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Automate Good Decision Making

A habit for a college student can mean the difference between passing and failing, literally.  Studies show that 45% of our daily activities are at some level automated–the neural connections are short-circuited to make the activity easy.  That’s why it doesn’t take much thought to get through your morning routine, or your workout, or decide what you’re going to eat for lunch.  I wrote a post recently on killing the procrastination beast, but if you’re stuck in a rut, here’s how to trick your brain into short circuiting the activities you want, rather than that pesky habit of turning on the T.V. every time you walk into a room or automatically checking your email every 5 minutes.

Step 1: You need a fix.  Whether it’s a snack, the urge to flip on the TV, to check your email, something is pulling you and your eyeballs away from what you need to be doing.  Write down everything that’s going on at that moment.  What time is it?  Did you just transition (such as walking into a new room)?  How do you feel?  Are you bored?  Anxious? Tired? Restless?  One of these is your trigger, and rather than eliminate that trigger, which is often impossible, transfer the fix onto something else, something that doesn’t derail you.

Step 2: Habit transfer.  When you identify the trigger for the unwanted habit, think carefully about something else that might fill that need.  If it’s a distraction you’re avoiding, substitute a lesser distraction in.  If it’s a snack, maybe what you’re really wanting is an excuse to walk around for a minute.  The science behind this trick is to establish the same craving-reward response with the habit of your choice.

Step 3: Only work on changing one thing at a time.  New Year’s Resolutions, while fun to think about, are notoriously bad motivation because it’s too much.  Way too much, according to author Daniel Pink, a New York Times bestseller who wrote The Power of Happiness: Why We Do What We Do in Business and Life, the source of these tips.  Keep plugging away at the one habit until you get it down, then tackle the next one.  An example of this, according to Pink, is putting your gym shoes by the bed every morning.

If you can automate the habits that help you reach your goals, the decisions you won’t be making will go a long way toward reducing your stress level.  Should I snack, should I wait?  Should I study or watch T.V.?  Should I go to the gym?  Just make it a habit and you’ll have more time for the things that make you happy, whatever that thing may be.  Spending time with your significant other?   Chilling with your friends?  A slimmer you?  Check all of the above!


I’m reading Behavior Modification: What It Is and How to Do It