Your habits are not bad. They are just obsolete.

The next time you turn on your smartphone, turn on your PC, or log into your tablet or laptop, think about the frequent ritual you follow to keep device software up to date.

Whether these updates occur weekly or even once a month, two things are likely:

  1. The first is that whether it is an operating system like Windows or Safari, antivirus software or a utility program like Gmail and Microsoft Office, this update process never ends. . Updates may vary in timing and content, but otherwise they keep coming.
  2. The second probability is that a periodic update is necessary so that the device can meet current needs and problems. Intuitively, we generally prefer to continue using the same old software and programs in their most familiar form. Yet, we also understand that the hassle of updating software is essential to keeping software secure, fixing errors, and adding desirable new features. Like an Atari video game station or a rotary phone from the 1980s, outdated devices and software can still technically work. Yet they will be increasingly vulnerable to problems and unable to meet the demands of our present lives.

Now consider habits to be simply the equivalent of behavioral software. Just like computer software, our habits can become stale and outdated. However, the consequences of the latter can be much more serious.

Habits as behavioral software

How often do you consciously update your habits? Is it as often as your smartphone updates its software, or are you perhaps still operating with “habits” written down years ago, perhaps even as long as your childhood? If the latter, to what extent do the habits programmed many years ago serve you in the present?

Treating habits like software (see Figure 1 below) is a far superior approach to living with outdated behavioral programs. Taking the time to regularly update habits—tweaking them to match our current values, goals, and resources—is one of the most effective tactics people can use to get out of the Sisyphean ruts of life. , improve their physical and mental health and enjoy a life containing more meaning and growth.

Source: Thomas Rutledge

Compared to the conventional way of thinking about good versus bad habits, this “habits as behavioral software” analogy offers multiple liberating benefits (see Figure 2 below):

  • Once we realize that our so-called “bad habits” are mostly just outdated habits, we can let go of the negative emotional baggage. Even widely maligned habits, such as smoking cigarettes or abusing alcohol, probably served an original purpose. Smoking may have helped us fit in with a peer group, manage stress, or manage weight, for example. Likewise, a habit of binge drinking may have arisen to cope with pressures during college or the military, after a traumatic experience, or as a means of self-medication for depression or loneliness. Neither the habit nor the person is “bad”. Thinking like that only makes the person worse off and probably makes the problem worse. Instead, consider using nicotine or alcohol to solve an important life problem parallels using a dial-up modem to access the Internet or riding a horse to work. These solutions may have been helpful initially, maybe even the best option available to us at the time. But they have become inferior options in the present and would benefit from an upgrade.
  • Habit change becomes less a matter of willpower and more a matter of personal growth. Most of us have probably had a hard time trying to quit a “bad” habit. It takes self-discipline, resolve, and the ability to resist temptation, repeated over days and weeks. Yet, to what extent is this negative experience actually just a creation of the negative cultural mindset we have about habit change? Does the change of habit have to be unpleasant? The science of habits suggests not1-2. Rather, this science indicates that successful habit change often results from the process of replacing – not discontinuing – old patterns of behavior with new, more functional alternatives.. Simply put, just like software upgrades, we are changing habits by revising and improving old behavior code with updated language to achieve better results with less inconvenience. This approach to habit change means less reliance on willpower and more focus on learning. It reduces the burden of guilt and shame while placing more emphasis on self-improvement. Habit change is essentially a kind of accelerated personal evolution, where we seek to consciously optimize our behaviors to meet the challenges of our current environment. It can be a rewarding journey based on personal growth instead of an exercise in self-flagellation.
  • It gets rid of the quick fix mentality. Effective habit change is not a one-time process of replacing outdated behaviors with new ones. This common but misguided perception only makes the new behavior just as obsolete over time. Effective habit change, on the other hand, is an ongoing practice of regularly evaluating our behaviors, goals, and circumstances, adjusting our habits to respond to the present moment. From this perspective, habit change is more like growing a garden or running a business than running a marathon. There is no finish line to the process. It is, in the words of author and lecturer Simon Sinek, an infinite game3. As soon as you stop playing the habit-changing game, you also stop learning, growing, and developing the behavioral tools to live your best life. If your goal is a good life, the solution is to never stop updating your habits.
Thomas Rutledge

Source: Thomas Rutledge

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