Building Better Habits

These are my notes on an interview with James Clear: Designing Your Environment to Shape Your Behavior

  • Improving habits basically means overcoming your orientation toward immediate gratification to instead improve delayed returns.
  • To create habits that stick, you need to:
    • Make it obvious
      • This is the cue/trigger to remind you to do the thing
      • Design your office/home/desk/etc. to encourage the habit you want
      • E.g., don’t hide your fruit & vegetables in the crisper drawer, put them on the counter!
    • Make it attractive (the more attractive it is, the more you crave doing it)
    • Make it easy (the lower friction it is, the better)
    • Make it satisfying (he more satisfying it is, the more you want to repeat it)
  • The goal of doing these is to remove willpower from the equation
    • People who are successful in maintaining good habits are the ones who do not face temptations… not the ones who are magically more strong-willed
    • Willpower can’t sustain you long term
    • Resisting negative cues in your environment is very fatiguing
  • For negative habits (stuff you want to stop doing; “habits of avoidance”), do the opposite:
    • E.g., make it non-obvious—don’t tempt yourself by seeing it!
    • A few approaches to making the negative habit satisfying:
      • Replace the bad habit with a good one
        • This is important: you need some sort of reward for doing the new thing
        • It still needs to satisfy the same craving that you used to have
        • It can’t just be about having willpower to resist doing the original thing
      • Increase the friction massively to do the bad thing (remove the exposure to trigger yourself)
      • Make “doing nothing” more satisfying than doing the bad thing
        • E.g., instead of buying a coffee, every time you were going to buy one, put $5 in a savings account
        • Gives you a benefit for when “nothing happens”
  • For big, important, key areas of your life, you can start by making the habit really easy (and basic), and make it successively more difficult to get the “reward”
    • E.g., start with 1 minute of working out a day, scale up to 30 mins or whatever
    • Only applies to areas you want to be truly great
    • For most things, good enough is good enough (it’s not worth being the best flosser ever)
  • Reaching more abstract goals (e.g., write 25 blog posts this year) by shaping your habits
    • The key is to make it *feel* immediate and concrete
    • Give yourself a strong visual of your progress
      • E.g., start with two bowls, one full of paper clips; each time you take the action, you move one paper clip over; your goal is to move all the paper clips from one jar to the next
      • Habit trackers work the same way
        • Putting an X on the calendar is satisfying
        • Each X reminds you to do it again
  • Automatic habits (stuff you do without even being aware of it) can lead to really important routines
    • You want to make the first 2 minutes or so of your important routine effortless
    • E.g., if I get home from work and put on my workout clothes, going to the gym becomes automatic and easy; but, if I have to make a conscious decision to put on my workout clothes, it might not happen at all

On the Acquisition of Semantic Categories

This paper, written for my Language and the Mind course, is a summary of the current state of knowledge regarding the acquisition of semantic categories–that is, what we know about how you learn the meaning of words. For a PDF version, click here. Enjoy!

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Emergence and the Mind

This is my research paper for my Intro to Interdisciplinary Studies program. This is rather unique as a scholarly work (and intentionally due to the aims of the course): the first half is a sort of historical overview of both the mind-brain dilemma and emergence theory, while the second half deals with the support for a theory of strong emergence and its applicability to the study of the mind. Continue reading

Free Will in the Age of Materialism

This is my research paper written for my Consciousness course. For a PDF version instead, click here. Enjoy!

In a monist, materialist world, how is it that the mind can act on the body? Virtually no one today believes that the mind is of a separate substance from the body, immaterial and ethereal; most believe instead that it is a product of the physical brain. If this is the case—and it certainly appears it is—must we contend that the conscious mind is epiphenomenal? The standard physics-inspired argument goes something like this: since the mind arises from the brain, and since causation acts from foundations to outward effects, the mind must not be able to change its material foundations.

Our own intuitions about ourselves seem to oppose this chain-of-causation, epiphenomenalist picture of the mind. After all, it certainly feels like we have beliefs, feelings, goals, and desires, which influence the decisions made in our minds, and it feels like these decisions are in turn played out in our bodies. If we can be justified in this belief, though, we must give a philosophical-scientific account of how mental causation might occur in a physical brain. Such an account—and nothing short of such an account—would reconcile the monist, physicalist world view with our intuitive beliefs about the mind.

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