The Physician Philosopher Podcast
TPP #19: New Year, New You – Building/Breaking Habits
Happy New Year! 2020 was a rough year for so many of us. And I’m so grateful for everyone on the frontlines fighting this virus. So many of you have had to be strong and I appreciate you all.
2021 is already going to be better, and you have the ability to make it that way. Today’s episode is all about how to make and break habits that will impact your new year.
Want to make some big changes? Want to live a life full of intentional decisions? Then this is the episode for you!
Today You’ll Learn
- How to build habits that will make 2021 amazing.
- The right way to handle all those annoying problems.
- How to crush the bad habits that are holding you back.
- How to make intentional decisions.
- And more!
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It's that time of year, new year's resolutions are upon us. What if you make this the year where you actually stick to the new you that you're trying to build? If you're looking to build a new habit or break a bad one, this show is going to teach you how to accomplish your goals. Let's go. This is the Physician Philosopher Podcast. I'm Dr. Jimmy Turner, an anesthesiologist, personal finance blogger, and life coach for doctors. Physician Philosopher Podcast teaches you how to create the life that you deserve. One thought at a time. Start before you're ready, start by starting, start now.
Hey, everyone. Welcome to episode number 19 of the Physician Philosopher Podcast, where we take an uncurated and unapologetic look into physician life. So, I used to have these conversations with Kristen, my wife, on occasion about what we felt would define our generation. Like would it be a new invention? Would it be a certain war Like it has been for many generations before us? What's the defining thing that happened to our generation and how we handled that, and what that would say about us in the future, the legacy that our generation would leave. And who knew it would end up being a pandemic. At least that's the way it looks right now. And as I record this episode, a few weeks in advance, numbers, they're kind of surging. Where I am, we live in North Carolina, and it seems like they are surging everywhere else too.
States are shutting back down again. New York City just basically closed up shop for indoor dining. I mean, just all this stuff is happening. And if you're anything like me, you're going to be glad to have 2020 behind us, right? That's something that I look forward to as I record this and as you're listening to it, probably something that you've thought about as well. Fortunately, there was some hope on the horizon with a vaccine coming out from Moderna and Pfizer. And so I also want to say that while I'll never forget what a privilege it has been to take care of people in their sickest times, particularly during this pandemic, it was also a really tough year. We all had a lot of family members, friends, coworkers get sick with COVID, and many of us even lost people to it. So, as we start this new year, I want to start off with some gratitude just by simply saying that I'm thankful for you listening to the show.
I'm thankful for what you do. Thank you for putting yourself at risk in order to take care of others in need in your clinics, your hospitals, emergency rooms, or the operating rooms where you work. Thank you for fighting the fight, for dawning that PAPR, and the N95 and the goggles that wretch, straps aND indentations into your face for hours after you take them off. Thank you for going to work even when you dreaded the shift, when you sat in your car and you didn't look forward to going in, but you went in anyway. It's hard as hell being a doctor. And many of us, including myself, have shed tears in 2020 over some really horrific stuff. Just some really bad things that we've seen. So, thank you for getting help and finding an ear when you need it. Thank you for crying, thank you for being human, thank you for being you. And I also want to give a special shout out to our physician trainees.
Many of you have really taken the same risks that any of us on the attending physician faculty side have, and you've done that while earning a paycheck that's a fraction of what you deserve, what you're worth. And so thank you for being rock solid and for showing up every day to hone your craft during one of the toughest times in medical history. I am proud to call each and every trainee I work with a colleague. They all call me by my first name and there's a reason because I'm not a big fan of hierarchy. I'm a big fan of meeting people where they are, of telling them that they're enough, thanking them for the service they provide, and for recognizing that my residents at Wake are amazing. The medical students I work with at Wake are amazing. All of the other students that I work with at Wake are amazing. And I'm just so thankful for them showing up, being who they are and for being a part of the team.
And so all that to say, thank you for being you. In this new year, that is the first thing that I want you to hear from me. You are important, you are enough, you are loved, you're appreciated, and that was all true before there was a pandemic and it remains true today. So, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for who you are and thank you for just everything that you've done in the last 12 months. Really I can't begin to say how powerful it is. The stories that I hear and see, you guys are amazing. So, I just want to say thank you. And if no one else does, in this thankless world of medicine that can often take place, I just want to say thank you. So, today's episode number 19. Today's thought is this, in order to break bad habits or to build good ones, we have to create new neuronal pathways in our brain that are as well-worn as the old ones that we used to have.
