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Break Any Bad Habit w/ Positive Cargo 🧠
Learn this Neuroscience trick to break any bad habit! (7min Read)
A bad habit is a bad-bad loop
We’re “addicted” to these loops
Using notifications/tracking to break bad habits only work at first
Electric shocks works almost every time…
To break a bad habit you need to create a bad-good loop
The Positive Cargo Method
USE THE TOOL!!!
Welcome back fam, I’ve got a highly requested one for you today!
One of the top questions I get asked when speaking & in social media comments is, “How do I break a bad habit?”
So, today, we’re gonna talk about the last tool you’ll ever need in this endeavor, it’s called the Positive Cargo Method, and it comes from Dr. Andrew Huberman, a Stanford Neuroscientist.
Before we hop in, I need your help, I’ve got an Anxious to Action Challenge starting next week, and I would love to get more people there!
Do you know anyone who would be interested? If so, send them this link: Challenge Info Page
Thanks for the help! Alright, let’s dive in.
What Even Is a Bad Habit?
Great question. A bad habit is a loop. To understand what I mean, let’s talk about the loops we’re inside of all day.
Our brain is very complex, but also very simple!
All day, every day, we have thoughts that lead to feelings, which then lead to actions.
Feelings, thoughts, actions, feelings thoughts, actions. Over and over!
Sometimes a feeling is first, and other times an action leads to a feeling than a thought.
These things can happen in any order, it is a bit more complicated than that, I will admit, but for our purposes, this model is helpful to understand.
This is because bad habits are loops too.
Bad Habit Loops
Generally, a bad feeling or thought leads to a bad action (habit).
Here are some examples:
Feeling stressed —> I should drink to relax —> Drinking
Thinking I’m not smart enough —> Feeling guilt/shame —> Procrastination
Failing on a project —> Feeling discouraged/embarrassed —> Thinking I’m a failure
Bad habits are closed-loop systems, meaning they reinforce themselves & we become “addicted” to the loop.
They create Bad-Bad loops in our mind, meaning bad feelings/thoughts lead to bad habits, and bad habits lead to bad feelings/thoughts.
This is what makes them so hard to break!
Breaking Bad Habits
Before we get into the Positive Cargo Method, I want to touch on some methods people commonly try & the science behind them!
We’ve all done it & we all know what happens eventually…
You make a habit background picture for your phone, put sticky notes everywhere, or write on your mirror, etc.
I’m guilty of doing this even though I know the research behind it’s effectiveness…
What that research suggests won’t surprise you, notifications work at first, but there’s a steep dropoff in effectiveness after a week.
This is a less commonly known method unless you’re a hardcore habit hacker (guilty as charged).
It’s not Rocket Science though, every time you do the bad habit, you make note of it with tick marks or an app.
The thought is that this builds your awareness of the steps leading up to the bad habit & it also brings your attention to how often or how many times you’re doing the habit.
Over time this is supposed to help you avoid the habit through awareness and/or by focusing on decreasing the number of ticks slowly over time.
This has been shown to be more effective than notifications and isn’t habituated quite as quickly, but over time the effectiveness still drops off!
Electric Shock (No, I’m Not Kidding)
Yep, you read that right!
There are even bracelets that administer the shock for you, here’s an example called Pavlok, it uses Aversion Therapy to help you break bad habits.
This is a type of Pavlovian Conditioning otherwise known as Classical Conditioning.
The core concept here is that you associate the habit you want to stop, with a negative stimulus like a shock for a period of time.
This breaks the bad habit loop we’ve been talking about, and your brain learns to associate the bad habit with the shock and stops *liking* the habit.
They’ve even used this Pavlok device to help people quit smoking cigarettes with great success!
This has been shown to be an effective way to shift & change habits, but not everyone is willing to go to this extreme of a measure.
Also, hacking into this system of your brain can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing or why you’re doing it.
Creating a Bad-Good Loop
This brings us to the Positive Cargo Strategy!
As we now know, bad habits are bad-bad closed-loop systems that we get “addicted” to.
To break these bad-bad loops, we need to create a bad-good loop instead.
To do this we will be inserting “Positive Cargo” at the end of the bad habit.
This means after the bad habit happens, let’s say you realize you’re doom scrolling on social media, you insert a positive behavior like drinking a cup of water, doing a pushup, or a breathing exercise.
The goal is to make this positive behavior easy to do so you don’t have to think much once you’ve realized you did the bad behavior!
Avoid Guilt & Shame
Notice I didn’t say you should shame yourself for doing the behavior. Or feel guilty that you “did it again.”
These are powerful emotions that only reinforce the bad-bad loop.
Be gentle with yourself, make it fun, and imagine yourself as a child trying to learn something new!
When I do this with my own bad habits, I like to say, “Whoopies” out loud when I realize I’ve done the behavior because it makes me think of a little kid & makes me laugh!
Then I move right into my positive behavior.
Bad-Good Double Habit
As you continue to do this over time, you create a “Double Habit” or an “Open Loop” cycle in your mind & brain!
This means instead of going from a bad habit to bad feelings/thoughts, you go from a bad habit to a good habit to good feelings/thoughts!
Yes, as you can see above, the bad feelings & thoughts will come back, but over time, instead of defaulting right to the bad habit, the positive cargo you’ve been adding in will take over the bad habit!
This happens because the double habit you’ve created slowly, but surely dismantles the neural pathway that represented the bad habit & rewrites your neural pathway for this loop!
Here is a simplified version you can take a screenshot of!
The Positive Cargo Process:
Access: Pause right after you do the bad habit
Adjust: Insert positive behavior
Act: Execute the positive behavior
Tag me on social media with the screenshot & the positive cargo you’re gonna use to break your bad habit!
It’s Your Turn
Now it’s your turn! Knowledge is useless if it’s not used!
How are you going to apply today’s blog? The best time to start is right now.
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I believe in you and until next time… Live Heroically 🧠