The Power of Habits

 

The Power of Habits

 

Lesson Info

The Arousal System

This idea of arousal this is this is this idea of the energy that flows through your motivational system and you might ask the question how does that engagement of the motivational system influence your ability to get stuff done? So we know right that if you have absolutely no energy at all, you get nothing done think about think about trying to do something at work you've got this report it's due like in three months and you don't do anything on it because it's just you're not you're not engaged with it two months it can wait six weeks yeah, I'll work on it for like a half hour, you know, for weeks, political budget, some time to work on this, you know, a week before I'm working, I'm working, I'm working, you know, three days before I don't know the day before I virgin to what we could we could call panic okay, now this idea that that there's a kind of a sweet spot for how engaged you want to be with a goal was actually observed for the first time in the early nineteen hundreds by the...

se two guys your keys in dodson who drew out a curve that they called cleverly the yorkie stott said curve and it looks sort of like this so here we have this is this is just how well you're performing on a task and this is how aroused you are by that task how much energy do you have for the goal and essentially what you've got is this kind of u shaped curve where if you're really low in arousal you're not that engaged you don't get that much done then you know as the level of arousal goes up and up and up you get more and more engaged you do better and better and better up to some middle point after which you run the risk of falling over the edge of that yorkies dots and curve and kind of panicking right too much arousal is just not a good thing because when you get to aroused you get too emotional you get two there's just too much energy and when I talk about this as our this arousal is energy I don't just mean this purely metaphorically this is actually energy in your system right I mean when you think about arousal right I mean think about somebody who's like not at all aroused to give a talk you know they're just like everybody it's good to have you here today you might get thes everyone can love that's right? I'm really happy to be here you know um and then you get people who are you know, happy to be here right and so and so were somewhat engaged we have some degree of actual physical energy were moving around now somebody who's panicked to be giving a talk they're just all over the place they're like I uh I have some stuff I want to talk about and I uh uh you know and they're not really and they're not there's no continuous flow of information, right? Ah lot of bad things happen when you get to aroused for things you have too much energy there's a there's an amount of stuff that you can think of at any one time psychologically we call that working memory it turns out that when you get to aroused your working memory capacity gets smaller and so you actually can't think of a cz much at the same time which makes it really hard to do anything coherent and so you have you have too much energy you need to move around and you're not thinking clearly right that's that's really bad and this is why if you're doing conceptual work, being too aroused is a real problem because because you actually want you can't even sit at your desk anymore if you must have had those days right where you're just so so panicked or whatever it is that you can't even sit at your desk anymore, you know, pacing around the room um and I think that that's that's literally that's arousal, that's energy flowing through the system and so you don't you don't want to go over the edge and not only does this arousal manifest itself as movement all over the place it also manifests itself as the emotional experience that you have with something we're going to talk a little bit about emotions and feelings but but for now what I want to point out is that the more arousal you have the stronger your your emotional experience which is why when you panic panicking is not just energetic it's it's really really unpleasant right it's a strongly negative feeling you know it's because because you have all this arousal in the system as opposed to being in that lower arousal state were not only don't you really have the energy to move around but your emotional reactions are also like dude you know I mean they're just isn't there isn't that riel engagement with things okay so this arousal has all sorts of influences on uh on our behavior yeah a clarification here in the chat room from k c I a and they want to know so does this exactly does this correlate to procrastination is this where you can kind of look at why I'm procrastinating yeah that's a great question so yeah so so one of the things I'm gonna actually I'll go to the next slide to do this because because this is a great segue way um everyone everyone starts at a different place here so there are some people who are naturally pretty lower rowsell people we all know them they're the ones who need small thermonuclear devices detonated underneath their chair before they get anything done right? These these air the master procrastinators later, later later? No. Okay, um and then there are people who are really high rowsell people who need