In this article, you will learn about a simple technique I invented to help you spot bad habits sooner and end them before they end up ending you.
In this article, you will learn about a simple technique I have invented to help you spot bad habits sooner and end them before they end up ending you.
When I was 28 years old, I was sleeping in the waiting room of an ugly hospital right outside of Hamburg.
My dreams were interrupted by an elderly Polish nurse who came into the room and shouted at me:
“Ey! wake up. Your father wants to see you, and for god’s sake, put your shoes on and take your bloody books with you, this is a hospital and not your damn living room!”
I got up, collected my psychology books, smiled at the nurse, and said: “Thank you”.
Paulina (the nurse) and I danced this routine for a couple of days in a row; she was the only nurse in the hospital that went above and beyond to keep my bat shit crazy father alive. I liked her.
I followed her through a couple of doors that opened by themselves by motion sensors.
“You know where he is“, she said while giving me one last angry look.
My dad’s room was at the end of the corridor of the cardiology ward.
I stopped for a second to take a deep breath and to pull my shoulders back – ”Don’t go soft now, Daniel”, I said to myself.
I hear two people cursing around the corner, and I see two nurses, a doctor, and a fat guy on a stretcher rush by me towards the emergency room.
I went on my way, speaking to myself about how very much I dislike hospitals.
I finally arrive at the doorstep. The door has a small, prisonescque glass window; I open the heavy door.
I see my old man lying in bed, next to him are big machines that are connected to him with tubes that go into his arms and up his nose.
“Oh, look prince busy gave himself the honours, what took you so long asshole?”, my father said jokingly.
“Shut up you old fart; you should be glad that I came all the way just to kick your ass in backgammon”, I responded.
He pulled out the backgammon game, but before we start, I take his hand and tell him that he is going to be all right.
His hand was ice cold, and I nearly cracked because it was apparent that the shadow of death was over him that day.
While playing, he explained to me the technical procedures of the heart surgery that he was going to have the next day.
He tells me that I do not have to worry and that if he does not wake up, at least, he does not have to eat his wife’s disgusting food anymore.
We both burst into laughter.
After I “let” my dad win at backgammon, I went outside to get some snacks for what could be our last time hanging out.
The second the door closes, I feel my eyes tear up, and I move through the yellowish, stinky corridors of the hospital.
Before I went to organise the snacks, I needed a minute for myself.
Just outside of the hospital was a spot in which I enjoyed taking a break from putting on the show of the tough, unphased son.
I looked up into the sky and saw that there was not a single cloud that night; above me was an ocean of stars with a crescent moon.
I see a guy walking from the hospital towards me, in his hand is a small plastic bag.
I knew him.
Earlier that day, we had chatted in the cafeteria; his wife delivered a baby prematurely, and both his wife and the baby had to stay in the hospital for the week.
We chatted a little, and I saw what was inside his bag: A litre of Coca-Cola, chips, and a box of cigarettes.
Without much thinking, he took the pack of cigarettes removed the plastic, and snips with his finger against the bottom of the box in a cool manner.
A cigarette appeared, and he says: “Want some?”
I just stare at him without saying anything; obviously, he does not know that my dad’s year-long smoking ritual caused his heart disease.
The guy was in his mid-thirties.
My father started smoking in his mid-thirties; twenty years later, he was at risk of leaving earth prematurely because of one bad habit.
I was fascinated by the situation; it felt as if I had travelled back in time and could see the root cause of my father’s heart disease.
As I was sitting there, I could not stop thinking about the potential unnecessary suffering that would befall this guy and his family in the future for this one bad habit.
I opened up my journal and made the first behavioural analysis of my life:
What is the pattern?
What is this pattern giving him?
What is this pattern costing him?
|Smoking||Relaxation||6 Euro a pack…
Possible loss of limbs…
Pain for this family if he dies…
A loss for his company if he cannot work anymore…
I was dumbfounded by the shittiness of the behavioural investment that this young father was about to make.
I ripped out the page from my journal and gave it to him before I left.
I do not know what he did with it, maybe he stopped smoking for a night, perhaps he used the page to light himself another cigarette, who the fuck knows…
On that night, however, I learned that the quality of our lives comes down to the quality of our behavioural investments.
When my father decided to become a smoker thirty years ago, he also decided to accept the potential future price of that behaviour.
In the case of smoking, this behavioural price is life itself.
The problem with bad habits is that we do them automatically; when the father purchased a bag of chips, cola, and cigarettes, he did not analyse his behavioural decision strategically, he just got the stuff that he always got; he acted out of habit, or so I believed.
One of the most significant challenges of behaviour architecture is to make invisible habits visible again.
Self-awareness is the enemy of disempowering behavioural patterns. Read that sentence again.
The only way that we can maintain harmful behavioural patterns is by turning a blind eye to the long-term consequences of our bad habits.
My father’s heart disease did not sneak up on him; he worked on it diligently for thirty years by sucking on cancer sticks eight times a day.
To prevent painful wake-up moments, we need a simple tool that allows us to identify our current disempowering patterns to save our future from ourselves.
