individuals who made it a point to develop new HABITS as structures to support their new goals.
Or maybe its just me. In any case, let’s jump on the bandwagon and explore the topic for a bit – starting with taking a stab at defining the term.
HABITS are actions or behaviors performed regularly and automatically – usually on a pre-determined schedule – bypassing the necessity of much real-time decision-making agita (and without a great deal of activation energy required).
Once we have developed a habit, we “just do it” – primarily because we have done it repeatedly in the past, usually in response to some sort of prompt that triggers the behavior, setting us up for a life that runs about as smoothly as life ever runs.
So how come we resist developing them?
Let’s face it – doing something repeatedly (and regularly) eventually activates our “I don’t wanna’-s.” We like to think we prefer to hang looser with life — even though we’re not crazy about reeling from the chaotic state that living structure-free usually creates.
- Putting things off until they reach some sort of crises point isn’t really a great system for grown-ups. But deciding when and how to work everything we need and want to do into our crazy/busy lives is tough — especially for those of us with activation or transition troubles.
- Having to negotiate timing, self-to-self, is annoying, yet do-it-now is seldom convenient.
- Until the habit is in place, we have to decide to “make” ourselves do things, day after day after . . . I’m really not in the mood right now day!
Then there’s the parent trap. Since many of what could be excellent habits NOW were foisted upon us as children, some of us have not treated those habits with the appreciation they deserve as a result.
- Those of us who didn’t have the good sense to hang on to many of the habits our parents tried to instill in us have been making life harder than it needs to be.
- Trust me – it took me YEARS to get over my “nobody tells me what to do now that I’m on my own” unconscious teenaged rebellion. When I finally wised up, it took me a few years more to put those habits back in place.
Let me clue you in on something I learned
the hard way:
The neurodiverse can’t afford
NOT to put habits in place.
- There’s not enough time in anybody’s life to DECIDE about every little detail of life here on this strangely ordered planet the neurotypicals have set up where all of us are forced to live.
- Especially not the way the ADD-brainstyle goes about deciding — agonizing for days as our brains search the known universe to make sure we consider every possible parameter of possibility first!!
- If you’re a member of team ADD/EFD – or seem to get stuck (or simply worn down and worn out) by having to make too many decisions – it makes sense to try to expend as little effort as possible getting through your day by making a few choices “ONCE and for all” – which is where habits are golden.
Be sure to scroll up the sidebar to read how links work on this site, they’re subtle ==>
But don’t take MY word for it
“The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work.
There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation.
Full half the time of such a man goes to the deciding, or regretting, of matters which ought to be so ingrained in him as practically not to exist for his consciousness at all.
If there be such daily duties not yet ingrained in any one of my readers, let him begin this very hour to set the matter right.”
Setting it up (again) so that you get to WIN
- Once the bed is made the room looks MUCH better, and you don’t have to think about when to work it in later. We’re a lot less likely to crawl back into it, too (or pile clothing on it).
- Not only that, the sheets stay cleaner longer, which saves time that might have to be spent on that little chore much sooner otherwise (and more often).
- After a while, making the bed becomes part of our wake-up ritual, and that activity cues the start of cognition and alertness that sets the tone for the rest of the day.
For another example and a similar reason:
- From there, it’s just a baby step to wiping off the table and the counters, and you’re practically done. You can piggyback the next habit too — the last person to leave the room starts the dishwasher.
- Who wants to hassle the mess later? Nobody wants to attempt to drag him or herself back to the kitchen to clean it up before s/he goes to bed — and it is pure hatefulness to have to face last night’s dishes in the morning (when emptying that dishwasher as you make your morning coffee is another good habit to embrace that will set you up for an easier clean-up for the rest of the day.)
- Really, what’s the big deal about clean-up before the stuff on the dishes turns to cement?
So why don’t we DO that?
Now, you may be one of those “high-functioning” souls that already has all the basic habits in place and has for years. Follow me here – don’t split this hair.
- Substitute your leaning tower of unopened mail, or that closet that threatens life and limb any time anyone opens its door — or the garage or basement or attic that has become a dumping ground for who knows WHAT, simply because you haven’t set up habits to deal with the stuff you pile into it, willy-nilly.
- Maybe your house looks great, but you’ve never handled the weight thing, or the regular exercise thing, or the get in bed early enough to get eight hours of sleep thing — or maybe saving for retirement drifts into endless tomorrows for lack of the development of the savings habit.
- Whatever your own private hell, follow along as this Series develops and think concept, not detail.
