Lesson 17

Lesson 17: BHFM and The Stoic Advisor

Weekly Habits for Success - Daily Task to The Habits for Success

“Vices tempt you by the reward which they offer.” —Seneca


In The Power of HabitCharles Duhigg lays out what scientists at MIT have found to be the nucleus of a habit—the three-part neurological loop:

  • It begins with a cue — the trigger (a time of day, a certain place, the presence of certain people, a particular emotion) sending a message to your brain to switch on the automatic mode.
  • Next is the routine  — the habit or behavior itself, which can be psychological, emotional, or physical.
  • Last is the reward — which tells the brain to reinforce this process in the future the next time the cue is triggered.

Whether it’s giving a kid a piece of candy after using the potty or enjoying a beer after a long day of work, these actions reinforce habits that become part of our daily lives. Some, like receiving the M&M’s during potty training are more easily broken than the habit of taking a drink because of a rough day at the office.

Before you know it, behavior becomes automatic. What started as a one-time smoke so you could fit in with your friends has become a life-long addiction that is slowly destroying your body while telling your mind that it’s a pleasure you need and deserve.

You see, that’s the problem. It’s not the habit or behavior that we are addicted to, it’s the reward, the pleasure we get from performing that habit. Whether that habit is a virtue or a vice, it’s all about the pleasure.

So, let’s use a reward to help our new habits gain traction and make our vices become obsolete.

The smaller and easier the reward is to administer, the more effective it will be in solidifying a habit. In The Compass of Pleasure, David Linden cites two studies: one that found that 35 percent of people who use heroin the first time get addicted, and one that found that 80 percent of people who smoke for the first time get addicted. 80 percent! Why so much higher? Because though the pleasure effect of heroin is much stronger than that of nicotine, it is difficult to actually smoke it or shoot up several times in a three or four-minute span. In contrast, every individual puff of smoke releases a reward to the smoker. That ease of being rewarded fuels the habit.

Believe it or not, social media and entertainment apps such as Twitter, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video are specifically designed to exploit this. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing - this is the way life has worked for a long time. Just as advertising experts (like in the show Mad Men) use this power to exploit the inner desires of each of us, the desire to seek pleasure (or avoid pain), the entire world of social media apps are designed to exploit this characteristic in each one of us.

So let’s use some technology to help beat the addiction of vice, including the vice of technology. The language learning app Duolingo offers many types of rewards to motivate you to learn a new language. It gives you points when you complete practices and quizzes, and makes a wonderful chiming sound each time you get a word or sentence correct. There is a fire icon at the top of the screen to indicate how many days in a row you’ve practiced, this simple feature is significant because seeing your progress will help build momentum and motivate you to continue learning. Instrument leaning apps like Yousician, mindfulness and meditation apps like Headspace, fitness apps like Strava all have these built-in reward features.

It's not enough to have the reward of “a job well done”. Let’s attach a “job well done” to a reward that your body physiologically craves. Maybe for you it’s having a Hershey’s Kiss. Or maybe you attach the reward to something you like. For instance, let’s say that you know you waste too much time watching TV or putzing around on the internet. Well, now you can make that “vice” a reward. You want to watch that TV series? Set a goal that you will reward yourself and watch it if, and only if, you have nothing but a series of Xs on your chart for the entire week on a particular task.

It’s OK to reward yourself. It worked with potty training and it will work when it comes to building new habits or quitting an old vice!

NEW HABIT: Pick a particular habit and attach a reward to it. Do NOT give yourself the reward if you fall short. You have to be able to count on yourself as you are the only one that will hold yourself accountable.

NEW TASK: Talk to your accountability partner about your reward system and have them help keep you accountable. We recommend that you use one of the new business practices and marketing systems as your rewardable task that you perform. It might be implementing it. It might be studying the presentation or sales process associated with it.

NEW TASK: Increase your study time of BHFM materials from 15 minutes per day to 30 minutes per day.