So, welcome to episode number 19 and welcome to the new year. If you're listening to this months from now, welcome to the new you. I hope the show helps you get there. Regardless of the time of year, there is never a wrong time to develop a better version of yourself. And that's what the show is all about. I love where you are right now. I love you're enough right now, this very moment. Love yourself how you are, but you can always become a better version of you, right? And so that's what the show is about. Today We're going to touch on both some high-level thoughts about habit formation, some good examples, maybe some bad ones. And then at the end, once we understand the big picture, we'll discuss some practical tips on how to keep those resolutions this time around. Because we all know that the problem is we know our history, right?
New Year's comes around and I'm not a big fan of new year's resolutions in general, I'll just be honest upfront. People often set these goals and say, I'm going to lose 50 pounds, I'm going to start working out more often, I'm going to save more money, I'm going to be a better wife or husband, or son, or daughter or whatever your roles are in your life. We have set multiple resolutions in past years and failed to keep them. That's most of our stories, right? Most people fit that bill are like, "Ah, last year I said I was going to work out three times a week and that stopped by February."
So what's going on here? What can we do to make things different? Why don't we stick to our goals? Why don't we stick to our resolutions? Said differently, how can we desire to lose weight and keep it off this time, or to cut down on drinking and to stay that way. Save more money, pay off debt, start that business we've been thinking about for the last three years, or be the better husband or wife, mom, or dad, a better physician, to pray more often, to read more, to finish that course you started. All of these are goals, habits, or resolutions that we say that we want. The problem is that we have very well-worn pathways in our brain that have been developed over years and years and years,
As they say, Rome, wasn't built in a day and neither were these neuronal pathways in your head. For example, let's say that you want to lose 20 pounds, right? New year, you're like, I'm 20 pounds overweight, I want to lose 20 pounds. Well, the habits that you developed around your eating and around your exercise, your thoughts on food and working out, that's what led to your current weight. So, when it comes to habit formation, I always liked to really draw back on Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman's work. I think that these two Israeli psychologists are just so unbelievable in what they've discovered about how we think. And so they describe it in terms of system one and system two. And if you really want to take a deep dive into this, like if this is your wheelhouse and you get off on this stuff and you really like it, then Kahneman actually has a book called Thinking Fast And Slow.
And so that said, they've described system one and system two. And the idea here is that system one is an automatic fluid, fast, a logical kind of habitual system. It occurs with very little thought. And for example, this is the system that you use when you're driving home after work, and then you get home and you're like, wow, I don't really remember the drive. You're just kind of on autopilot, right? You didn't even have to think about it. I know many of you do this, and I'm not just talking about like when you're post-call and sleepy. Many of us jump in our car, our truck, whatever you drive, you head home and then when you get there, you're like, gosh, I don't even remember that drive. That's system one. But it didn't start that way, right? That's not where we started.
When you were 15 or 16 years old learning how to drive, you started with system two, which is very slow, and logical and methodical, and very intentional. If you've ever seen a new driver try to parallel park, or you've seen a new driver try to park between cones or drive in a narrow place between two cars, get on the highway for the first time, there's lots of very slow, methodical thought processes that go on. And this is where we start with almost every single habit. We start with system two, it's very slow and then eventually we go to system one. That's how we learn math, right? So, my seven and 10 year olds with their multiplication tables, that's now a system one thing for them. They can just snap off multiplication facts when you ask it to them. But when they started, it was hard, it was slow, it was methodical, it was rote memorization that they had to put the work into.
So, we spend most of our lives sending as many problems, habits, whatever, as we can from system two to system one. Our brain's job is to process things, to make them simpler, and then to send them to the automatic system that just makes them happen. Now, this is very good for lots of reasons, right? You don't have to think that hard when you drive, so that when you get to work your brain is not worn out, and you can still take care of patients. That's a good thing. This happens for a reason, and it's very, very helpful for us in terms of survival, of work and in everything else we do. So, this isn't a bad thing, but it can be a bad thing. And the classic example of this is Pavlov's dog, right? Where the person brought the food into the room, they rang the bell before they did that. And so the dogs started associating ringing the bell with food.