to get stuff done way in advance, right? And and one of the reasons it's important to know this is because you never want to get the lower rowsell person in the higher rowsell person working together on a project because that's a lethal combination, but yes, just just answer the narrow question. Absolutely. One of the issues that goes on with procrastination is if I just don't have the energy to do something, and I could become energized about something else more easily right? So if you think about, think about the prime candidates for procrastination, the deadline is really far off, right? So the so the consequences for inaction aren't that strong? I'm probably not going to enjoy doing this thing very much and, uh and there's something else that would be more fun to do right now. So when something's more fun to do right now, it's more likely tio give me energy to do it, and because the consequences of not doing the other thing aren't so great, it's it's easier for me to put it off you know, we talked a little bit earlier about you know, the prospect of of you know, preparing the vegetables after you bring him home from the farmer's market right and that that issue is one of you know, the consequences to not doing it don't feel that dire in the moment right and so how do we engage the goal to actually go through the preparations rather than letting them you know, letting the vegetables just sit I mean that's that's really fundamentally what your plan is going to have to be about in order to make that change right so so this is definitely related to this notion of procrastination um now if you happen to be working in a group right it's really valuable to get to know the group members and it's it's important to get to know yourself so for example I I like to think that over the years I've gotten to know myself a little bit better on this stuff I am a higher rowsell person um you know I will I get stuff done way in advance you know, preparing for all of this stuff you know, in sending materials here I was like two weeks in events like I got to get this stuff off my desk you know I have to I have to you know be done with this stuff my graduate advisor who's a wonderful woman and in graduate school when you when you work together with graduate adviser, you're sort of at the mercy of your graduate advisor because they're the ones who set the tone for everything that needs is to be done. She is a very lower rowsell person. I mean, very low. I mean, like, is low is it's possible to be so, you know, some people at least get moderately aroused by deadlines. She you have to be, like a week past the deadline before she goes. So I so I supposed to do something and I'm I'm just I'm a blubbering, massive flesh on the ground a week before the deadline, and we so we worked extraordinarily well together. And so it was. It was really bad. And and because I was at her mercy and doing a lot of these things, I would get her a draft of something, you know, a project. We were working on two weeks before the deadline and then get it back forty minutes before the deadline saying, could you just make these small number of changes, you know, and I'd be sitting by me. Oh, um so she was just about here approaching her peak, and I was I was just, you know, I was a mad if I don't know how far out were allowed to go but that's, more or less where I wass, um, and so, you know, you got to get to know the people that that our work that you're working with and if possible, to create an environment in which you, you manage those things in a more effective way, right? Try and get your high razzle person to work on the stuff that has to be done way in advance, right? Let the lower arousal person engaged when when it gets closer to the deadline and try and give that higher russell person a bit of a break at that point, if you can't do that, if it's something that really has to be done in tandem makeup, fake deadlines for the for the lower rowsell person so that they have to get stuff done early, right, but really work within that system and try to help people to work together and don't just throw it out there. I mean, a lot of times when we're working in groups of people, we just sort of throw tasks out there, and then we don't understand well, why is it that that stuff is falling apart? And one of the things that were going to be doing over the next couple of days, I mean, tomorrow morning we're going to talk a bit about personality dimensions, and one of the interesting things about personality dimensions is, is the personality reflects a lot of the ways that we differ from each other, and a lot of times, people will not do something that we expected them to do, because they differ from us along some core element of their personality, and the more you get to know about those kinds of differences, the better the job you khun do, of engaging your goals in relation to those of other people, and this is a similar kind of thing. As you begin to understand yourself and what it is that you can do to change your own behavior, it actually helps you in all of your interactions with other people, because it helps you to understand the ways that other people can differ from you. And because almost everything we do is a team sport. All right, the more that you understand that the people that you're working with, the better you khun do at helping a group to achieve