An Extreme Method to Improve Your Habits
I suck at a lot of things: I try to do too much in a day. I go in for sports regularly. I keep my closet clean. I’m trying to get better, but changing is difficult, no matter how much you want it. Especially for what you don’t like.
This post originally appeared on the Crew blog .
There are many forces that keep you from changing. Your brain doesn’t want to change. Your body doesn’t want to change. The world doesn’t want to change.
When I’m not good at something, such as trying to do too much work in a day, I tell myself that I need to get better, and immediately prescribe some actions that I think will lead me to the level of improvement at which I am. I want to be.
For example, I realized that I usually list 10+ things to do a day (too much to get done in a day). Rarely do I go through three of these things. Therefore, at the end of almost every day, I feel anxious because I feel that I have not done enough. My solution was to limit myself to only five things on my to-do list each day. It sounded good. Five tasks a day seemed reasonable. I said to myself, “Okay. You have noticed a problem and have ordered specific, guided actions that need to be corrected. Great job. “
But I only felt better the first couple of days. Then my list gets longer and longer every day. Within a week, I have a 10+ to-do list again.
Every time I tried to improve my to-do list behavior, I would cycle through that behavior.
I was not going anywhere.
I learned today that my way of trying to change can actually suck.
Why not go 180 degrees instead of the degree of change?
I recently read an article by Derek Sievers, writer and founder of CD Baby, one of the largest sellers of independent music on the Internet, entitled ” Overcompensating for Compensation .” In his post, Derek says that most of us cannot change because we are not doing enough .
Derek uses the swing bricks metaphor to illustrate his point. When we want to change something, we start with all our bricks on one side of the saw.
If you make a small, manageable change, such as shortening your to-do list by a few items, it’s like moving one brick. You may feel a little better, but it’s not enough to balance you.
The problem with making this small improvement is that it doesn’t take into account what you’ve thought and done all your life the way you’ve always done it.
Habits are hard to break because habits are the path of least resistance. And our brain always prefers the path of least resistance. We want to do the simplest thing, and the habit is simple because we don’t need to think. We just follow this habit, like a train follows a track.
Have you seen the train trying to change track? It will take forever. The train must stop. Move back and forth several times. The railway dispatcher must manually switch the track of the track. Eventually the train changes its route. This is what a habit change in our brain is like.
Derek suggests that in order to truly improve the way we want, we need to be extreme, just to balance. We need to place all of our bricks on the other side of the swing, not just one at a time.
Once you do this, you will feel like you are compensating too much. It will seem that you have completely turned the other way.
But you’re really just having fun.
Even if you go to extremes, you will still feel the pull of your old way of thinking. As a result, you will get a swing that looks something like this:
I tried to improve the situation with just one brick on the other side of the swing.
I prescribed “guided” actions, that is, I performed only those actions that made me improve as much as I think I need. I would be a little better, but not much. And not enough to change in the long run.
Overcompensating for improvement
After reading Derek’s post, I started thinking about a bunch of things that I don’t like and what the brickwork on the other side of the swing might look like. I realized that even if I felt that there were too many changes, I would probably get just the right amount.
So, I’ve made a list of the things I want to be better at and what the extreme would look like to me:
1. Keeping my home clean as my wife expects
My house often seems clean to me. But my wife often thinks differently. My wife tells me all the time that she would be grateful if I did something like that, which would not only make the bed, but also make it “beautiful”. Since it makes my wife feel good, I would like to maintain our home at the level she expected.
Extreme Recipe : Every day I inspect the house and clean something at a level that exceeds my wife’s expectations for cleanliness. My goal was to keep the Ritz-Carlton clean.
2. Get closer to friends and family.
I moved to Canada but grew up in the USA. I live away from many of my relatives and friends, but they are important to me. I often let obstacles in the form of too much work, tougher communication, and the fact that I’m living further get in the way of staying connected.
Extreme Recipe : Every day I call at least one friend or family member.
3. Say no to more projects
Sometimes I get excited and start too many projects at once. It hurts my ability to focus, which makes me anxious. So I would like to say “no, not now” to more ideas.
An extreme recipe : I could say no to every new project idea. I don’t like to forget ideas that interest me, so I would keep them on the list, but I would not start anything new.
4. Write / publish regularly weekly
I usually write daily, but in the past few months I haven’t had as much time as I would like. I want to keep improving as a writer, and the best way to do this is to write. Lot.
An extreme recipe : I could write on a daily basis, and I would not be going to publish only on a weekly basis, because I want to end there. I would try to publish daily.
5. Less anxiety about each day
I recently experimented with myself and found that on most days I only feel a little better than average. You can’t live like that. I realized that the main source was the pressure I was putting on myself to do too much in a day. It started with my to-do list.
Extreme Recipe : To fix this, I could think of a better way to manage what I think I can do in a day. An extreme solution might be not to use the to-do list at all.
Now I want to get better at all of these things. But it’s too difficult to practice the “Extreme Recipe” on all five of these things at the same time. This will take too much willpower. As many studies show, willpower gets tired easily , especially when there are a lot of temptations. And when you strive for extreme change, there are many temptations to arise. My willpower is likely to break and I’m back where I started.
So instead, I start out with extreme activities for one month.
Research shows that it usually takes about two months to form a habit, but I find that two months of extreme behavior seems too intense as I tend to form a habit based on “balanced” improvement rather than “extreme” improvement. Therefore, I choose one month for extreme activities and the second for a more balanced approach.
My first choice is a problem that I have every day because I never feel like I’ve done enough. I want to fix this because this is the main cause of stress for me.
My “extreme recipe” is not to use a to-do list. I’m not going to go step by step and cut my list from 10 to eight or even five items a day. I will still write down what needs to be done, but I will not have a to-do list that I check and update regularly throughout the day. I’m going to go to extremes and cut everything completely so that I can focus on one thing that needs to be done every day. That’s all.
If I finish this most important thing, I will move on to other important tasks. But I won’t feel the pressure to do all of this to feel like I did enough that day.
You probably want to improve on something. And it’s great when we take action to try to get better. If you are trying to be better, you are trying to be better in relation to yourself, the people around you, and perhaps even the world. But we put a lot of negative energy into ourselves when we don’t get better after trying.
This “extreme recipe” approach can work as a way to improve. And I hope so. But if that doesn’t work, don’t worry about yourself. You are trying to become better, and that in itself is noble.
If you want to join me, pick what you think you don’t like and figure out how you could do it, the exact opposite of how you are doing it now, for a month. If you need ideas on how you can go to extreme measures , write to me on Twitter, and together we will work out a plan.