Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Mental models and new habits

I have now introduced you to the most important mental models. You have to know basic models before you can apply them in your life. They are all connected somehow. These connections are hard to understand, when they are applied separately in a more artificial context than real life. This post is about habits and how mental models are related with them. Habits are important, because depending on the research, habits take 40-90% of your daily actions.

What is a habit?

A habit is a chain reaction with three parts: A trigger, a routine and a prize. You first receive a stimulus which is the trigger, then you have a routine, which is an action to get the prize you are aiming for. Habits do not exist without all the three parts. You do not have a routine without associating trigger with the routine and the prize. And you cannot get the prize without completing the routine. The trigger is a stimulus like a sound, smell, emotion, etc. Routine is the whole action you are working on. Prize is the least understood from these parts. Most people think the prize is something concrete like having a protein shake after tough workout. The prize is actually the emotion or a hormone you get from the prize. If the prize is not tempting enough, you will not have enough motivation to strengthen the habit.

Creating new habits

Your brain has a limited bandwith. Evolution has created many ways to save energy by limiting bandwith in use. These ways are your paths of least resistance. Habits are one of them. Every time you repeat the chain reaction with three parts, you are strengthening a reinforcing feedback loop. After completing this loop, your brain needs less energy to repeat the habit. This energy saving effect is always compounding. It also has a negative effect if you are trying to change it by changing an existing habit. Habits need lots of repetitions, changing them even more. You need to achieve a critical mass of repetitions before habit becomes automatic. Depending on the habit, this can take months. If you want to create a habit, you need lots of conscious effort before it is programmed into your brain. You will probably need to use your rational decision making system and use enormous amount of your willpower before your unconscious system takes control. When the habit is formed and you no longer have to think about the routine, you will keep moving into same direction.

When you want to create a habit, you have to think about the trigger and the prize. The routine itself is easier to develop. Whatever the habit is, the prize is the most important thing about it. You really have to want the prize. Even though the prize itself can be an emotion or some physical change in your body, like a hormone, the symbol for it has to be something you want. For example, some healthy food that looks good. Trigger for a good habit should be made as easily available as possible. If you want to exercise in the morning, you probably should keep all the necessary equipment close to your bed. They should be presented in a way that you cannot miss them, when you wake up. Depending on how often you need to perform the habit, you should have your trigger available as often as performing the habit. If you want to exercise twice a day, you should have your trigger available twice a day.

It is hard to stay motivated, when the habit is something you are not excited about. For example, it is hard to eat healthier food, when you have a desire to eat lots of sugar and bad fat. All the habits start with the first step. You shouldn´t expect big and fast development in this case. If you really want to stay motivated, you should start with one healthier food like putting something green onto your plate while eating your normal foods. Keep it as simple and easy as possible. Small gradual changes give you better probability for success. You should also invert the question: ”How I am going to succeed?” and ask instead, ”How will I fail?” Expecting failure is not a bad idea, because there will be setbacks. Only few people will succeed in the first time. You need to be able to continue the process after setbacks. You cannot remove your habits, you can only change them. I will return to write about it later.

Habits and the latticework of mental models

As you can see, there are many mental models that are related to habits. I didn´t go through all of them. I tried to keep the post as simple as possible. You may think that I made it too hard to understand new habits by using all these models. I agree with you to some extent. It would be enough to understand what triggers, routines, and prizes, and their interactions are all about. These three parts and their interactions are actually a small latticework of mental models of the habits. If you only understand special latticeworks about different things in your life, the need for information is much larger. And you have no capacity to do it.

I am not saying that you don´t need these specialized latticeworks. I am trying to say that you need both, the specialized latticeworks and the general latticework of the most important models. When you understand the most important models and their interactions, specialized latticeworks become easier to learn, because everything is related. Most of the big consequences happen, because there are many big forces moving into the same direction. Charlie Munger calls them Lollapalooza-effects. When you see some world famous expert explaining these big consequences with a single reason, you should see that they do not really understand the whole picture. Understanding the general latticework helps you to understand the world and the behavior of other people better. It also helps you to understand your own domain or discipline better.


The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg
Poor Charlie´s Almanack, Peter Kaufman

I will be going for a short trip next week, I will return in two weeks.

Have a nice fortnight!


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