its goals, right? So I mean, one consistent theme that I do want to make sure that I that I hit throughout these couple of days, is that, um the more you understand about yourself the more you understand about everyone else's well I mean that's the real beauty of understanding psychology which means that the more that you understand about your own behavior the more you can do to influence other people's behavior the more you understand about what it means tio thinking a smart way the more than you can help everybody else to think in a smart way all right so all of this stuff pays double dividends because you can live your own life mohr effectively and help everybody around you to be more effective uh by using the same set of principles and that's something that I find really powerful about understanding psychology any questions on this I know I'm going through a lot of stuff here yeah, we have a question here this is from sam cocks and they want to know can a person raised their general arousal level and does improving one's physical fitness health at all tryingto even be better and having a higher arousal yeah great question yes you can there are things you could do caffeine actually raises arousal levels so naturally high razzle people have to be a little bit careful with the caffeine that they drink people who are naturally low arousal could probably mainline to start um but yeah, physical physical fitness helps right I mean, if you are if you are physically not well either because you're ill or because you're you're just you're really feeling low energy because of your state of physical fitness, then, you know, getting yourself in shape can condemn finitely help that so, um, and and you certainly don't want to be so low arousal that you can't get anything done right, and getting regular sleep too, right? It's it is, it is very mean. Sleep is a funny thing, you know, it has it has all sorts of influences on our behavior, one of which is it actually partly becomes more difficult to just regulate your behavior, which we're gonna talk about regulations, self regulation in a moment, but partly becomes more difficult to regulate your behaviour, but partly it influences your arousal levels. I mean, if you're just really tired, it is hard to get engaged with anything. Yes, arousal purely a physical state, ours also mental emotional I mean, if you're having a bad day or in a bad mood, or depressed or sick, you know, physically sick, is it your total system? Yeah, just one. Yeah, yeah. It's a great question. And I guess what I would say is, in part, there's, less of a distinction between the physical and the mental than we like to believe, you know, so we tend to think of ourselves almost for the last fifty years there's been kind of a computer metaphor for the way the mind works that we are somehow a brain in a box that controls the body right? But we're not really the brain is an organ of the body that that that that plays a role in influencing what we do and how we do it but it is it is not discontinuous with the rest of the body right? So that energy level that we have that is that is reflected mentally and physically at the same time, right? So, um so it's it's all of a piece it's a great question, because I think I think we were culturally, um, kind of programme to think about the brain in a different way. All right, so, uh so how does all this work? How does all this work? Um, we the motivational system takes these goals and it engages thumb and it engages them using a set of brain mechanisms buried deep inside the brain. And I'm gonna I'm gonna I'm gonna push on this a little bit because it is so important to understand this for understanding why it is that changing your behavior could be so difficult, so let's, go back to the brain, okay, so remember I told you the brain to boxing gloves set the wrong way around lots of you know, bumps and stuff on him. The outs out of covering the brain is gray in color. And so of course, we call that gray matter. If you were to cut into a brain, you get a couple of millimeters down and the grey color turns to white. Okay? And the reason it does that is because underneath the surface of the brain is a lot of, uh, nerve cells that passed from one area of the brain to another. Like, if you opened an old stereo and you ever looked at the roll, these circuit boards on the stereo. And then there were these wiring harnesses that would connect the various circuit board. Well, the brain has wiring harnesses a cz well, they are bundles of nerve fibers that go from one area of the brain to another, and they are insulated just like those wires on ah, in the stereo. And now the installation in this case is white in color. And and so what you're seeing is this is some support cells in the brain, but a lot of really just the wiring harnesses and on all of this installation that allows near fibers to pass from one region of the brain to another. So the brain gets white and color after you go a couple of millimeters down and if you were to continue slicing through the brain don't recommend doing this with your own brain of course but if you were to continue slicing through it eventually you get to mortgage ray matter structures really deep inside the brain these air structures that are sometimes called the called the basal ganglia and these structures their way deep in the brain these