Priming

I had a fairly unfortunate start to my morning today. I have a lab session due to start in ten minutes (9 am) at my university, and I am sat in the office of my bungalow two hours from that location. When I went to leave my house for school this morning, my front door had dropped meaning that I was unable to shut it. I'm now sat at home, missing a graded two-hour lab session, because I couldn't leave my home unattended with the front door wide open. Not a lot I could do about that, though.

I picked up the book I've been reading most recently, which is called The Power of Full Engagement, and carried on through to the end of that. Not related, directly, to my studies but it was a worthwhile read nonetheless.

There is a concept that the authors touch upon in this book called Priming. But rather than have this article as one single block of text, I'm going to explain it beneath the next subheading.

A Background of Priming

Before we get into what priming is exactly, you should probably know what context this idea was presented in. The authors were talking, at this point, about the need for rituals in our daily lives and how it is nigh on impossible to live via conscious decisions at every moment of every day.

Willpower is a reserve that depletes with use, and every time you make a decision you are pulling from that reserve. Naturally we, therefore, set up routines and rituals that we do automatically when a certain situation arises that requires none of this resource.

Priming is essentially a very simplistic way of adjusting negative routines (habits).

Prime Behaviour

The rules of priming, then? Fairly simple. You make one decision now that you simply have to remember in practice.

Firstly, you need to spend a little bit of time to identify the habits and routines that you aren't happy with. For many people, saying 'I want to eat healthier' is as deep as they narrow it down, but what does eating healthier mean to you? If you eat one less chocolate bar each day, that is technically healthier.

Eating healthy is a routine, but it is made of a vast number of smaller routines. When you pop into the kitchen for a snack, you might immediately go to the biscuit barrel. One primed behaviour would be to say, 'When I am about to grab some biscuits for a snack, I will instead opt for fruit.' That decision is already made, so it requires far less willpower to carry it out in action as oppose to making the decision each time you feel the pangs of hunger.

Conclusion

Identify areas of your life that you want to change. Every situation in life is created via the decisions of your past, and your decisions now will shape the future. When you've spent time identifying what it is you want to change, spend some time identifying the individual routines that result in the ultimate negative behaviour. For eating healthier:

  • Choose fruit over biscuits.

  • Shop with a shopping list, and add healthier options instead of snacks.

  • Opt for water or fruit juice instead of fizzy drinks.

  • Allow longer periods for meal times in order to cook, instead of microwave meals.

Of course, every person reading this will have their own unique vices that cause them to eat in an unhealthy manner, if that is a situation they're suffering from. My main problem is biscuits, hence its prominence in these examples.

Identify the negative behaviour, make a decision about (or prime) your future behaviour and then stay true to your decisions.

It seems simple, but simple is often the most effective course of action to take.

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