Let’s Make Forbidden Fruit Taste Bitter — Changing Habits

Heya Desai
luminate
Published in
11 min readDec 24, 2020

I’m that person who used to get bursts of motivation and spontaneous will-power to change everything up and take on countless new objectives at one time. These “spurts of motivation” as I like to call them were often followed by maybe one, or at most a few days of following through and being extremely satisfied about life 😁.

But most of these came to an end relatively quickly. Meditation for example, was something I found relaxing and beneficial when I did it consistently but eventually I had let go of this practice too.

It’s weird. I enjoyed the new things I tried, I felt content at the end of the day when I hit the bed, but for some reason I didn’t continue on. Turns out, making changes in a lifestyle requires more than just willpower and being “motivated”.

Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going. — Jim Ryun

Sometimes the will for change stems from simply wanting to grow as a person and for self-improvement and other times it can be to break a bad habit and replace it with a valuable one.

If there’s any similarity I’ve noticed among all of the people around me it is that something has to trigger them to make a change in their life or develop a habit.

This is why “I told you so” is a phrase we end up saying to people around us. It’s not that your advice is bad or that the philanthropist mentality isn’t serving purpose.

Instead, not doing what you’re told or recommended is all a result of human nature; forbidden fruit tastes so much sweeter.

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When someone or something discourages us from doing something, we might understand the underlying reasons, yet at the same time our freedom is threatened. We are hence motivated to regain control of the situation and do the exact opposite — not because we want to but because we were forbidden from doing so. 🙅‍♀️

It makes no sense though somehow I find so many instances in my life when I’m doing just this. If I’m about to clean because I WANT TO and sometimes out of generosity, but then my parents swing in and tell me to clean, all that motivation goes underground. 📉

“Okay Heya we get it, humans don’t like being told what to do… we know that lol.”

What you might NOT KNOW is that there is actually a scientific reason for this behaviour: psychological reactance.

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Psychological reactance is our brain’s response to any and all threats to our freedom. In the simplest of terms, when we are pushed to do something, in most cases it only increases our intrinsic motivation to push back. By resisting what may be best choice to make, we are inevitably at a disadvantage however our freedom is restored and so we proceed with the action. If you want to learn more about this theory and how to reframe the situation to avoid reactance, check out this article.

Knowing that certain behaviour is natural does not mean that we cannot implement strategic change to make doing the right thing a reflex action.

“The main thing history can teach us is that human actions have consequences, and that certain choices, once made, cannot be undone.” — Gerda Lerner

This concept reaches beyond losing a person or valuable object, but returns like a boomerang back to your own life in several ways. Just like you can’t always unsend something mean you said after you regret it, one can’t always regain the possession of the gift of good health and so on.

What I am also trying to emphasize is that you have the ability to do whatever you want — not things your parents wouldn’t want you to do but as far as controlling your actions go; you are the mastermind. LITERALLY the master of your mind. 🤯

But, how do we do this? What does it take to see a conventionally negative circumstance in a positive light and why don’t we always do what’s best for us?

We don’t know how to → Lack of Self-awareness

Sometimes, it’s simply because we don’t immediately see the connection between an aspect of our lifestyle and its detrimental effect. As James Clear discusses in his book Atomic Habits, “we’re so used to doing what we’ve always done that we don’t stop to question whether it’s the right thing to do at all”. 🤔 This is the root cause of why when one desires to make a change in their life, the strategy they use isn’t sustainable. Without identifying the factors that contribute to a habit or could be evaluated to create a new habit, we cannot get the best outcome possible from taking an action.

Now, I know reflecting on every element of your routine may seem tedious but this is where the habits scorecard , the clear habit journal, and the ultimate habit tracker come in.

*A bit off topic, but James Clear, you’re reading this… would love to work with you as a thank you for this promotion 😌*

These three resources have all been designed by James Clear — author of the New York Times bestselling book, Atomic Habits. While you might not need to implement all of these systems into your daily routine, like they say the more the merrier. Now I know that many of you have probably tried out a planner but it’s important to note right away that these three practices serve purpose beyond organization. Let’s dive deeper into the scorecard.