air structures that we more or less share with lots of other animals so if you were to cut open the brain of a sheep or a rat or lots of other animals they have very similar structures so we're the brains of rats and sheep and monkeys differ from the brains of humans is really in the cortex is is that we have this enormous cortex so you know whereas the human brain sort of looks like these two boxing gloves with huge you know frontal lobes right where the fingers of the boxing glove would be the sheep brain has little tiny frontal lobes and the rat brain is even smaller frontal lobes right? I mean that's the place where where brain evolution got you know really got carried away but in the end in those deep structures inside the brain there's actually a lot of similarity between what we have is humans and what other animals now why this matters is those brain structures are deeply involved in your ability to engage goals and pursue your goals and toe learn habits to pursue those habits now, because those structures air so deep inside the brain, they don't communicate that well with what goes on in the rest of the brain. So one of the reasons why we're not that good at talking about why we do what we do because we don't know, right? The this is thies brain structures deep in your brain that drive your behavior, they're really not that well connected with all those language centers, for example, that are in the cortex of the brain and these areas in the frontal lobes that you use for complex reasoning. And so, in fact, a lot of times when you're trying to figure out your own behavior, you're forced to explain your own behavior almost a cz an outside observer, right? You did something, and then you're like a wonder why did that? Uh, well, and then you give an explanation for it. Sometimes that explanation is right sometimes it's wrong? Another reason why we often need therapy. So so this break the set of brain mechanisms engages goals, drives behavior ok? Its function is to get you to do things in the world, and so is a short hand. I call this the ghost system okay, the ghost system drives you to pursue goals. It learns habits. It tries to engage those habits, and its function is to get you to do things in the world. That's, what the ghost system does is to get youto act. Okay. Now, every once in a while, you engage a goal that you wish you hadn't engaged, and I'll tell you a story. So I I used to be heavier than I am. Nice to be about forty pounds heavier. And part of the reason for that was that I had a love affair with the single serving carton of ben and jerry's ice cream. You were there. They're like a pine. Do you know these and I mean, and this is how it happens, right? You, you, you pull it out of the freezer with a spoon. Well, the spoons on the freezers get the spoon. You got to get the ice cream. You sit down and in front of the tv usually so it's, mindless and it's by habit. And you start eating out of the container, and then and then you get about halfway down, and then you get one more spoonful passed halfway, and then it's simply in polite to put away less than half. And so you got to eat the rest and at some point you look at the quote unquote nutrition information on the back and you discover you've eaten more collars than some small nations get in a week and and then of course you go out you buy another ice cream and so here's the thing right at some point you realized gosh there's more of me than there used to be maybe it has something to do with all this ice cream I should stop eating the ice cream okay now here's the problem you got the ice cream in the freezer okay and you you were giving you know it you don't see it but you know it it's got I think there's a particular frequency it transmits on and you just know that it's in the freezer and so at some point at some point the ghost system engages right eat ice cream and when the ghost system engages what happens right we we talked about this when the ghost system engages it creates valuation that is the ice cream feels more valuable to you the smaller stomach you'd like feels less valuable to you it becomes easier to think about ice cream and spoons and sitting and eating right so your ghost system does what it does what stands in your way of eating the ice cream when you want to eat it you've engaged the ghost system what to do well there is one last bastion standing in the way and that's another set of brain mechanisms largely located in the frontal lobes of the brain they engage some brain mechanisms that aaron what's called orbitofrontal cortex so if you were to actually push up through your eyes I don't recommend doing this either, but if you were to push up through your eyes you would reach on area the brain just above the eyes and that area the brain is engaged gauged in another system that stops the behavior once it's started down the tracks right? And so I call that system to stop system now that you may call it will power sometimes sometimes people have said my willpower is going to stop me from doing what what we call willpower is usually the engagement of this stop system. Now the problem with the stop system is that it doesn't work very well it is impaired by lots of different things. So whereas thie structures deep in the brain that have evolved over millions and millions of years and our shared by all these other animals are