And so when they saw the food, originally, they would drool, and then they got to the point where it became a system one thing for them. Associated the bell with food, and so when they rang the bell, they would drool. Now, this is a conditioned response, but they're two separate events, right? The bell and food are different, but then they began to associate them. And the same thing happens in addicted rats who keep pounding on the button even at the expense of their health. Like they will die to get things that are addicting, they will stop taking care of their young, they will just everything, right? So, bad habits can become very system one where there's just this urge, desire, reward, phenomenon, where you just have this urge to do something or a bell rings, and you have a conditioned response. It's the same thing that we do when we have cookies put in front of us and we love sweets, or we have a beer put in front of us and we love to drink alcohol.
And so these conditioned responses are system one responses. You don't even think about them. And a lot of people, when I'm coaching them will tell me like, "Jimmy, there's not a thought. This is just a circumstance. Someone put something in front of me and I eat it. That's all that happens." But there is a thought, interestingly. I want that, this'll taste good. Whatever the thought is, that leads to you then consuming set item. But for a lot of us, if you think about it, like if you want to lose weight, or stop drinking, or whatever your goals are for the new year, a lot of us will just say like, this just feels automatic. And the reason why is because you've made this habit a system one habit. It wasn't always that way. And this is true, because think about the other things that you don't do.
If you're not a smoker, listening to the show, you probably don't just go out and be like, man, I really want a cigarette right now. For you to go and purchase a cigarette at a store, it would be a very slow, intentional, methodical decision because you've never had a cigarette before. Now, if you're a smoker, it's very system one, right? You just go buy cigarettes from the store is what you do. It's very automatic. But all of our habits start in system two. And so interestingly, we can go back to system two. So, we can decondition responses. We've seen this in dogs. You ring the bell enough times and the food doesn't come, they start deconditioning that, they will no longer drool. And so the cool thing is the difference between humans and animals, there are many, but one of the cool ones is that we have a neocortex, right?
We have a brain that can watch itself. We can watch our own thoughts. Love that idea, by the way. I mention it all the time. It's very meta. It's very philosophical. Hey, this is the Physician Philosopher Podcast, right? But that is what makes us different than animals. If the animal keeps hitting the button and getting the addictive substance to the extent that they don't really care if they live or not, or if they take care of their young or whatever, they don't even seek water at that point. If you just keep letting them hit the button and they keep getting that reward, they will do it until they die. Humans often can have the opportunity to have insight and say, "Well, the longterm result of this isn't exactly what I want. Although the immediate gratification is great, the long-term solution is not what I want. So, I'm going to try to change my ways."
Having that insight is what makes us human. So, if system one is our automatic system, we have to assess if this system is leading to results that we want. That's what makes us human, right? So, if you are overweight and you look at your diet, you look at your exercise habits and everything else in your life, and you determined that, a lot of this is coming from automatic habits that you have in your life that's happened seemingly without your thought, is that what you want? And if the answer is no, then you have the opportunity to go back to system two and to rewire your brain, to create new neuronal pathways, just like the old ones that you've already made. And so let's not make this about you though, let's make this about me so that this is a little less personal as you're listening to this on your drive, your workout, your commute, wherever you are.
For my entire life, I have always eaten anything sweet put in front of me. I've literally gotten in arguments with family about this because they'd bring cookies or brownies on vacations, like to the beach, and by day two, they would be gone. And so the reason why it's because Jimmy ate them. So, the person in the family looking for a cookie after dinner on day three of the beach trip would be unpleasantly surprised that they're gone, right? In particular, I love sour candy, I love chocolate, I love baked goods. Please do not send me any of these by the way. In fact, my parents used to buy me packages of sour punch straws, the straws that come in a little packages, there's 12 or eight of them in the thing. And I'm not talking about like packages, they would buy me two boxes. There's 24 like each package.
So, I'd get 48 of these individually wrapped things that each of them have eight or 12 candy straws in them. I would eat those 48 things in like 14 days, maybe three weeks if I was lucky. He definitely would not last past the end of January. And I have been like that my entire life. Now fortunately, I played soccer and baseball and other sports my entire life, so I'd burn thousands and thousands of calories every day. So, it didn't really matter how much I ate. Until I got to medical school, and as you can imagine, I didn't play any of those sports in medical school. And all of a sudden life changed. So, looking back, it never really felt like a decision. Like those cookies at the beach or the sour punch straws, it's just like there was something in front of me, I wanted it, I ate it, it tasted good.
