HOW TO REPROGRAM YOUR BRAIN TO ENJOY HARD HABITS

Theneurowire
15 min readJul 27, 2022

You can make hard habits more attractive if you can learn to associate them with a positive experience. Sometimes, all you need is a slight mind-set shift. For instance, we often talk about everything we have to do in a given day. You have to wake up early for work. You have to make another sales call for your business. You have to cook dinner for your family. Now, imagine changing just one word: You don’t “have” to. You “get” to. You get to wake up early for work. You get to make another sales call for your business. You get to cook dinner for your family. By simply changing one word, you shift the way you view each event. You transition from seeing these behaviors as burdens and turn them into opportunities. The key point is that both versions of reality are true. You have to do those things, and you also get to do them. We can find evidence for whatever mind-set we choose. I once heard a story about a man who uses a wheelchair. When asked if it was difficult being confined, he responded, “I’m not confined to my wheelchair — I am liberated by it. If it wasn’t for my wheelchair, I would be bed-bound and never able to leave my house.” This shift in perspective completely transformed how he lived each day. Reframing your habits to highlight their benefits rather than their drawbacks is a fast and lightweight way to reprogram your mind and make a habit seem more attractive. Exercise. Many people associate exercise with being a challenging task that drains energy and wears you down. You can just as easily view it as a way to develop skills and build you up. Instead of telling yourself “I need to go run in the morning,” say “It’s time to build endurance and get fast.” Finance. Saving money is often associated with sacrifice. However, you can associate it with freedom rather than limitation if you realize one simple truth: living below your current means increases your future means. The money you save this month increases your purchasing power next month. Meditation. Anyone who has tried meditation for more than three seconds knows how frustrating it can be when the next distraction inevitably pops into your mind. You can transform frustration into delight when you realize that each interruption gives you a chance to practice returning to your breath. Distraction is a good thing because you need distractions to practice meditation. Pregame jitters. Many people feel anxious before delivering a big presentation or competing in an important event. They experience quicker breathing, a faster heart rate, heightened arousal. If we interpret these feelings negatively, then we feel threatened and tense up. If we interpret these feelings positively, then we can respond with fluidity and grace. You can reframe “I am nervous” to “I am excited and I’m getting an adrenaline rush to help me concentrate.” These little mind-set shifts aren’t magic, but they can help change the feelings you associate with a particular habit or situation. If you want to take it a step further, you can create a motivation ritual. You simply practice associating your habits with something you enjoy, then you can use that cue whenever you need a bit of motivation. For instance, if you always play the same song before having sex, then you’ll begin to link the music with the act. Whenever you want to get in the mood, just press play. Ed Latimore, a boxer and writer from Pittsburgh, benefited from a similar strategy without knowing it. “Odd realization,” he wrote. “My focus and concentration goes up just by putting my headphones [on] while writing. I don’t even have to play any music.” Without realizing it, he was conditioning himself. In the beginning, he put his headphones on, played some music he enjoyed, and did focused work. After doing it five, ten, twenty times, putting his headphones on became a cue that he automatically associated with increased focus. The craving followed naturally. Athletes use similar strategies to get themselves in the mind-set to perform. During my baseball career, I developed a specific ritual of stretching and throwing before each game. The whole sequence took about ten minutes, and I did it the same way every single time. While it physically warmed me up to play, more importantly, it put me in the right mental state. I began to associate my pregame ritual with feeling competitive and focused. Even if I wasn’t motivated beforehand, by the time I was done with my ritual, I was in “game mode.” You can adapt this strategy for nearly any purpose. Say you want to feel happier in general. Find something that makes you truly happy — like petting your dog or taking a bubble bath — and then create a short routine that you perform every time before you do the thing you love. Maybe you take three deep breaths and smile. Three deep breaths. Smile. Pet the dog. Repeat. Eventually, you’ll begin to associate this breathe-and-smile routine with being in a good mood. It becomes a cue that means feeling happy. Once established, you can break it out anytime you need to change your emotional state. Stressed at work? Take three deep breaths and smile. Sad about life? Three deep breaths and smile. Once a habit has been built, the cue can prompt a craving, even if it has little to do with You can make hard habits