extraordinarily efficient, the frontal lobes are newer and this stops system is not as efficient it's not terrible but it's not as efficient and it could be impaired by all kinds of things it could be impaired by stress, right? Which is why people will often eat stuff that they shouldn't eat when they're when they're really stressed, if you've ever seen the movie airplane there's a great scene, the movie airplane where lloyd bridges is playing this pilot who is trying to talk somebody down, as is their landing a plane in the beginning of the movie says I picked the wrong week to stop smoking and he's out there smoking a cigarette by the end of the movie it's, like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue, right? Because and what he's doing is just reflecting that the too much stress makes it hard to stop doing something that your ghost system might engage, so stress is bad uh, overuse of the of the stop system can actually cause it not to function so well. There's another effect in the research literature called ego depletion, and the idea is, if you spend a whole day kind of monitoring your own behavior and stopping yourself from doing something, you want to do, that that can actually make it harder for you to stop yourself later in the day. Think about having a bad day at work. You know, your boss is standing over you the whole day, and you're just trying to tell you they're trying to stop yourself from telling your boss to shove it right? So you're working and working in car. Um and then by the end of the day you go home and if then if the ben and jerry's calls out then you're there you're on the couch with ben and jerry onda spoon because because you've just had it right it's just that's enough self regulation for one day okay so so this kind of effort yeah so I'm imagining that uh sleep maybe can help replenish or to help restore the stop system absolutely sleep is sleep is a good thing that's another and another reason why you know sleep can be dangerous lack of sleep can be dangerous is because that can that can make you a little bit make it a little bit more difficult for you to regulate your own behavior drugs and alcohol ten toe um tend to impair the function of the stop system this is why when people tell stories about stupid things that they did while they were drunk they often involve I know I should have done this but right because the stop system isn't working so well so so then let's say that we can't go to sleep in the middle of the day we're doing something that requires us to really use to stop just um a lot what are some ways that we can replenish yeah that's a great question take have a little snack right get a little bit of just just a little bit more energy that can that can be useful um take a walk write change the context up a little bit right? So so taking a walk has two benefits the one is that it changes the scene for you for a moment which can help too dampen the activity of the ghost system because if I removed myself from the environment than the ghost system isn't quite as engaged a zit wass and in addition to that taking a walk actually will help with the release of chemicals like dopamine into the brain that can influence the ability your ability to focus your attention on upon on more positive things that you could be doing so those air some of those are a couple of quick things that you can do to try and help yourself and then you know, we'll talk a little bit tomorrow about two of the other tools that we want to use right the environment and people and those are both important, right? I mean, so you should you should think about ways that you could influence your environment to make it hard to do things that you might otherwise do if you know if you're if you're stop system failed and you know again never underestimate the power of phoning a friend, right? You know um stop me before I eat this ice cream again, you know and then your friend will come over and eat it right, which is great but, yeah, no, I mean, so that's those air, those are a couple of things that you could do. So what is all this say about achieving your goals, right? Me? What? What are we trying to accomplish? Okay, well, there's sort of a hierarchy in what is the best way to achieve our goals, and this is important, because when we're thinking about behavior change mean, let's set the stage here, we want to change our behaviour right now in order to change our behavior. We've we've got tio we've got to do things differently than we're doing them now we have some habit right now that's driving our behavior, and we want to stop doing that, and we want to replace that behavior with something else, okay? The best case scenario for us, the ideal state where we're reaching for, is that we create a new set of habits that will be the behaviors we want to carry out into the future, right? So what we're really aiming at when we change our behaviour is a new set of habits not so not so that we think about our old behavior all the time, but so that we never have to think about it again, that the way we live, our life is now consistent with the new goal that we have okay, right so you know, I mean, I have thankfully managed to keep off most of the weight that I lost that in large part it's because among other things I completely changed my diet all right? So I went from I became a vegetarian when I decided