Interest-Based Habits

I believe I’ve read Atomic Habits by James Clear five or six times now. It’s a really nice book, though I’ve been told that if it doesn’t click for you Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg may be better for your brain. Both dive into the creation of habits and why they get stuck in our brains, then give strategies to help build or break habits deliberately.

One of the reasons I go back to Clear’s book so often is that habits are something I struggle to create, keep, or destroy on purpose. I feel as though I often need a refresher on the psychology to help me remember what I need to do to make sure I drink a cup of water right when I wake in the morning or be sure to do the dishes before I head out the door.

Part of this, I have since learned, is that brains with ADHD have a different nervous system than neurotypical brains. Neurotypical brains, according to William Dodson, MD, have an importance- or priority-based nervous system. All this means is that people who do not have ADHD can create a habit based on the importance of the task to themself, to others, and whether that task has rewards or consequences. It seems logical, and for a really long time, I wondered why–when I knew exercising every day would make me healthy in the long term–I could never make the habit stick.

Turns out, ADHD brains have an interest-based nervous system. This means that importance and rewards or consequences don’t really influence the decision to start or complete a task. An interest-based nervous system means having to believe in a task on a deeper level, having to be intrigued, or motivated by competition. Essentially, people with ADHD have to like the task, or–in this case–habit, to do the task. It looks self-serving from the outside, but just because someone enjoys a task doesn’t mean it’s not helping someone else.

Back to Atomic Habits, while the book talks about how to build habits in certain ways and even recommendations on how to decide what habits to build (by looking at your values and what gives you meaning), I had never made the connection that I needed to like the habits themselves in order to get them done.

I think this means it’s time for a reread and some careful examination of how to build my life around habits I enjoy. I’ll be sure to keep you updated.

3 August 2022 books productivity strategies

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