What the Science Says
- We fail to give the time and attention that developing habits would necessitate because, left to our own devices, we humans seem to care more about the short term than the long term – at least that’s what the scientists keep telling us the studies indicate.
- They also say that we are more concerned with loss than gain (i.e., “. . . losing something makes you twice as miserable than gaining the same thing makes you happy”
~ Nudge, by by Richard H. Thaler & Cass R. Sunstein)
- We evaluate options, they tell us, on the basis of relative rather than absolute value. (i.e., we tend to focus on whether something takes more or less time – or money – than something else, overlooking the overall effect on the the amount of time or money we have available)
- In addition, we are highly sensitive to cognitive dissonance, and will distort (or completely deny) compelling evidence to be able to continue to think of ourselves as rational human beings. (Click on Executive Functioning, Focus and Attentional Bias — scroll DOWN for an explanation of “cognitive dissonance“)
Put that all together and it means that, like Popeye’s friend Wimpy, we’d rather pay next Tuesday to be able to avoid paying today — except that by the time next Tuesday rolls around, the budget’s shot and our lives are on a downward slide toward destruction.
THEN we make the same dirty deal again, “borrowing” time from later so we don’t have to debit the account today.
We tell ourselves that approach makes sense because we know for sure we’re too busy NOW, pushing aside the reality that we’ll be just as busy in the next now, if not more so.
The End Result
We create incompletion after incompletion, which all turn into big-time tolerations the moment we turn our backs. That’s especially true for the treadmill tasks — those life-maintenance tasks that are never really done.
At some point we just have to bite the bullet, stop the insanity and start putting some habits in place — or, as in my case, back in place — which will save us a lot of time and trouble in the long run, and for the remainder of our lives (barring unexpected disasters and muggings).
The rest of this Series is going to help you figure out how to DO that, step by step (supported shortly by a TeleClass that will help you install some of those habits) — just as soon as we go over a few more basic concepts that we’ll explore more fully as this Series continues.
Introducing the FOUR-part habit CYCLE:
CUE (situation) ==> ACTION (behavior) ==> REWARD (reinforcement) ==> REPEAT
Most of what you will read elsewhere leaves out the most important part of the cycle when they think of the habit cycle as a THREE-part process. Don’t you make that mistake!
REPETITION creates a mental association that develops into a “linkage” of brain connections as it activates the dopamine pathways.
As a result, linked actions become practically automatic at the presence of the cue — an almost involuntary, “below-the-radar” control of behavior, scarcely available to conscious awareness.
That process is in marked contrast to the highly conscious, voluntary control that is result of a decision-making process of some sort — deliberative behavioral control in the moment.
Behavioral control in the moment is EXPENSIVE in terms of attentional reserves and our continued ability to FOCUS our attention. Oops!
Voluntary control of behavior has long been considered the essence of higher-order intelligence. We’re beginning to learn that there’s a lot more going on to create our “higher-order intelligence” than was originally believed.
Researchers from Duke University (and elsewhere), have shown that 40% or more of our behavior is determined by habits not decisions. Activities build on activities, and more and more systems and strategies are built upon our habitual behaviors — which become below-the-radar routines of their own.
That means that a great deal of our acquired behavior is habitual. We typically act without consciously thinking about what we are doing — our brain’s extremely thrifty strategy that conserves resources for more cognitively-expensive higher order activity.
THE PROBLEM IS that unless we have, metaphorically, cleaned house since those acquired habits were created, we are practically powerless to change much of anything about our lives — whether we like what we’re experiencing or NOT! We tend to do what we’ve always done, for better or for worse. And we tend to keep heading in the direction we’re headed.
Keystone Habits – as they are known in the motivation and productivity fields, are habitual behaviors that have what is sometimes termed “a multiplier effect,” serving as a CUE for additional habits congruent with the original set of actions.
It’s no accident that regular exercise leads to better food choices and a healthier lifestyle in general.
It’s also no accident that once those Cheetos make it into our mouths, our healthy diets tend to be shot for the remainder of the day. We’ll start again tomorrow, won’t we? (and you know what they say about the likelihood of tomorrow ever coming, right?)
That amounts to another good reason why it’s a great idea to make your bed the moment you leave it! It makes it easier to keep going in the same orderly direction, because that action serves as a keystone habit around which other positive actions can be organized. (Ditto, handling those dishes.)
Keystone habits are relatively easy to set in place, too. Linking a new habit you want to set in place to something you already do – like getting out of bed or eating a meal – makes it easier to do regularly for long enough that it CAN become a keystone habit. Habits beget habits.
