056 Rewarding habits
Running, rewards and curiosity
I just ran my fastest half marathon yet.
I prefer ending sentences like those with a “yet” since doing so explicitly leaves room for improvement. Rather than running a “fastest half marathon ever”, a “fastest marathon yet” assumes an even faster one upcoming sooner rather than later. It automatically sets another bar to cross over. This is the record I need to break next:
Anyway, I didn’t always run such “outrageously long distances” for the non-runner eye. I didn’t even like to run much before.
Now I do run those “outrageously long distances” and they don’t feel like such an exaggeration to me now that I’m acquainted with ultramarathons (those are outrageously long—but I guess I’ll do one some day).
Creating good habits is hard. But when rewarded properly, they’re simple to make. As I’ve written elsewhere,
The thing with cultivating a habit is we almost always do it for a particular result. But when you can make the habit a particular result you want in itself… then it gets way simpler to stick with it.
Most bad habits are a reward in itself. They are repeated behaviors since they give the performer a sense of pleasure simply by the act of doing it. Because of this, we start craving to repeat those (bad) behaviors to seek the reward they present.
One can learn from this and apply it to cultivating good habits. Instead of wanting to go to the gym to get in shape why not make going to the gym pleasurable? Rather than forcing veggies down your throat why not make eating veggies fun? (Did you know if you cut carrots in a fancier way, they taste better? Really. Try it for yourself.)
As much as possible, try making habits the reward you seek.
Running is fun for me. It’s not a struggle to get out of bed and go out for a run because that habit is a reward in itself. I’m not seeking to get in shape or be healthier. Those are just a by-product of the selectively chosen habits that are fun to do. Or might I say pleasurable rewards that are worth seeking?
What’s a good habit you do that’s a reward in itself? What’s a new one you’re going to choose to create? And how? (Feel free to reply to the email and let me know!)
The Amazing Things & Ideas List
The rationalist Harry Potter:
A friend told me that I talk a lot like Harry Potter. I was curious to know why. She pointed out that she was talking about the rationalist Harry Potter in a fanfiction book written by Eliezer Yudkowsky called Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality or HPMOR for short.
So after weeks of procrastination and a bit of coercion from my friend I decided to give HPMOR a read. It’s a huge series and is widely considered one of the best fanfics ever written.
I love it and I do see myself or at least my ideal self in rationalist Harry’s words.
Check out the series of blog posts (the entire fanfic book) here.
On free curiosity and the nature of learning:
“Free curiosity has greater power to stimulate learning than rigorous coercion. Nevertheless, the free ranging flux of curiosity is channeled by discipline under Your Law.”
― St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions
“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”
Winston Churchill on his school life (bolding is mine):
“How I hated this school, and what a life of anxiety I lived there for more than two years. I made very little progress at my lessons, and none at all at games. I counted the days and the hours to the end of every term, when I should return home from this hateful servitude and range my soldiers in line of battle on the nursery floor. The greatest pleasure I had in those days was reading. When I was nine and a half my father gave me Treasure Island, and I remember the delight with which I devoured it. My teachers saw me at once backward and precocious, reading books beyond my years and yet at the bottom of the Form. They were offended. They had large resources of compulsion at their disposal, but I was stubborn. Where my reason, imagination or interest were not engaged, I would not or I could not learn. In all the twelve years I was at school no one ever succeeded in making me write a Latin verse or learn any Greek except the alphabet.”
— Winston Churchill, 1930, My Early Life: A roving commission, pp. 12-13
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