"Don’t" vs "Can’t"

By classifying specific behaviors as things you will never do again, you put certain actions into the realm of “I don’t” versus “I can’t.”

Saying “I don’t” rather than “I can’t” provides greater “psychological empowerment.”

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The process of stopping bad habits is fundamentally different from forming new ones.

  • Creating a habit requires encoding a new set of automatic behaviors: the brain learns causal relationships between triggers that prompt action and the associated outcome.
  • The popular belief is that the key to breaking a bad habit is replacing it with another habit. But this doesn't always work.

The process of “progressive extremism” utilizes what we know about the psychology of identity to help stop behaviors we don’t want. It works particularly well in situations in which substituting one habit for another just won’t do.

Identity helps us make otherwise difficult choices by offloading willpower. Our choices become what we do because of who we are.

  • Identify the behavior you want to stop: e.g, not eating processed sugar. 
  • Choose one specific food to cut from your diet. It needs to be something you wouldn’t miss.
  • Diets don’t work because they are temporary fixes. To become part of your identity, the commitment needs to be forever.
  • Write down what you no longer eat and the date you gave it up. Writing this down marks the shift from a temporary “can’t” to a permanent “don’t.” 
  • If the commitment feels like too much, you’re doing too much. 

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Willpower is Limited

Though companies like Nike try to ignite our willpower with their slogans, ultimately willpower cannot squash our subconscious and unconscious behavior.

Repetition of action and thought can make the required change seep into us, turning it into a machine-like, habitual behavior.

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IDEAS

The basic process for building all habits is basically the same: you repeatedly condition the behavior you want, over time, until it becomes automatic.

But no habit starts out automatic; there’s a deliberate period, where you must consciously apply yourself to make a certain behavior your default.

Self-Discipline AND Willpower

Chances are, at some point in your life, you’ve tried to change your behavior through sheer willpower. And chances are, you also failed miserably. Don’t feel bad! This is what happens most of the time. 

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