The Habits Scorecard

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It is inspired by the pointing and calling system that was established in Tokyo for the Japanese railway system and after being adopted worldwide, the results show that the habit decreases accidents by 30% and reduces error up to 80%.

For each step of the process, the operator and the staff working on the train point at different objects and call out commands such as yelling “All clear!” when the train is about to depart. Through this method no detail is overlooked as they are all identified and said aloud.

Similarly, by implementing a routine of pointing and calling your habits, things you do that you don’t really pay attention to (automatic behaviour) switch from nonconscious to more conscious habits. This increases our level of awareness concerning our behaviour, thus we’re more likely to make the ideal choices and decisions over time. We are able to recognize our existing habits immediately and identify the cause and effect relationship.

So how do you make a scorecard?

  1. Make a list of your everyday habits
  2. Categorize habits as positive, negative or neutral depending on the long-term outcome.

Ex. drinking pop may give you immediate pleasure because of the release of dopamine but over-time it can be linked to serious health conditions such as heart disease due to the high sugar content → net negative outcome

A rule of thumb when determining whether a behaviour is positive or negative is asking yourself if it reinforces with your desired identity.

There is friction between the conscious and subconscious mind

Our subconscious mind is essentially the warehouse of all of our experiences. Our memories, beliefs, emotions and habits are all stored by the subconscious mind and as a result, it is in charge of 95% of our behaviours. On the other hand, our conscious mind involves everything we are thinking about in present time and all of our awareness about ourselves in the world around us.

Ever wonder why we make rash, illogical decisions rather than appropriately thinking through them before? This is because habit accounts for 40%-95% of our behaviour and these actions do not require stepping out of your comfort zone or any change and is therefore what you are more likely to do. For example if you were contemplating going out with your friends or staying home to complete a project, your subconscious mind directs you to do what will give you instant satisfaction opposed to long-term benefits. Confronting a new habit is signalled as danger 🚨 because it requires stepping in to the unknown, so that feeling of doubt we feel when trying something new is actually a chemical called glutamate.

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This brings me to the science behind and how we can actually set long-term goals.

Immediate rewards > Long-term Rewards

Somebody who reads because they genuinely enjoy reading, find it relaxing or maybe like the suspense and feeling of anticipation as the plot unfolds is intrinsically motivated to read. In other words, the incentive or them is reading itself making reward immediately attainable. On the other hand if someone integrates reading into their schedule to strengthen their cognitive function or build their vocabulary is extrinsically motivated as the rewards are external factors and usually require performing the habit consistently over a period of time. Without a doubt, a habit is easier if you enjoy doing it from the beginning. Where the challenge lies for many of us is when we have long-term goals and objectives for a change we make in our lives.

Success in nearly every field requires you to ignore doing something easier (delaying gratification) in favor of doing something harder (doing the work and putting in your reps). — James Clear

Delaying gratification results in positive outcomes in almost every aspect whether it be creating valuable content opposed to consuming content (doom scrolling) or putting in an extra 10 minutes in your workout to stretch and become flexible.

And in all honesty, there is no one specific solution to this; practicing delayed gratification requires self-discipline but it goes without saying that the compounding growth makes the waiting-process worth it.

Here are some suggestions to get you started on this training. 💪

  • Clearly define your goals and create a plan to follow since it serves as a reminder of the process to follow, your progress and the choices you should make
  • Make the first habit you want to implement SUPER easy, something that you can’t say no to.
  • Optimize to improve by 1% everyday; recognize the power of tiny gains
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  • Try Seinfeld Strategy — Mark each day you complete your desired habits with an X on the calendar and overtime your intention will be to “not break the chain”.
  • REWARD YOURSELF! Taking the path of earning long-term rewards does not mean you can’t break up the goals/objectives and determine milestones along the way. This serves as an opportunity to celebrate how far you’ve come and to push yourself even further.

