Youtube is my main weakness. My biggest source of procrastination. The bottleneck of my productivity. The pain in my butt. It’s an habit crafted over 12 years. It started with a simple phrase that came from my cousin’s mouth:
“Have you heard of a website called Youtube?”
From that point on, I was hooked. Thanks cousin…
Fast forwarding to 2017, Youtube is now a fine-tuned entertaining machine, with every single aspect of the website optimized to grab your attention and suck away any hopes of accomplishing anything during your lifetime.
For example, every time I get stuck on something, like writer’s block, I automatically default to procrastination mode and hop on Youtube.
It’s even more difficult when I’m editing a video and I need to actually check Youtube for footage. Procrastination Insane Mode ON.
While I’m writing about this, my behavior with Youtube reminds me of another behavior which I have been witnessing all my life.
The Perpetual Chimney
My Dad is a chain smoker, sometimes smoking 2 packs of cigarettes in one day. While talking with him about his addiction, I started to realized how similar both of ours behaviors are while under the habit’s influence.
More then a physiological addiction to nicotine, he also developed a mechanical habit of lighting a cigarette and start smoking. Both aspects of the habit create a powerful feedback loop, extremely difficult to break.
Years and years of seeing the effects of the habit on my Dad’s health, made me realize how powerful an habit can be and how it can compound over a long period of time.
I always gave him an hard time, it seemed so easy. Just stop smoking and you will be healthier!
The same can be said about me and my Youtube addiction. Just stop watching pointless videos and you will accomplish more of what really matters!
Now I feel you Dad. It’s hard!
It’s not nicotine but that dopamine feels good! Also Chrome makes is easy, I just need to type Y and press Enter. I know Mom doesn’t let you smoke on the bathroom. Sucks for you, I can always take my phone with me.
Like father Like son?
Is my dad responsible for my addiction? Yes and no.
Addictions or better, the tendency to become addicted is connected to both genetics and the environment. You can inherit the genes which makes you more prone to addictive behaviors but you aren’t born addicted.
So who to blame?
In one of Alan Watts lectures, he describes this act of blaming past generations for the present mistakes.
“Well, I am the way I am because my mother dropped me, and she dropped me because she was neurotic because her mother dropped her, and way we go back to Adam and Eve.”
It’s pointless to dowel on the past. The only thing we can do is take responsibility and fix our act. Like father like son, both need to put in the work.
Making a Decision
To begin changing habits, it’s important to acknowledge the addiction and making a decision. A permanent decision.
During the years, I have been battling with this procrastination habit. If I had made a true decision, procrastination would be dead a long time ago.
The word decision originates from Latin and it is a combination of two words. In my mother tongue, Portuguese, these two words are still identifiable.
Analyzing the origin of a word sometimes can be extremely powerful and the word “Decision” definitely benefits from this analysis.
Decision(EN) -> Decisão (PT)
“De” it’s a prefix which signifies the removal or the separation of something, like decode or d(e)isassembly.
“Cisão” means to cut, to slit, to divide.
By making a decision, several paths are presented to us. We can continue doing “business as usual” or we can take a new road. By choosing to split away from the old path, we are removing any possibilities of returning to the old ways and the only way is forward.
Instead of making decisions, we keep stating preferences. Making a true decision, unlike saying, “I’d like to quit smoking,” is cutting off any other possibilities. When you truly decide you’ll never smoke cigarettes again, that’s it. It’s over!
It’s quite liberating right? But is it enough?
Our brains are clever and above all, sneakier then a highly skilled ninja. Making decision using the above mindset is a good first step but in moments of weakness, that mental decision is not enough to stop the monkey brain.
Fortunately, researchers have been studying how habits work and how we can influence them.
Habits are a set of behaviors that are triggered unconsciously. They start as deliberate actions but over time through environmental or physical conditioning, the same action become automatic and we are no longer in control.
This is true for positive habits like brushing our teeth but it’s also true for negative habits. My dad started smoking because of his friends all smoked and it was the cool thing to do. Today, he smokes because he craves it.
The Habit Loop
In the book, “The Power of Habit”, Charles Duhigg explains how we can affect our habits by attacking them at different stages of what he calls, the Habit Loop:
The cue is what starts the whole thing. I noticed that what starts my “Youtube Habit” is either a obstacle in my workflow or a recommended video (if I need to use Youtube for work).
The routine is self-explanatory. The actions taken to achieve the reward. In my case, each video is a cycle of this loop, with the reward being short-term pleasure and a break from work.
To begin changing the habit, I can either act on the cue or seek the same reward without the routine. A popular alternative is using apps like ColdTurkey to block access to Youtube, stopping the routine.
If you are interested in checking out the teachings in the book, please use this link to support the blog.
Next time, I will create a plan of action to deal with the habit based in this loop. Consider this a introduction to habits and their inner workings.
Independently of your habit, it is possible to change it. Being responsible for your actions and learn about the mechanisms behind them is half way to change yourself and begin a upward spiral of positive actions.
Dad… Are you ready?
Number of times the “Youtube Habit” kicked in while writing this post: 5