WHY BUILD A HABIT? PROCRASTINATION IS THE REASON
We’ve had a lot of students who say something like “this course is great, I just have been lazy, haven’t yet started with my character learning/grammar building, etc”. Should you expect yourself to have incredible willpower every single day to keep up with your practice? NO! Instead, you should focus on making new habits because once a habit is formed, it no longer requires willpower to continue.
Part 3- Reward
This article is the 3rd installment of a four-part series, click the links below to navigate between articles:
There is the habit building period, and then there is the long period (maybe even years or decades) after the habit has been created. During the first stage, why not give yourself some kind of reward to motivate yourself?
Look For The Emotional Payoff
So you want to build a new habit because, in the long run, the result of doing X, Y, or Z behavior will give you a long-term emotional payoff. Ha, well, unless you are particularly monk-like, this is probably not going to be enough for you to keep up the short-term behaviors. Yes, the long-term payoff will come, but gosh it sure feels a long way off. Why not reward yourself in a timeframe you can grasp?
What is your favorite thing to do to relax? Is there a type of sport that you LOVE to play? Who are the five people you would most want to have over for dinner or a beer? How about your favorite place to take a walk and relax?
Find Your Favorite Thing
Make a list of the things you like to do, and agree with yourself that this is what you are going to do after you finish the new behavior you are trying to habitualize.
When you are thinking about what you want to do tomorrow, next week, next month, or even just in the morning before you start your tasks for the day, write down what you want to do that falls into the category of fun/leisure before anything else. This creates a phenomenon of making your relaxation time feel earned (which satisfies the part of you that wants to work) while also assuring the part of you that doesn’t want to become a dull work/study droid that you indeed are going to relax and enjoy your life sometimes.
Earn the Reward
When Phil was a kid, he had a friend who lived not too close to his house, but close enough that his parents could drive him there. One weekend, Phil had a project for his German class due on Monday, so his parents said: “If you finish your project by 5:00 PM, we’ll drive you over to see your friend”. That sure was motivating! He smashed through his German project, went over to his best friend’s house and had a great time. Finishing the project made the trip even sweeter because he didn’t have that feeling of unfulfilled responsibility underneath the enjoyment of the fun situation.
It is precisely this way of viewing the day, week, month or year that motivates you to take on responsibilities with more enthusiasm because the reward really will feel incredible. And that is just the daily way to look at it. Have you ever planned a vacation for several months in the future and noticed that your work output increased massively leading up to it? That way, when you are on vacation, you can truly relax, such a glorious feeling.
Examples of Planning The Fun First
Day Level: At 6 PM I’ll meet my friend for dinner
Week Level: Friday night I’ll go see a band that is touring through my city
Month Level: Next month I’ll take a long weekend to a nearby scenic area
Year Level: Planning a summer vacation to another continent for a few weeks
Set Mini Goals
Breaking down your Chinese study into small goals turns your day into a series of small dopamine hits. When you win a game, you feel good, and you feel even better when that game is connected to a more significant long-term goal. Setting mini goals like “do an extra two Anki cards after finishing” or “watch the extra YouKu video today” turns your Chinese journey into a game, and that is way less diminutive than it sounds.
Games Are Deeper Than You Think
The above two points can literally change your neural pathways, thus turning previously challenging to achieve tasks into something as simple as brushing your teeth every day.
Willpower is one way to get through the building stage, but willpower levels vary not only from person to person but also day-to-day. Not to mention, if you can’t conceptualize what verifiable benefit you are getting, then exercising willpower sucks.
While willpower may vary between individuals, what doesn’t differ all that much is the “X behavior begets Y reward” dopaminergic system of cravings that get created by games.
Games Aren’t Only Fun
The most popular games are designed by both planning fun and clarifying mini-goals. Within the game universe, you know certain aspects of the experience are purely fun, but other tasks are frustratingly challenging. Despite the challenges, the game keeps you moving forward by consistently reminding you of the fun on the other side of the hurdle.
Not only that, good games are consistently tracking your progress and providing feedback. They maintain with clarity and precision exactly when you achieve each goal and how it relates to your overall set of goals. What you have already accumulated and what is yet to come to remain in focus throughout the experience, thus making sure you don’t fail to notice an achievement.
It can take around 30 days for a habit to be fully formed, so would you rather those 30 days go by with you being a tyrant towards yourself or a benevolent and fair judge of yourself that sticks by rewarding success?
Win Bets Against Yourself
A short practical tip would be to win bets against yourself on a continuum of intensity. On the low-intensity level, say to yourself…”Betcha can’t do 10 extra characters today! Betcha can’t practice saying the challenging Mandarin syllable ‘CHI’ 50 times today!”. Almost seems childish, but it has certainly worked for us.
On the high-intensity level, put real money on it. Seriously! If you don’t achieve the goal, pay the money to someone. A friend, your significant other, roommate, parent or someone in need. Point is, make it enough money that you actually will feel it if you don’t achieve your goal. Within reason, of course, don’t make yourself go broke! In between these two extremes of merely saying “Betcha can’t…” and giving real money to someone are countless other options, so feel free to experiment.