The Behaviour Detective – A Technique To Spot Bad Patterns Right Away
Now that you have learned that one bad habit can be enough to take out a man, you might ask yourself: What can I do to spot disempowering patterns before they turn my life into a big pile of horse shit?
For that manner, I have developed a simple behaviour exercise that I call The Behaviour Detective1.
The exercise is quite simple; take a habit, a thought, a belief, or an environmental set-up and investigate:
- What is this pattern giving you?
- What is this pattern costing you?
- Whether or not this behavioural investment is good (+) bad (-) or neutral (=).
Behavioural patterns are the building blocks of your life. If you are in doubt whether or not a habit, a thought, a belief, or an environmental set-up is good or bad for you, simply ask yourself;
Is this pattern turning me more into who I want to become, or is this pattern moving me away from becoming the hero of my own story2?
The Behaviour Detective is a simple method that I use within all of my behavioural architecture coaching programs, because it helps individuals to gain mastery in the most crucial field there is, which is knowing ourselves.
Everything we do is a decision whether we like it or not; nothing is ever truly neutral. Nothing.
When we decide to go out on a Friday night to get smashed, we simultaneously decide to be in pain on Saturday.
When we decide to stay longer at the office, we, at the same time, prioritise work over the connections, and we are going to pay the price for that behavioural decision.
Each Netflix and ice cream binge (as fun as they are) is a step away from your desired beach body.
If you only take one idea away from this article, then let it be this one: The quality of your daily decisions determines the quality of your life.
Below, you will find an example of how I used the Behaviour Detective this week to investigate the price of my habits. You will find a free downloadable worksheet at the end of the article, but I figured I would show you some of my flaws so that you can be open about yours as well.
|Pattern (Habit, Thought, Belief, Environmental Set-Up)||What Is This Pattern Giving Me?
(Today, In 6 Months, In 3 Years)
|What Is This Pattern Costing Me?
(Today, In 6 Months, In 3 Years)
|Good (+)Bad (-)Neutral (=)||What Will You Do About It?|
|Snoozing for 25 minutes.||Today: Bit of comfort, a delay of my morning routine.
In the future, this isn’t giving me a whole lot, to be honest.
|Today: This habit fucks up my entire morning routine. I feel as if I’m starting the day as a failure, and this feeling accompanies me through the day.
In the future, this habit can literally be one of the reasons why I won’t become the person I know I could be. High-performance people don’t have this habit; they don’t start the day like that.
|BAD HABIT! (-)||I will ask my roomie to knock on my door so that I will get up in time.|
|Ruminating about my ex-girlfriend.||As a romantic, it sometimes feels good to play the “What if game” and relive past experiences that felt good at the time.||This cognitive habit hurts me psychologically because it reopens my old wounds.
In the future, this habit, for once, could make me bitter, resentful, and depressed. It could possibly ruin my chances of meeting my future soulmate because I’m still stuck in one of my self-created grieving loops.
|BAD HABIT! (-)||Whenever the depressed entity within me reminds me of my loss, I will say, “This memory is hurting me, let’s look forward shall we Daniel?”|
|Compulsive protein bar snacking.||Protein bars are delicious, and they give me, as the name says – a lot of protein. I like being a muscle giant, and those bars give me the feeling of growing into a strong person.||Eating one bar would be fine, but I sometimes eat 3-5 within a day. This is $10 a day, which compounds to $300 a month.
Additionally, to the financial downside, it’s almost impossible for me now to hit my caloric sweet spot, which means that I gain weight and fat because I snack 400 calorie bars all the time. So, in the future, this habit will not only not give me my dream body; it will actually move me away from it.
|BAD HABIT! (-)||I will establish a policy of eating only 2 bars per day; one in the morning and one after my workout.
Other snacks will be veggies.
What Is Next?
I do not intend to promote flawless behaviour, mistakes are fun – and necessary, but I feel that you should always be aware of the consequences of your actions so that you can decide whether or not you proceed with your current course of conduct.
People within my private counselling practice often reach out to me after they have had rude awakenings.
I had a client who overworked for years and wondered why his wife divorced him.
Another one of my clients never managed to contain her procrastinative habits and cannot understand why she never got the promotion that she felt she deserved.
A friend of mine recently was diagnosed with HIV because he never managed to eradicate his bad habit of having unprotected sex.
Bad habits have a few things in common:
- They sacrifice the future for the present.
- They start small.
- They have positive emotions attached to them.
- You turn a blind eye to the negative consequences.
As I teach my clients in my habit coaching practice – it is your responsibility to become a behaviour detective and investigate your behavioural investment portfolio and kick out the deals that are costing you more than they are giving you.
As a wise behavioural investor, it is your job to bring your life to fruition and make your time on earth your personal masterpiece.
- James Clear developed a similar exercise that he calls the Habit Scorecard, a great activity that allows individuals to predict the cost of their current habits. However, I felt as if this tool could be expanded with cognitive habits, believes, and individual environmental set-ups — still, kudos to Clear for simplifying behaviour psychology and promoting it to the masses.
- If you do not have an idea of who you want to become, and more important – who you do not want to become, click here to get your free ideal future blueprinting worksheet.