Tim Ferriss has found a great way to remove negative thoughts from your day:

Will designed a solution in the form of a simple purple bracelet, which he offered to his congregation with a challenge: go 21 days without complaining. Each time one of them complained, they had to switch the bracelet to their other wrist and start again from day 0. It was simple but effective metacognitive awareness training.

You give yourself feedback when you complain — your mind learns. A simple and effective metacognitive feedback loop.

This is a variant of Aleister Crowley‘s exercise — he proposes that you carry around a pair of scissors and stab yourself in the hand every time you speak about yourself. I prefer the bracelet version, which is just as effective. You don’t need negative feedback, only consistent feedback.  In this post, I examine some guidelines for setting up a feedback exercise for yourself.

Here are some tips for using this or any feedback mechanism:

1. Set the timeframe for the challenge well beyond your abilities:

I can stop bad habits for a week out of sheer willpower. But then I lose it, and I’m back to where I started — and now demoralized. With this kind of challenge, you are forcing yourself to exhaust your fortitude and study the bad habit in its natural habitat (pun intended), when you aren’t in total control. That’s the feedback you’re looking for.

2. Awareness and change go hand in hand:

Frame your feedback positively: You cannot change if you are not aware of what needs to change. And you cannot become aware if you don’t slip up and repeat your habit. So welcome the chance to give yourself feedback — it’s your unconscious mind giving you help.

3. Choose a neutral feedback message:

Aleister Crowley’s technique of stabbing yourself will most certainly make you painfully aware of how much you talk about yourself. But it might leave nasty scars not only on your hand, but on your psyche — a negative conditioning whenever you talk about yourself in the future. Choosing a neutral message, like switching the bracelet to the other hand, will only highlight the behavior, not render it frightening.

4. Operationalize the habit:

It’s important to choose a behavior that is as specific as possible — it shouldn’t be vague or ambiguous. For instance, Timothy chose a specific form of complaining which was very precise. Define your behavior so that at a glance you can recognize it. Don’t, for example, choose to stop having “negative feelings.” What does that mean? You’ll probably find that it doesn’t mean anything.

I have started using a rubber band as a bracelet, and I’m already enjoying the results: even though I haven’t noticed a drop in my complaining in the 24 hours since I started, I’m glad that I’m more aware of it. I can’t wait to use it for these other things:

  • e-prime: switch the band whenever you use the verb “to be”
  • priorities: switch the band whenever I find myself worrying about or doing trivial things when I have more important things to do
  • emotional investment: whenever I invest emotionally in something unimportant to me
  • posture: whenever I find myself slouching sitting down

What kinds of feedback loops do you find effective, and what do you use them for? In other words, what do you think people should do more or less of?

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