more attractive if you can learn to associate them with a positive experience. Sometimes, all you need is a slight mind-set shift. For instance, we often talk about everything we have to do in a given day. You have to wake up early for work. You have to make another sales call for your business. You have to cook dinner for your family. Now, imagine changing just one word: You don’t “have” to. You “get” to. You get to wake up early for work. You get to make another sales call for your business. You get to cook dinner for your family. By simply changing one word, you shift the way you view each event. You transition from seeing these behaviors as burdens and turn them into opportunities. The key point is that both versions of reality are true. You have to do those things, and you also get to do them. We can find evidence for whatever mind-set we choose. I once heard a story about a man who uses a wheelchair. When asked if it was difficult being confined, he responded, “I’m not confined to my wheelchair — I am liberated by it. If it wasn’t for my wheelchair, I would be bed-bound and never able to leave my house.” This shift in perspective completely transformed how he lived each day. Reframing your habits to highlight their benefits rather than their drawbacks is a fast and lightweight way to reprogram your mind and make a habit seem more attractive. Exercise. Many people associate exercise with being a challenging task that drains energy and wears you down. You can just as easily view it as a way to develop skills and build you up. Instead of telling yourself “I need to go run in the morning,” say “It’s time to build endurance and get fast.” Finance. Saving money is often associated with sacrifice. However, you can associate it with freedom rather than limitation if you realize one simple truth: living below your current means increases your future means. The money you save this month increases your purchasing power next month. Meditation. Anyone who has tried meditation for more than three seconds knows how frustrating it can be when the next distraction inevitably pops into your mind. You can transform frustration into delight when you realize that each interruption gives you a chance to practice returning to your breath. Distraction is a good thing because you need distractions to practice meditation. Pregame jitters. Many people feel anxious before delivering a big presentation or competing in an important event. They experience quicker breathing, a faster heart rate, heightened arousal. If we interpret these feelings negatively, then we feel threatened and tense up. If we interpret these feelings positively, then we can respond with fluidity and grace. You can reframe “I am nervous” to “I am excited and I’m getting an adrenaline rush to help me concentrate.” These little mind-set shifts aren’t magic, but they can help change the feelings you associate with a particular habit or situation. If you want to take it a step further, you can create a motivation ritual. You simply practice associating your habits with something you enjoy, then you can use that cue whenever you need a bit of motivation. For instance, if you always play the same song before having sex, then you’ll begin to link the music with the act. Whenever you want to get in the mood, just press play. Ed Latimore, a boxer and writer from Pittsburgh, benefited from a similar strategy without knowing it. “Odd realization,” he wrote. “My focus and concentration goes up just by putting my headphones [on] while writing. I don’t even have to play any music.” Without realizing it, he was conditioning himself. In the beginning, he put his headphones on, played some music he enjoyed, and did focused work. After doing it five, ten, twenty times, putting his headphones on became a cue that he automatically associated with increased focus. The craving followed naturally. Athletes use similar strategies to get themselves in the mind-set to perform. During my baseball career, I developed a specific ritual of stretching and throwing before each game. The whole sequence took about ten minutes, and I did it the same way every single time. While it physically warmed me up to play, more importantly, it put me in the right mental state. I began to associate my pregame ritual with feeling competitive and focused. Even if I wasn’t motivated beforehand, by the time I was done with my ritual, I was in “game mode.” You can adapt this strategy for nearly any purpose. Say you want to feel happier in general. Find something that makes you truly happy — like petting your dog or taking a bubble bath — and then create a short routine that you perform every time before you do the thing you love. Maybe you take three deep breaths and smile. Three deep breaths. Smile. Pet the dog. Repeat. Eventually, you’ll begin to associate this breathe-and-smile routine with being in a good mood. It becomes a cue that means feeling happy. Once established, you can break it out anytime you need to change your emotional state. Stressed at work? Take three deep breaths and smile. Sad about life? Three deep breaths and smile. Once a habit has been built, the cue can prompt a craving, even if it has little to do with You can make hard habits more attractive if you can learn to associate them with a positive experience. Sometimes, all you need is a slight