Volcano: Nevado del Ruiz, Colombia (NASA, International Space Station Science, 04/23/10)

Intentional Habit Building

While we often feel like creatures of chaos — to ourselves and those around us — we have a tendency to subconsciously organize. Whether it’s the non-sensical spacial organization or subconscious habits, we naturally develop systems to compensate for our ADHD.

The downside of relying on these “automatic” habits is that they probably aren’t the best solution. For example, we may have a habit of handling a task the second we encounter it (via email, dm, etc.) to avoid forgetting about it. That strategy doesn’t account for other more important tasks, pending deadlines you need to hit, or whether or not the new task is actually ready to be worked on.

Most of us can step back and see a lot of these habits in ourselves. The most frustrating part is being able to see the problem with the habits you have, clearly identify a better habit or approach for handling it, and not being able to convince your brain to make the change.

Why can’t we just start doing something else?

Probably because we underestimate how hard it can be to untrain ourselves on the habits we’ve already developed. It’s not just about starting something new, it’s about NOT doing what you’ve been doing for the past several decades/years/months.

Identifying the right opportunities:

  1. What do you want?

Example: I want to take better care of myself during the day. I need to drink more water, eat healthy food, and workout daily.

  1. What is keeping you from getting it?

Example: I don’t plan my day far enough ahead, and I get so caught up in work that I forget to do these things. Whenever I should stop, I check my email and find 10 new things to do.

  1. What needs to change?

I should plan/schedule these things in my day, so I don’t forget about them, and instead of checking my email after I finish something, I need to pause and ensure I am getting those things done.

black smoke coming from fire

Making the change

  1. Identify your triggers: In this example the trigger is finishing a task and the habit is going directly to our inbox to find another thing to do.
  2. Disrupt the habit: Swap out the habit for some other action. Instead of going down a rabbit hole from an email, mark it as unread and make a note to read it later, scan it and write down the action item and move on to the next thing, get out of your inbox and back to the task you were probably working on before you got there. I really like Boomerang because it will make the email disappear and show up as new/unread after a specified time.
  3. Out with the old and in with the new: Once you have disrupted the previous habit/action, you can make an intentional choice about what to replace it with. People need varying levels of structure so I am not going to be too prescriptive here. Personally, if I’m hungry, I get some food. If I start feeling bored/uninterested at work, I work out. If you’re starting from scratch, you might want to designate a specific order to the different goals or even specific times.

Reflect and Reward Yourself: Pay attention to how much effort you have to put in to make this switch. After a few repetitions, you might find that you stopped looking at your inbox automatically. Maybe you are actually drinking from the water bottle on your desk regularly.

Pay attention to the small wins and consider making a game out of it to increase the dopamine you get from pursuing these goals. Maybe I’ve been consistently drinking half a gallon of water each day, and I want to move up to a gallon. Maybe I have a tendency to cut my workout short, and I want to take a full hour each day.

Track and celebrate your progress and keep moving forward. If you don’t feel good about what you’re doing, you won’t be able to sustain it.

I’ll probably write more things and you might just want to read those too.

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