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How To Become Addicted To Doing Things That Are Good For You - Part 3: Leverage Your Vices
Note: This is part 3. Part 1 and 2 are still stuck in editing. Once they are published, I’ll link them here :)
We all have vices—things we do that feel rewarding in the short term but know are at the expense of our long term.
Often our dependence is a by product of them being the only consistent vehicle we have for positive feelings.
Why the hell else would we keep doing them despite all their negatives?
But Implicit in the fact that you keep doing them despite how much energy you exert trying to stop: You are wasting your energy trying to stop. You are subjecting yourself to completely unnecessary and unhelpful suffering, guilt, shame, and exhaustion in your incessant battle with yourself.
If beating yourself up and trying to stop or cut back was going to work it would have worked already.
So try this instead:
Rather than wasting all your energy trying to not do them, jujustu them. Leverage them. Use their power to your advantage.
Do you vice. Maybe even more than you were before.
But not until you've earned it.
Do something hard that furthers your life in a positive way, and then indulge.
You can scroll social media for 5 hours, but not until you've completed your 3 priorities for the day.
You can eat chocolate cake, but only after you've gone to the GYM.
You can watch porn, but only on the days you've tried talking to a real girl you're interested in.
You can binge watch Netflix, but only on days you've cleaned the house.
You can get completely trashed on Friday, but only after you've completed your 5 priorities for the week.
You can smoke a cigarette, but only after 10 push ups.
You can loop with negative thoughts about how you and/or the world are horrible, but only after you've meditated for 20 minutes.
You can play video games to your hearts content, but only on days you’ve spent an hour looking for a job.
You can binge watch Youtube, but only before work (to get you in the habit of waking up earlier).
Obviously, don't make a bunch of changes at once. But create something like the above that suits your biggest struggle. Ask:
1. What is the biggest thing you want to accomplish right now?
2. What is the biggest thing you do instead?
3. How can you use the latter as as reward to incentivize the former?
Whatever your goal is: simply, tie it to some "reward" behavior you already do (or that you waste a lot of energy trying not to do).
1) Engineer it to require as little will power and discipline as possible.
If you fail to meet your rule, it’s because you need to improve your system, not because you are defective. Make the goal easier and the reward bigger.
Only after you are consistently performing your “good behavior” and then find the good habit easy and/or no longer rewarding to accomplish should you reduce the reward/increase the difficulty.
2) If you fail and do your reward before the good habit, do not guilt, shame, or bully yourself.
Failure comes from your system requiring more will power than you have. Beating yourself up only wastes more energy, reducing your will power even more.
Guilt, shame, and self attack are your greatest enemy. The overwhelming negative feelings you have around failure are one of the primary reasons you’re addicted to instant rewards at the expense of the long term in the first place.
Have some compassion for your momentum. Stop expecting perfection. Fumbling forward is infinitely better than rotting in place under the weight of your own expectations.
3) Expect to be embarrassed by your abilities at first.
You will almost certainly find how much reward you have to give to incentivize even the smallest amount of good behavior will feel completely embarrassing and pathetic at first.
Doing 1 “good” thing may necessitate wasting the entire rest of the day doing “bad” things. That’s okay and normal.
You’ve likely been doing “the wrong thing” for years — You’re like a 10 year old dog who has been given a reward every time he poops on the floor but gets hit every time he poops outside. How long do you think it would take to retrain him?
Be more concerned with your current trajectory than your current results.
4) Remember: the fact that you have a voice in your head that has a problem with your failure is proof that you ultimately want to succeed.
What is your inner critic’s purpose? Is he just a bully? No, he has an objective and a purpose. One that has served you somewhat well most of your life. He’s gotten you to do enough things that are good for you to get you to this point. But negative reinforcement is only necessary when positive reinforcement is not an option (as it is far less efficient).
Remind yourself that doubling down on the self attack is not helpful — holding yourself to impossible standards does will not help you. Tell the dude in your head that you appreciate that he got you this far, but that now it’s time to try a new strategy.
If you can’t stop self attacking about your inability to stop self attacking, use the next tip.
5) Apply this same methodology to self attack itself.
If you can’t stop being a dick to yourself, no problem: Fight fire with fire. use this same system on it.
Example: you cut off any attempts to self attack until you’ve written down 10 reason you aren’t a loser (then you are allowed to freely self attack)
Or: once you notice yourself self attacking you are required to make one positive counter argument to it before you can continue.
Do these steps enough and your good habits, like Pavlov’s bell, will become associated with the positive feelings of your vice.
Do them even more, and you'll start to build new non-artificial positive feelings (like oxytocin from real relationships, endorphins from real exercise, serotonin from real status and influence, or dopamine from real activities that are in your best interest).
Eventually, you'll start to question whether your vice is truly worth all downsides of the guilt, shame, struggle etc if you can get just as many (if not more) good feelings from healthier behaviors.
And finally, you will, with little effort, just drop the vice now that it is no longer necessary (and often getting in the way of the thing that actually now feels better).
Then you are free to take on a new challenge.
Know that you'll probably pick it or another back up some time in the future when times get tough. That’s normal. Life is always a balance of short term vs long term. If it becomes a problem again, use the same methodology.
And even if you never stop the “bad habit”, what’s better:
Being a smoker who goes to the GYM 3 days a week and has some self esteem? Or being a smoker who hides in their house, never exercises, and hates themselves?
Being a video game addict who has friends, and a stable income, and a relationship? Or being a video game addict alone in their room on unemployment?
Being somewhat overweight but running a successful business and generally healthy? Or being very overweight working a job you hate, hating yourself, secret eating when no one is around?
Stop comparing yourself to some perfect ideal you in the platonic world of forms. Compare yourself to who you actually are in the real world (and for that matter, all the other people around you, almost none of whom have any control over their own vices).
We can all be better. But rather than sit around and obsess about this fact, let’s instead use tools and systems that actually help us get there. If it doesn’t serve you in reality, then find a way to divert it so it does.
That’s all for now.