And I just built that dopaminergic pathway in my brain of like urge, desire, reward. And I just kept rewarding this thing and just wearing out this neuronal pathway until at some point I decided that I didn't want to be that way anymore. The same things happened with my drinking. When the pandemic happened, I started drinking more, it just felt automatic, right? Three o'clock, five o'clock they'd roll around, I make myself a old fashioned. And I'm a big fan of putting a rye in a rye bourbon into an old fashioned, love them. So, I'd have an old fashioned and then maybe I'll have two or three beers. But it basically turned into like daily drinking for the first time in my life, and I know that that story is actually pretty common because I hear about it from other people. I'll be happy to admit that out in public. Definitely didn't drink on call, but definitely drank most days when I wasn't. And so it just felt automatic.
There's just that time of the day I wanted to drink, it's been a long day, I deserve it. This was an unexamined automatic habit. But when I finally got to a weight that was unacceptable in my head, I started examining my thoughts and then I found coaching. So, in times past, I've tried to stop other habits, whether it's biting my nails, eating in habitual ways that aren't healthy for me, drinking. I mean, there are many habits. My phone is a bad one. So, I get on my phone every time I feel bored. So, we'll do a whole show on that one probably, just buffering with your phone for boredom. But before I found coaching, I had failed at changing so many habits in my life. From biting my nails to drinking, to eating, to not exercising enough. And it was interesting to me because coaching in and of itself, of course, it's a helpful thing, it's why I went into coaching. It's why I like helping doctors solve their own problems, whether it's at work, or at home, or building a business, or whatever it happens to be.
But really, it goes back to Tversky and Kahneman's system one and system two, right? What coaching does is it slows you down and says, Hey, those previously unexamined system one automatic thoughts that have been going on in your head that it produced the results that you don't want, let's take a look at them. Are these the results you want? And then when you slow down and you're like, no, it's not. I'm 20 pounds overweight, I drink two beers a day every day and I probably shouldn't be doing that. And I'd like to just drink on occasion, and I bite my nails, I'm on my phone too much, I don't pay enough attention to my kids. Whatever your thing is, when you slow down and examine system one and realize, Oh, like I'm the rat hammering a way at this button, and I'm getting these addictive substances via dopamine from my phone, or alcohol, or eating or whatever it is, I don't want the results they're producing.
That's when we can go back to system two, to be more methodical, to be intentional, right? And so in coaching, we call this, system one is the unintentional thought model that's producing the results you don't want. System two is the very intentional thought model. That's where we want to be. And so in coaching we help you get there, and then after you practice system two enough, like this new habit, this new person that you're trying to be, those thoughts become beliefs and then you wear out a new neuronal pathway that produces the results you want. And all of a sudden, six months down the road, you're working out three days a week, you're not eating candy anymore, you're having two beers on the weekend on Saturday, but not any of the other days.
It will completely change your life, and then at some point it becomes your identity. It's just who you are. You're just a person that works out three times a week. You're just a person who doesn't drink unless you've decided 24 hours in advance. You're just a person who doesn't eat cookies, or sweets, or processed sugar, whatever your thing is. Whatever you're currently working on. I'm just giving you examples from my own life, because I think that it makes it a little less personal for you and honestly, I think it's good for me to admit a lot of the failures that I've had in my life, so you can recognize that I've been there. Struggle with lots of stuff, I'm very human. And I still struggle with stuff today, always will. And I want to get into this a little bit deeper.
So, our goal is to examine the system one thoughts that have been going on, this automatic thoughts have been going on. Determining if that's who we want to be. And if it is great, just keep the automatic thought. It's great that it's automatic, makes it easy. If it doesn't, if it leads to results you don't want in your life, it's time to examine those a little more deeply and get them back in the system too. And the first way to start doing this is to answer tough questions first. This is the reason that coaching is so important. Whether you're coaching yourself, you're talking to a coach professionally, what thoughts do you currently have around the habit you want to change? So, let's say it's about drinking. For me drinking is a buffer.
So, it helps me deal with two specific things after I've done a lot of thought work and gotten coaching on this myself. It helps me when I am bored and it helps me deal with anxiety. So, if I have a really bad day at work and I want to come home, and I just want to forget about things, and I don't want to have those anxious thoughts about that one really sick patient I took care of, and I'm not sure how they're doing, or I had a tough conversation, I want a drink. I deserve a drink. I want to take the edge off. These are things that I would tell myself and then I would just go have a drink. And you know what? It works. Unfortunately, that automatic habit leads to all sorts of things that I don't particularly want. I don't want the reflux that I get after I drink alcohol.
