Willpower and Habit Control: Hand koans
|May 23, 2013||Posted by Koanic under Uncategorized|
This post will explain how to enhance willpower and motivation by writing short words on the back of your hand, and making tally marks throughout the day.
On my left hand, I have written my long-term life purpose. This is a constant reminder of my purpose on Earth. It focuses and motivates throughout the day. Every activity must be connected to this purpose.
My left hand reads “Edengard”, which means I serve the interests of the Thal/original-Melon alliance.
I rewrite this mantra in ballpoint pen on my hand daily, a ritual of recommitment.
My right hand is dedicated to habit instillation. I target the highest-value habit. It must be critical to attaining the next level of life competence, and directly advance my life purpose.
My right hand currently reads “Lord’s fast,” and has tally marks beneath.
A bit of background to explain, so you understand what a critical path habit looks like:
I’ve narrowed one aspect of my health problem down to either malfunction of liver bile production/release or pancreatic enzyme production/release. Various medical tests have turned up negative, however stool color doesn’t lie. Practically speaking, this means I must limit the quantity of food I eat daily. The limit allows me to maintain a healthy weight, but bulking up is impossible.
I cannot simply stop eating. Therefore I cannot alter my environment to remove temptation triggers. Limiting my food production creates risk that I will go off diet if the just-in-time delivery is interrupted. Thus I must continually exercise willpower. So this is a hard willpower problem.
The consequences for failure are severe -fatigue, cramps, pain, etc. This crashes my willpower, which reduces my ability to maintain my regimen, and etc. Hunger and the desire to binge eat actually increase during crashes. You will often find that negative habits induce failure cascades, and this one is no different.
I identified the failure cascade pattern via daily journaling, which I do in a simple text editor file. I will cover journaling in another post. Journaling is important because it is crucial to identify the root causes of failure cascades, so that you can correctly select the next habit on your critical path to leveling up. At low levels, these habits are usually related to health.
Onwards to the meaning of the phrase: “Lord’s fast” is a personally meaningful acronym. Beyond the obvious religious meaning, it also stands for “Low Residue Simple Diet”. I suggest you be similarly clever with your motivational phrases.
Now for the practical implementation. To avoid hunger buildups that might lead to binges, I eat regularly, carrying food with me if necessary. I have clear rules for what times of day to start and stop eating. Whenever possible, instead of eating I drink water or smoke, at least until hunger affects productivity. Lastly, I eat small portions, and try to eat only one per sitting. For each portion, I add a tally mark to my hand.
The last part made the difference. The act of tracking, and of constantly being confronted with your performance, greatly strengthens motivation. And I needed a major strengthening. Most of the time, willpower is fine, but there are little downward spikes during which it goes to hell. Those windows are what start failure cascades.
The hand tally technique is strong enough to focus the brain even when it is stupid-tired and momentarily inclined to give in to temptation. The brain knows that it will have to look at the consequences of its failure – accusing tally-marks – for the rest of the day. This recruits the ego to maintain a consistent self image. At those moments, the ego can do a better job of silencing the rationalizer than your superego can.
You might be tempted to use this technique on low-value habit change, such as checking email less or quitting porn. Those activities will not level you up. Saddling yourself with meaningless willpower expenditures will lead to burnout and depression. You need to be able to justify the sacrifice, so that you are refreshed by victorious adherence, rather than drained by it. The error here is not in using the hand technique, but in focusing on a habit that will not alter your life.
Typically, if you are having major problems controlling minor habits such as procrastination, you have some larger problem in your health, productivity methods, social skills or life strategy.
Legit uses of the hand tally technique would be approaching girls (tally for every one you wimp out on), dietary cheating during the first weeks of adopting paleo, or procrastination (counted during working daylight hours ONLY – don’t make this impossible).
Some habits seems structurally ill-suited to the tally method. Perhaps they only happen once per day. In that case, consider checking off the day in 4 parts, with a 5th tick at bedtime. Getting to 5 ticks means you completed the habit for the 24 hour period. 35 ticks and you’ve done a week.
So for example, maybe your habit is lifting 3x per week. Your off days get automatically ticked off if you lifted the previous day. If you skipped your last lift, you can’t start ticking off until you hit the gym again.
There are advantages beyond adherence. Writing the habit on your hand forces you to focus – to attack the problem from every angle, so that you can win and move on to the next one. The constant visual reminder stimulates your creative right brain to mull over the problem in the background. Otherwise your right brain is apt to think about whatever’s in front of it, which is never as important as the next habit on your critical path.
Plan to keep each habit on your hand for at least a week – that’s how long it takes for a habit to gel. If you’re successful, reward yourself by picking the next critical habit. If not, ask yourself whether you’re attacking the correct habit in the first place. Perhaps the problem is upstream. You have given the boulder a hard shove, and it hasn’t shifted. Time to shift angles.
The hands are a locus of self-efficacy. Try clenching your fists. You feel more powerful. Now try clenching your fists with your life purpose written on the back of the left, and your next key habit written on the right. Suddenly you feel powerful, focused, purposeful, self-effectual. Now you are motivated to dominate that habit, to maintain this rewarding self image.