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Following the Rules

How to Avoid Burnout

At some points in life it’s like we’re on cloud nine; able to get anything we want done, walking through the streets and getting smiled at and getting looked at by women, but other times it’s different. You see the subtle signs of rejection on the people around you, people who you thought were your friends stop returning you calls for awhile, your jokes fall flat and your productivity slows down.

Crazy guy

Why aren’t they laughing?!?!??!

I wonder if there’s a solution to this problem. How can you get into this state, which Daniel Kahneman calls the flow state, and how can you stay there?

I would start by identifying some of the stuff going on the next time you reach flow and then trying to replicate it.

Did you talk to a good friend today? Style your hair so you really liked it? Wear a color you know looks good? These are all things that contribute to having a positive self image and could all contribute to the flow state. I hear that if you think you’re a badass and the most wanted person in the universe that it will radiate from you and become true, so maybe saying some affirmations in the mirror might help.

A couple of goofs

Looking good, bro.

Either way, willpower is finite and if you find yourself working harder than you normally do don’t be surprised if you find yourself in line at McDonald’s going for a sundae later on. I first read about the problem in Happiness Advantage in which Shawn Achor talks about wanting to play the guitar but finding himself constantly watching TV instead. In order to make his practice more regular, Dr. Achor set up a system where as soon as he thought about playing, he could instantly pick the thing up and start. In his studies, he determined that if he waited longer than 20 seconds to get going it was a lot harder to do.

You’ve probably seen this yourself: sometimes you might think “I should really do homework,” but than you realize your backpack is all the way across the room, you have no idea what needs to be done and you can’t find a pen. More than 20 seconds pass and your willpower kicks in; hopefully you haven’t used much willpower the last few days but if you have by working out, cleaning the house or cooking at home, you’re done. It will be too hard in the moment for you to do the work, and soon you’ll wander back to Facebook, Gmail, Cracked or Twitter.

I was emailing back and forth with Adam Gilbert of MyBodyTutor, a system that relies on face to face declarations to help people lose weight, and a system I’ve never paid for, and we were talking about motivation. I told him I was having trouble going to the grocery store because eating out was easier, and he said something similar to what Achor suggested. Adam said that I should try attaching grocery shopping to a habit I’ve already formed. I chose going to class and tried his new system. Going to the store after class worked decently well and now my fridge is always packed with food, but I still find myself going out way too often.

There’s a book called Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg where he writes if we do something once and figure out it isn’t so bad, all the negative propaganda we put on an action will fade away. Take fast food for example; you can sit there in your room and think how bad fast food is, think about the stomach aches it gives you, the way the chemicals hurt your system and the way it’s dense caloric content bloats you up, but as soon as you put that Gordita Crunch in your mouth, all those negative thoughts go away for a second. Fast food is now something you do; it’s in your frame of reference, and the only way to break away from this new temptation is to find out what you get out of fast food and replace the habit with one that gives you the same benefit while being less destructive.

Eating grapes.

Grapes: good and good for you.

For me, I eat out mostly for something to do. It’s hard to stay sitting around the house online all day so to break it up I go out. Driving around also gives me time to listen to audiobooks which I really like. Today, when I felt the urge to go out to breakfast, I walked downstairs, grabbed my bike, taped those stupid iPod earbuds onto my head and listened to Parallel Worlds for 45 minutes. Will it become a solid habit? Only time will tell, but now, just like fast food, bike riding is in my frame of reference so it’s likely I’ll do it again soon.

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