I don't like it the kind of sleep that I get after I drink alcohol. I wake up two or three times in the middle of the night, do not feel refreshed in the morning. I don't want my kids to see me pouring a pint every time I have a problem. I also don't want them ever seeing me slur my words. That's not really a goal of mine in life. "Hey, kids, when you grow up, you can slur your words." It's not the kind of dad that I want to be. I want to be an example to my kids of what's possible. And so drinking recently, has become a really big focus of mine. And now I've cut down to drinking once a week, maybe twice on occasion, and it's always decided 24 hours in advance. I would just decided specifically what I'm going to drink, how much I'm going to drink, why I'm drinking. I have to answer those questions very intentionally because I'm trying to make this a system two process.
And eventually after doing this enough times, I'm going to make it a system one automatic process where every time a draft beer is available to me, I do not have this urge to say yes to it. Because right now, anytime there's an IPA on draft, man, like that thing's calling my name. I love IPAs. I love old fashions, right? Now, I had to dive into the thoughts that were leading me to drink. And some of them are innocuous. Like, I just want to drink, I just want to have a beer. And that seems pretty innocent until you realize that the reason you want to have a beer is because you're bored right now. The reason that you want to have beer is to pass the time, it's because you're anxious, it's because you just want to take the edge off.
And once you focus on the long-term consequences of the things that you're doing, like I was gaining weight, getting the reflux, the lack of sleep, not being the dad that I wanted to be, not being the husband that I wanted to be. And then you have to decide, why do you want to be any different than you currently are, right? Those long-term outcomes, they need to be really worth it. And the short term outcomes often provide immediate gratification. So, you have to overcome that. Now, we're going to talk about this in a second. One of the skills that you can use to help here. But I need you to really tap into your future self and who you want to become, and how you want to get there, and what your current decisions are costing you. And that person in the future who only drinks once a week when it's appropriate or on the occasion when you feel like it and you've decided intentionally, that person has the answers.
The person right now who has the urge or desire like Pavlov's dog every time an IPA is on draft, is not the person that has the answers, my friend. The person that has the answers is the person in the future who drinks an IPA when they've decided intentionally that they want to. And that intentional decision is so important because that's very different than the dopaminergic system, right? If you decide in advance that you want to drink something, or eat something, or exercise, or whatever your thing is, you've made intentional neocortex, high level human thought that I want to do this because of X, Y, and Z, and this is how I'm going to do it.
That is very different than teaching yourself the Pavlov's dog, dopaminergic pathway of the bell gets rang, I get food, I drool, right? You have that animal response in your brain in the limbic system. That's just the way that your brain is wired. So, if you let that kick in and take over, it will. Your brain wants to do that, your brain's job is to take complicated things, make them simple, and then make them automatic. Unfortunately, some of those things that were helpful to us 200, 300, 400, 500 years ago, are now leading to obesity epidemics, and a bunch of alcoholics and people that you know are really struggling with things because we have such an excess of everything around us these days.
So, we want to make it intentional. That is one of the goals. And the way that you do that is by slowing down, examining your thoughts, examining your why, examining the thoughts that lead to the results that you don't want right now. Whether it's working out, losing weight, saving money, building that business you finally want to build, whatever it is. What's going on right now that's not allowing those things to happen, and how can we change them? How can we get there? So, tap into your future self, ask the tough questions, so on and so forth. So, the second thing that ties into this is the skill of allowing. So, really when something happens and I'll just keep going back to examples with me, right? The IPA gets put in front of me, or a client once told me every time he has this plate put in front of him, he has this overwhelming urge to just eat everything on the plate, because he grew up in a household that you just clear your plates, what you do.
And so when you have that urge again, oftentimes urge is feel automatic. So, you have three things that you can do, right? You can give into the urge by reacting. So, if you're angry, you could scream. If you have a plate full of food in front of you, you could eat it. If you have a beer slid in front of you, you could drink it. If the phone is in your pocket and it buzzes, you could look at it. You just give into the urge to check it. And that's just the pure dopaminergic system, you're not processing your feelings, not processing your thoughts. It's very unintentional, it's very system one. That is the first thing that you can do with an urge, a feeling. The second thing you do is you can resist it and be like, no, I am white knuckling this thing, I have decided that I am going to stop drinking.