Make sure you make time to read the NEXT article in this Series, where we will take a closer look at what science has discovered about the creation of new, effective habits, and the elimination of those that create trouble for us: Dopamine and the Pleasure/Reward Cycle.
You won’t wanna’ miss that one — it will explain HOW to manipulate your own neurochemistry without drugs!
No TIME to read all this stuff? Want more help?
Once my own life recovers from a relatively recent repair deficit situation where even the ability to use the systems I have put in place was taken from me at gunpoint, WATCH for the announcement of an upcoming 12-week TeleClass on Modular Success Systems.
It will help you sort through a great many of the “functional modules” so that you can design an action plan guaranteed to be easier than what most of you are currently attempting to work with.
Classes are a much cheaper alternative to hiring my personal coaching services (and the FIRST time I offer a new class is always your least expensive option by far!). As always, class size will be small to allow for personal attention, so don’t miss the announcement if you want to make sure you sign up before the first class fills.
BY THE WAY – anyone who plays along as this Series develops – and contributes to the development of its content with the feedback of YOUR experiences (in the comments), earns a significant DISCOUNT if they take this TeleClass the first time it’s offered.
If you already know that this is something you are going to want to be part of, let me know in a comment below and I’ll make sure you have advanced notice (don’t forget to fill in your name and email on the comment form or I won’t be able to contact you).
MEANWHILE, keep reading as often as you can! Until my own life recovers, I won’t have the time to post more than once a week or so, but there is A LOT already on the site. Take the time to take advantage of this free resource.
To double the benefit, whenever you read a new article, make it a HABIT to pick at least one of the Related Content links to read immediately following (embedded in the text and duplicated in the Related Links at the bottom of every post if you prefer not to “interrupt yourself” while you are reading).
If you’ll “like” or comment after the pages you’ve read, it will help you keep track and will point others to posts you find especially helpful (as well as helping ME to know what you want me to write about). And I’d REALLY appreciate it if you would help me out by taking a few moments from your own life to “share” or “reblog,” spreading the word about what’s available here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com and the upcoming TeleClass, OK?
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Check bottom of Home/New to find out the “sharing rules”
As always, if you want notification of new articles in the Habit Series – or any new posts on this blog – give your email address to the nice form on the top of the skinny column to the right. (You only have to do this once, so if you’ve already asked for notification about a prior series, you’re covered for this one too). STRICT No Spam Policy.
Want to work directly with me? If you’d like some coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this Series (one-on-one couples or group), click HERE for Brain-based Coaching with mgh, with a contact form at its end (or click the E-me link on the menubar at the top of every page). Fill out the form, submit, and an email SOS is on its way to me; we’ll schedule a call to talk about what you need. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!).
I’m still not fully functional at this time;
I will begin accepting a limited number of private clients at the end of March, 2014.
You might also be interested in some of the following articles
available right now – on this site and elsewhere.
For links in context: run your cursor over the article above and the dark grey links will turn dark red;
(subtle, so they don’t pull focus while you read, but you can find them to click when you’re ready for them)
— and check out the links to other Related Content in each of the articles themselves —
Related articles right here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com
(in case you missed them above or below)
- Cognitive Dissonance
- ABOUT Activation
- Trouble with Transitions
- Keeping up with the Treadmill Tasks
- ADD/EFD – – and other Alphabet Disorders & Dysregulations
- Symptoms of Attentional Struggles
- NO contact possible: mugged at gunpoint
LinkLists and other supports for this article – on ADDandSoMuchMore.com
- Brain-based Habit Formation
- Changing a habit to change your LIFE
- Repair Deficit
- Priorities-101: Yes means No
- TYPES of Attentional Deficits
- ABOUT Executive Functions
- When you are NEW to ADD (or this blog/Attentional Struggles/ADD Coaching)
- Variations on ADD-ADHD (Are YOU included in this subset?)
- LinkList of Articles in the TaskMaster™ Series
Related Articles ’round the net
- 7 Step Decision-Making Process
- The power of habits — and the power to change them (danpink.com)
- Mysterious Brain Region That is Vital to How You Decide (PsyBlog)
- A new habit is formed physically in the brain! (masterkeydaliyam.wordpress.com)
- 6 Easy To Install Productivity Habits (dumblittleman.com)
- Why So Many Creatives Struggle With Discipline (accidentalcreative.com)
BY THE WAY: Since ADDandSoMuchMore.com is an Evergreen site, I revisit all my content periodically to update links — when you link back, like, follow or comment, you STAY on the page. When you do not, you run a high risk of getting replaced by a site with a more generous come-from.