mind-set shift. For instance, we often talk about everything we have to do in a given day. You have to wake up early for work. You have to make another sales call for your business. You have to cook dinner for your family. Now, imagine changing just one word: You don’t “have” to. You “get” to. You get to wake up early for work. You get to make another sales call for your business. You get to cook dinner for your family. By simply changing one word, you shift the way you view each event. You transition from seeing these behaviors as burdens and turn them into opportunities. The key point is that both versions of reality are true. You have to do those things, and you also get to do them. We can find evidence for whatever mind-set we choose. I once heard a story about a man who uses a wheelchair. When asked if it was difficult being confined, he responded, “I’m not confined to my wheelchair — I am liberated by it. If it wasn’t for my wheelchair, I would be bed-bound and never able to leave my house.” This shift in perspective completely transformed how he lived each day. Reframing your habits to highlight their benefits rather than their drawbacks is a fast and lightweight way to reprogram your mind and make a habit seem more attractive. Exercise. Many people associate exercise with being a challenging task that drains energy and wears you down. You can just as easily view it as a way to develop skills and build you up. Instead of telling yourself “I need to go run in the morning,” say “It’s time to build endurance and get fast.” Finance. Saving money is often associated with sacrifice. However, you can associate it with freedom rather than limitation if you realize one simple truth: living below your current means increases your future means. The money you save this month increases your purchasing power next month. Meditation. Anyone who has tried meditation for more than three seconds knows how frustrating it can be when the next distraction inevitably pops into your mind. You can transform frustration into delight when you realize that each interruption gives you a chance to practice returning to your breath. Distraction is a good thing because you need distractions to practice meditation. Pregame jitters. Many people feel anxious before delivering a big presentation or competing in an important event. They experience quicker breathing, a faster heart rate, heightened arousal. If we interpret these feelings negatively, then we feel threatened and tense up. If we interpret these feelings positively, then we can respond with fluidity and grace. You can reframe “I am nervous” to “I am excited and I’m getting an adrenaline rush to help me concentrate.” These little mind-set shifts aren’t magic, but they can help change the feelings you associate with a particular habit or situation. If you want to take it a step further, you can create a motivation ritual. You simply practice associating your habits with something you enjoy, then you can use that cue whenever you need a bit of motivation. For instance, if you always play the same song before having sex, then you’ll begin to link the music with the act. Whenever you want to get in the mood, just press play. Ed Latimore, a boxer and writer from Pittsburgh, benefited from a similar strategy without knowing it. “Odd realization,” he wrote. “My focus and concentration goes up just by putting my headphones [on] while writing. I don’t even have to play any music.” Without realizing it, he was conditioning himself. In the beginning, he put his headphones on, played some music he enjoyed, and did focused work. After doing it five, ten, twenty times, putting his headphones on became a cue that he automatically associated with increased focus. The craving followed naturally. Athletes use similar strategies to get themselves in the mind-set to perform. During my baseball career, I developed a specific ritual of stretching and throwing before each game. The whole sequence took about ten minutes, and I did it the same way every single time. While it physically warmed me up to play, more importantly, it put me in the right mental state. I began to associate my pregame ritual with feeling competitive and focused. Even if I wasn’t motivated beforehand, by the time I was done with my ritual, I was in “game mode.” You can adapt this strategy for nearly any purpose. Say you want to feel happier in general. Find something that makes you truly happy — like petting your dog or taking a bubble bath — and then create a short routine that you perform every time before you do the thing you love. Maybe you take three deep breaths and smile. Three deep breaths. Smile. Pet the dog. Repeat. Eventually, you’ll begin to associate this breathe-and-smile routine with being in a good mood. It becomes a cue that means feeling happy. Once established, you can break it out anytime you need to change your emotional state. Stressed at work? Take three deep breaths and smile. Sad about life? Three deep breaths and smile. Once a habit has been built, the cue can prompt a craving, even if it has little to do with You can make hard habits more attractive if you can learn to associate them with a positive experience. Sometimes, all you need is a slight mind-set shift. For instance, we often talk about everything we have to do in a given day. You have to wake up early