So, you just try to hold the door shut. No, I'm just not doing it. I'm just not going to do it. I'm just not going to do it. And it gets harder and harder and harder, and that is a miserable feeling by the way. Just by pure willpower, trying to stop doing whatever you've done for 30 years, 40 years, 50 years, however old you are listening to this, that is a miserable experience that leads to worse anxiety, and then you will end up giving in to whatever it is that you're trying to stop doing. That's the second option. So, you've got reacting, resisting and the third one is avoiding or buffering. So, we will often times go to something like, I just really don't want to feel this way, and so I'm going to buffer with my cell phone, with my drinking, with my eating, by overworking, by staying at the hospital longer. And those are the three things you can do when you have a feeling that you don't really want this producing results that you don't necessarily want, right?
So, the feeling happens, you can react to it, you can resist it, or you can avoid it through buffering. But there's this other thing that you can do, which is called allowing. And for any of you that meditate, the example that I always give for this is, there's a process in meditation called noting. And so what that is basically is they commonly ask you to focus on your breaths, and then if you get distracted, they want you to note what it is. It's either a thought or a feeling. And they'll say, just simply note it, focus on your breathing, and if it's a thought to say, thought, and then come back to your breathing. If it's a feeling, your leg itches, feeling, and then come back to your breathing.
And that process is simply noticing something, allowing it to be there, and then coming back to the focus that you had. This is the same process. You're trying to stop doing something, so you have the urge to drink alcohol, you have the urge to eat the plate of cookies, you have the urge to spend the money that you're trying to save. By just watching your brain, recognizing the thoughts that you're having, describing the feeling in your body, you become the watcher of your brain. You note it just like in those meditative exercise, and you come back to your breathing. Or in this case, you come back to the feeling and just describe it. You just think about it. You just allow it to happen. This is why it's called allowing.
And that feels very differently than resisting, it feels very differently than reacting, and it does not lead to buffering. And this, my friends, is a superpower. And I used to think this was just like voodoo witchcraft, yeah, yeah, rah, rah sort of stuff, until I started actually practicing this. I was like, "Hey, what the hell. I'll just give it a shot." It works. I'm not going to lie to you. I don't bite my nails anymore, I drink once a week now. This one skill has allowed me, no pun intended, to change my life. I just allow urges now when they happen and yeah, they suck. Yeah, they're not great. Yes, I write them down. Yes, I think about how it feels. I describe it in my head or even out loud sometimes.
But then I allow it and I don't act on the urge. And if you do that enough times, what you were doing is Pavlov's dog. You are ringing that bell, ringing that bell, ringing that bell, the food is not coming and eventually you will decondition the response just like in those dogs. It's the same exact process. You are allowing something to happen without conditioning the response anymore. And that will allow you to break a bad habit. And so if you're saying, I want to eat better. In other words, I want to stop eating things that I shouldn't, or I want to stop drinking, this is how you do that. And it's powerful. I want to stop biting my nails. Any bad habit you have, this is one really super powerful way to do it. And speaking of that, the third thing is something that James Clear. So, a great book, Atomic Habits, if you haven't read it, fantastic book, highly recommended to you.
So, James is a habit expert, and James is someone who has spent a lot of time writing, reading about all the stuff. And he will tell you that there are proven ways to help you build good habits. So, one is to make things easy, right? So, if you're trying to build a good habit, make it hard to do the wrong thing, make it easy to do the right thing. This is the same thing we do with safety cultures in the operating room, right? Make it easy to do the right thing, hard to do the wrong thing. So, if you're struggling with eating, take the temptation, what is your temptation? Take it away, make it very hard to do it. Make it easy, bring lots of healthy options into your house. Lots of fruit, lots of things that you do want to be eating, make them constantly available to you.
And if you do that, you make it easy to do the right thing, hard to do the wrong thing. And when you do the right thing, take it to another level, give yourself a reward. And it can be something as simple as like a marble jar or, Hey, when I work out, I get to then go veg out and watch Netflix for 30 minutes. That's my reward. I work out, I watch Netflix, right? So, you pair something that you really like to do with something that you're trying to make a habit. You habit-stack it is what James calls it.