There are obstacles within our lifestyle

Take a look at your surroundings, is it easy to perform the habit you want to change in your current environment? If the answer is yes, your essentially setting yourself up to give in to bad habits. The “whatever, life is short” or “we’re here for a good time not a long time” moments need to be eliminated from your daily life.

Let’s think about the intent behind leaving your phone in another room when doing work. The logic used is that by putting the distraction away someplace else, the amount effort required to check your phone every now and then increases so you’re less likely to physically get up and go get your phone, especially if the activity you're doing is engaging.

If you want to create a new habit, you have to be lazy.

This is one example demonstrating how you can avoid doing something but if you want to implement a new habit per se, there are changes you can make in your environment (home) that leave no room for making excuses.

If your goal is to start going on jogs and runs in the morning here are some ways you can optimize for following through with the objective.

  • Implement systems. Giving yourself too much flexibility or options is considered the killer of long-term goals. Instead, make tweaks in your environment in advance so that you have to make fewer decisions, and so the decisions you make align with your goal.
  • Determine what you usually do during that time of the day and make that habit harder to perform. Ex. If you usually end up binging some TV shows, d̶e̶s̶t̶r̶o̶y̶ take out all the plugs. Want to go the extra mile? Hide the cells somewhere else that’s accessible but requires quite a bit of effort to find.

When I say the objective in the planning process is to leave no room for making excuses, I really mean NO ROOM at all. It might seem extreme at times, but as they say go big or go home, literally. 🏃‍♀️😉

  • Put out your active wear the night before so you see it right when you wake up.
  • Keep anything and everything you need ready the night before — water, running shoes, keys, etc
  • REWARD YOURSELF!🏅 When training self-discipline, we shouldn’t skip rewarding ourselves for following through, after all trying something new isn’t easy at the beginning. Whether it be getting an acai bowl after the jog or putting money towards something your saving up for, rewards can increase that feeling of accomplishment for staying on track.

Instead of trying to force habits on yourself, spend effort on making good habits easy to engage in, and bad habits difficult to engage in. — Psychology Today

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Self-Restriction

A study conducted by Birchbox found that only 3/10 Americans create time in their schedule for themselves and to practice self-care. Needless to say, maintaining a work-life balance is essential for our mental and physical health along with our overall well-being. Without allowing ourselves downtime, there is no opportunity for relaxation, refocus and reflection.

Productivity addiction is real. While one of your goals may be to increase your productivity — not taking breaks is NOT the solution. Constant productivity can provide a variety of rewards and similar to other addictions, as time goes on one can crave more and more. Initially, the sense of satisfaction one can feel from completing tasks is certainly would drive to continue, however if self-care is not accommodated in the long run the consequences can be severe. The result? Our symptoms could be attributed to burnout.

Allowing ourselves to practice self-care does not necessarily mean spending a little extra time on skin-care or taking a bubble bath. Taking care of your health and doing what you want to do and should do vs what you have to do is one of the many differences. It is during this process in which we can identify what is best for our well-being.

Getting enough sleep or making sure that you don’t let your work schedule interfere with eating timely and nutritious meals should always be top priorities.

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Self-care can actually be an essential habit to integrate into your life.

So where does this bring us? Potentially on a common ground or maybe at different places. We each might have different obstacles we want to overcome and different end goals. Accordingly, we probably need to start at different places and proceed with various plans of action. And that is okay; we all have our own paths to follow.

Nevertheless, by further understanding why we we act the way we act and leveraging the knowledge to regain control of our habits we can all reach the common destination of becoming the people we want to be.

Remember to trust the process.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed my article, subscribe to my monthly newsletter to keep up with my progress, find out when I create similar content and to receive an insight on everything I’ve been up to! In the meanwhile, let’s connect on linkedin.

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