for work. You have to make another sales call for your business. You have to cook dinner for your family. Now, imagine changing just one word: You don’t “have” to. You “get” to. You get to wake up early for work. You get to make another sales call for your business. You get to cook dinner for your family. By simply changing one word, you shift the way you view each event. You transition from seeing these behaviors as burdens and turn them into opportunities. The key point is that both versions of reality are true. You have to do those things, and you also get to do them. We can find evidence for whatever mind-set we choose. I once heard a story about a man who uses a wheelchair. When asked if it was difficult being confined, he responded, “I’m not confined to my wheelchair — I am liberated by it. If it wasn’t for my wheelchair, I would be bed-bound and never able to leave my house.” This shift in perspective completely transformed how he lived each day. Reframing your habits to highlight their benefits rather than their drawbacks is a fast and lightweight way to reprogram your mind and make a habit seem more attractive. Exercise. Many people associate exercise with being a challenging task that drains energy and wears you down. You can just as easily view it as a way to develop skills and build you up. Instead of telling yourself “I need to go run in the morning,” say “It’s time to build endurance and get fast.” Finance. Saving money is often associated with sacrifice. However, you can associate it with freedom rather than limitation if you realize one simple truth: living below your current means increases your future means. The money you save this month increases your purchasing power next month. Meditation. Anyone who has tried meditation for more than three seconds knows how frustrating it can be when the next distraction inevitably pops into your mind. You can transform frustration into delight when you realize that each interruption gives you a chance to practice returning to your breath. Distraction is a good thing because you need distractions to practice meditation. Pregame jitters. Many people feel anxious before delivering a big presentation or competing in an important event. They experience quicker breathing, a faster heart rate, heightened arousal. If we interpret these feelings negatively, then we feel threatened and tense up. If we interpret these feelings positively, then we can respond with fluidity and grace. You can reframe “I am nervous” to “I am excited and I’m getting an adrenaline rush to help me concentrate.” These little mind-set shifts aren’t magic, but they can help change the feelings you associate with a particular habit or situation. If you want to take it a step further, you can create a motivation ritual. You simply practice associating your habits with something you enjoy, then you can use that cue whenever you need a bit of motivation. For instance, if you always play the same song before having sex, then you’ll begin to link the music with the act. Whenever you want to get in the mood, just press play. Ed Latimore, a boxer and writer from Pittsburgh, benefited from a similar strategy without knowing it. “Odd realization,” he wrote. “My focus and concentration goes up just by putting my headphones [on] while writing. I don’t even have to play any music.” Without realizing it, he was conditioning himself. In the beginning, he put his headphones on, played some music he enjoyed, and did focused work. After doing it five, ten, twenty times, putting his headphones on became a cue that he automatically associated with increased focus. The craving followed naturally. Athletes use similar strategies to get themselves in the mind-set to perform. During my baseball career, I developed a specific ritual of stretching and throwing before each game. The whole sequence took about ten minutes, and I did it the same way every single time. While it physically warmed me up to play, more importantly, it put me in the right mental state. I began to associate my pregame ritual with feeling competitive and focused. Even if I wasn’t motivated beforehand, by the time I was done with my ritual, I was in “game mode.” You can adapt this strategy for nearly any purpose. Say you want to feel happier in general. Find something that makes you truly happy — like petting your dog or taking a bubble bath — and then create a short routine that you perform every time before you do the thing you love. Maybe you take three deep breaths and smile. Three deep breaths. Smile. Pet the dog. Repeat. Eventually, you’ll begin to associate this breathe-and-smile routine with being in a good mood. It becomes a cue that means feeling happy. Once established, you can break it out anytime you need to change your emotional state. Stressed at work? Take three deep breaths and smile. Sad about life? Three deep breaths and smile. Once a habit has been built, the cue can prompt a craving, even if it has little to do with the original situation. The key to finding and fixing the causes of your bad habits is to reframe the associations you have about them. It’s not easy, but if you can reprogram your predictions, you can transform a hard habit into an attractive one.

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Theneurowire

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