And then you can also track your progress, this is also a reward system too, by like something simple. If trying to stop drinking, you're trying to eat better, and you have these urges. You're trying to stop looking at your phone as much, whatever your thing is and then you track it. And life coach school, will teach you there is that if you do this 100 times, I don't know if it takes a hundred, but that's what they say. If you do it 100 times, then you will create a new habit. And so they'll do some something simple like a marble jar, where you have 100 marbles in one jar, and every time that you have an urge that you will allow, you practice that skill, you take the marble from the jar and you put it in the new jar. And then after you've done that 100 times, you've really learned the skill of allowing the urge to happen in that given instance.
And amazingly, this isn't a time-bound thing. You can actually do this over a week or so, maybe even less if you really focused on it. But once you've allowed that urge enough time, you've learned that skill to allow the urge, to have a plate of cookies in front of you and to not eat them. And it doesn't feel like resisting, it doesn't feel like you're holding the door shut. You just don't really have the desire anymore to do that habit that you used to do. It's just not your identity anymore. And that's really what's happened. So, you can track your progress. However you figure this out for you, make it easy to do the right thing and hard to do the wrong thing. That's one of the beautiful things about habit formation, right? If you can do that, it really, really helps. And the last thing that I want to mention on this podcast is probably the most important.
So, when you're doing this, when you set a goal, you've written it down, you've been really intentional about it, you got some coaching, figured out your thoughts, you know your why, you're making it easy to do the right thing, you're learning how to allow urges and not act on them. What happens when you fall back into your old habit? What happens when you eat the cookie when you didn't want to? What happens when you spend the money that you wanted to save? What happens when you check your phone even though you said you were going to put it on, do not disturb when you walk in the door, so you can be more intentional with your time with your family? This, my friends, is the part that is the best. You have the opportunity to unlearn and relearn, to love yourself right where you are, right now in your broken ways that aren't consistent with who you want to be. And you have two options when that happens, right? When you have the drink you didn't want, when you check your phone, when you eat the cookie, when you do whatever.
You can either shame yourself and say, "Gosh, I'm a terrible person. I can't believe I did that. I'd committed to not doing anymore and I'm still doing it. What a terrible person. I can't believe myself." And you can guess, although I probably don't have to tell you, you can guess where that's going to lead, which is just to you doing it more and more and more. So, if you're trying to give up whatever, shame is not a helpful emotion, it's called an indulgent emotion that produces results you don't want in your life. And so what you're going to do is you're going to have another drink. You're going to eat another cookie. You're going to check your phone again. Because you're just a terrible person. What's the point? Why even try? I tried and I'm not good enough and I can't figure it out. Shame is not the answer.
The answer, my friend, is to choose curiosity instead. Huh, I wonder why I did that. I wonder why I had the drink when I said I wasn't going to do that unless I decided 24 hours in advance. I wonder what I could do next time. I wonder what led to that problem. I wonder why the urge was different this time and I couldn't allow it or didn't allow it, and I have in times past, that's interesting, isn't it? If you choose curiosity and you become like the Sherlock Holmes of your life, then you adopt a personality, you adopt a way of thinking that allows you to solve the problem and move forward. So, you don't do it twice in a row, because that's starting a new habit, right? If you fall off the horse, pardon the expression, you can get back on. But you follow the horse two, three, four days in a row, now you're making a new habit. That's a problem.
But if you do something and you're curious about it, and you're a little investigator and you figure out the ways that led to the actions that happened, then you have the opportunity, in that instance, to become better, to become the person you want, to continue to hop back onto that new neuronal pathway that you're creating, and to get off of the old one that you just jumped back into. Choose curiosity over shame. I think this is such an important topic. Actually, I'll probably do a whole show on just this, because I think that shame ruins people's lives. I really think that's true, particularly in the physician world where we think we have to be perfect. So, I'll save that one for another day. Today's thought is this, in order to break bad habits or to build good ones, we have to create new neuronal pathway in our brain that are as well-worn as the old ones. So, until next time, my friends, start before you're ready, start by starting, start now.
My dad, Dr. Jimmy Turner is a physician, first personal finance blogger and a life coach for doctors. However, he is not your physician or your life coach, he also isn't a financial advisor, financial planner or accountant. Anything discussed in this podcast is for general education and entertainment purposes only. Have coach insights substitute for therapy, medicine, or medical treatment. However, if you are a doctor looking for a life coach, you can reach out to my dad at editoratthephysicianphilosopher.com.
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