to lose weight because I figured I'll never be able to stop myself from eating all this stuff I was eating before so how about I just completely changed everything I'm eating and now I have to create all new habits, right? And, you know, and so and so that gave me an opportunity to just kind of completely re program my system by taking an awful lot of the foods that I used to eat badly out of the equation altogether, right? Um and now I have a different set of habits in the way that right and that that that's that's the ideal state that we're trying to reach okay, now, um before we reach this, you know, because you can't just again you know, this is this this is this whole matrix problem I would love to just thank, you know, stick in a you know, a jack into my head and suddenly have the new set of habits I don't I can't do that, and so what I need to do instead is to set an agenda to create a plan right? And a lot of what we're going to do in the very last segment of the day is to really create plans that will be the agenda that we're going to use to make a set of changes in our behavior. Okay, it's going to be what we're going to call an implementation intention and that's that requires assistant in some sense, the manual override of the ghost system, right where I'm going to say now this is the action I'm gonna perform now. This is the action I'm going to perform. Okay now that's that is less efficient than just doing it by habit. But at least you are on the road towards doing the right thing. And if you create a set of actions that have a consistent mapping built into it and then you repeat him, you'll get the habit right. So this is a stop gap. This is the thing you do until you create the habit and there's the worst case scenario, right? If we go from best to worst, the absolute worst thing that you could dio is to put yourself in a situation in which you are consistently riding the brakes, right? Because this stop system is prone to failure, willpower will fail if you rely on it for long enough. What you have to do is is to avoid situations in which you live your life in the mode of constantly just where the best possible outcome from you is that you avoid disaster again today, okay? And this is the problem for example, with a lot of people who try to diet the problem with dieting is that it creates what's called a restricted eating path and if you talk to lots of people who are on diets, they spend their life thinking about food, right and all the food they're not eating and the problem is if you're trying to eat less and eat better foods if you spend all of your time thinking about cake and ice cream and and and the third helping of potatoes and stuff like that, you're never going to eat less I mean you will temporarily, but you won't be able to sustain it because you're always thinking about food and then riding the brakes right? This is why you get, uh you get what's sometimes called the whatthe hell effect, which I think I'll talk about again later but the idea behind what the hell effect is you know you you you you, uh you fail in a goal temporarily and then you just give up altogether this's a staple of the romantic comedy there's, always an up tight character in the romantic comedy who's eating really well you know, they have just, like, a grape for dessert, and they and they're telling everyone how badly they're eating, and then at some point something goes wrong and they have one piece of cake and the next thing the next scene involves them on a sofa surrounded by chinese food cartons and chip rappers and stuff like that and their faces smudged with chocolate, right? That's that's, what the hell effect in action? Okay, and we're really trying to avoid that and the way you avoid that is by not living your life constantly, thinking about the thing you don't want to do, right? So this is why you don't want to live down here, you want to live, you know, higher up and then just to reiterate one other thing on this, which is, you know, again, the reason why you don't want to ride the brakes is, you know, just to just to repeat what I was saying before is because willpower is basically not goingto work, partly because overtaxing this stops system is ultimately doomed to failure, and partly because other things, like, like alcohol and stress and other things impair the functioning of the frontal lobes, so so basically, we want to avoid riding the brakes of possible, okay.

Class Description

Setting a goal is one thing, but actually doing the work to achieve that goal is a totally different endeavor. If you want to hit your targets and make lasting changes in your life, join author and psychologist Art Markman, Ph.D., to learn what it takes to build and maintain healthy habits that will last a lifetime.

This course won’t serve up superficial self-help tips; instead, you’ll dive into the latest cognitive science behind behavior change. You’ll learn how to build new, positive habits and break the cycle of existing negative ones. You’ll explore what it takes to sustain healthy habits over time and increase your chances of maintaining new habits by empowering your friends and family to make positive changes, too.

Don’t waste another day simply wishing you could make a change that really sticks — equip yourself with the techniques you need to transform your life in measurable, powerful, and positive ways.