I love thinking about behavior change. Specifically, how people get themselves to adopt new attitudes, habits, ways of living. Hell I even taught a Skillshare course to 150 people on the science of willpower and behavior change.

One thing I’ve realized is that it’s actually a lot easier to be shaped by external forces than by your own hand. People can and do change themselves, but it takes patience, sustained effort, and creativity. Continue reading

While this blog is where most of my content goes, from time to time, I’ve written articles for other websites and it’s nice to be able to share those with you. Here are five articles ranging from neuroscience, higher education, digitization, fitness, and personal development for you to enjoy!

~ Jason

Buffer – Why practice actually makes perfect: How to rewire your brain for better performance

rewireOne of my favorite blogs out there is run by the social sharing app Buffer. As many of you know, I’m very passionate about behavior change, new skill acquisition, and research on improvement. So a few months ago I did some research on how practice actually changes the way our brains work and how a fatty tissue called myelin super-charges our neural connections. My post was published on the Buffer blog and then picked up by Lifehacker, which is always a neat thing.

A quote from the post:

One compelling piece of evidence comes from brain scans of expert musicians. There’s been a lot of research done on how musician brains differ from the brains of ordinary people – and one specific study used a particular brain scan called Diffusion MRI, which gives us information about tissues and fibers inside the scan region in an non-invasive way.

The study suggested that the estimated amount of practice an expert piano player did in childhood and adolescence, was correlated with the white matter density in regions of the brain related to finger motor skills, visual and auditory processing centers, and others — compared to regular people. And most significantly was that there was a directly correlation between how many hours they practiced and how dense their white/myelin matter was. [4]

Read more on the science of practice here. Continue reading

From Jason: Today we’ve got a guest post with Jonathan Gurrera, on some of the crazy behavior change tactics he used to power through rejection therapy.

He’s an account strategist at Google, a gig he earned after investing dozens of hours of preparation through a system of gamification that he created for himself. It’s fair to say that he’s pretty obsessed with engineering his behavior and I think there’s a lot to learn from Jonathan’s approach to behavior change.

So enjoy and here’s Jonathan:

My experience with rejection (and how it benefits you)

One of my first encounters with The Art of Ass Kicking was reading about Jason’s experiences with Rejection Therapy. The idea of Rejection Therapy resonated with me for one reason, and one reason alone: rejection scares the living crap out of me. Nevertheless, handling rejection is such an important life skill, I didn’t feel it was an option to allow myself to be affected so strongly by it.

While all rejections are less than pleasant, I tend to let rejection control me most in social realm – especially when it comes to introducing myself to strangers or asking girls out. Quite aware of this, I’ve recently decided it was time to be more proactive with this area of my life. But rather than use a brute force strategy (i.e. pound shots when I’m not feeling social at a party), I wanted to create a system that subtly, but consistently guided me to take positive actions, even with the risk of rejection present.

My weapon of choice for creating this system was gamification, the application of game mechanics to systems where they may not have otherwise existed. Although I was new to the use of gamification for rejection therapy, I’m no stranger to using gamification to get things done, build habits, and achieve epic wins. In this post, I’ll be focusing on the use of gamification for systematically overcoming rejection. I’m still in the midst of this long-term experiment, so I’ll be sharing my progress thus far, with the hope that you can use these techniques in your own life. Continue reading

Six Fundamentals of Effective Behavior Change

I’ve read a ton of material about creating positive behavior change — but the “curse of knowledge” means that sometimes it’s harder to impart that knowledge to others. I often get caught up in describing a specific paper or study, when you really need is just a tactic that really works.

Well I’ve boiled that down for you today – with this presentation based on my Skillshare class. These are the six fundamental elements of effective behavior change and if you follow them, I know you’ll see a lot more success in your efforts to work out more, eat healthier, be more mindful, wake up earlier or whatever it is you’re trying to do.

And if you’re interested in learning more, or you missed out on my Skillshare class, then check out this GiveGetWin partnership I’m doing with Sebastian Marshall. You get 60 minutes with me and help support a great cause.

The presentation and more info on GGW after the jump. Continue reading

Our ability to use self-control may be one of the most important things we can develop in ourselves. I’ve written before about how willpower is not enough and that developing habits is an important skill for sustaining the right behaviors.

But there’s more to the story.

In preparing to teach a course about willpower and behavior change, I uncovered new research revealing ways we can get an extra boost of self-control when we are running low. Here are some of the findings:

Choosing to exert self-control is less depleting than being forced to exert it

Mark Muraven, a Professor at the University at Albany, asked participants to resist eating a batch of cookies and tested them on an activity that required willpower both before and after resisting the cookies. Afterward, he asked participants their motivations for resisting the cookies and also examined their performance on the willpower test.

He bucketed the reasons into autonomous ones (e.g. “It was important to me not to eat them” or”It is fun to challenge myself not to eat them”) and external (e.g. “I wanted the experimenter to like me” or “I would feel guilty if I ate them”). In looking at the results (emphasis added)

“As compared to their baseline performance, participants who avoided eating the cookies for more autonomous performed better at the second measure relative to participants who did not eat for more extrinsic reasons. Mood, arousal, and demographic factors were not related to self-control performance and feelings of autonomy. Overall, it appears that feeling compelled to exert self-control may deplete more strength than having more freedom when exerting self-control.” [Muraven, Journal of Research in Personality, 2008]

So next time you’re faced with something that requires willpower, whether it’s staying late to finish a project or turning down that second slice of birthday cake, find a personally compelling reason to exert willpower, rather than placing the reason to something external. Continue reading