What not to do (4 Anti-Habits)


92% of us fail our New Year’s resolutions by Valentine’s Day. So instead of beginning the new year trying to add new habits to your life, start by eliminating “anti-habits”.

What to do

Improve your effectiveness and well-being by breaking four of the most widespread “anti-habits”.

Why it works

In his book Antifragile, Nassim Taleb (pictured above) introduces a principle called via negativa. In Taleb’s words, this principle suggests that “we know what is wrong with more clarity than what is right, and that knowledge grows by subtraction. Also, it is easier to know that something is wrong than to find the fix.”

Put differently, via negativa (i.e., acting by removing) is more powerful and less error-prone than via positiva (i.e., acting by addition). It’s about removing harmful elements or avoiding pitfalls to achieve better outcomes in your life. 

In that sense, there’s a long list of things to avoid to improve your health (e.g., alcohol), wealth (e.g., overspending) and relationships (e.g., bad-mouthing). To get you started, here are four widespread “anti-habits” that don’t serve you. Avoiding these will improve your effectiveness and well-being both dramatically and sustainably.

How to do it

1. Avoid 24/7 multitasking. Since it takes us up to 23 minutes to refocus after an interruption, multitasking (which is really just rapid task switching) makes us 50% less efficient. As a result, work takes twice as long. On top of that, it also makes us miserable – by boosting stress and feelings of time pressure. Last but not least, it makes focused, “deep work” impossible, wasting enormous productive potential.

A first step to avoid multitasking around the clock is cultivating one 60-90 minute session of deeply focused work daily. According to McKinsey research, doing so boosts our overall productivity by 100%. Here’s how.

2. Avoid 24/7 comfort. By avoiding doing hard things in your life, you shrink the size of a brain area called the anterior mid-cingulate cortex (aMCC). Like a muscle, your aMCC atrophies when you don’t use it. Decreased aMCC sizes are associated with obesity and depression. Increased aMCC sizes, conversely, are linked with willpower and tenacity. The best part is that growing your aMCC by doing hard things will boost willpower and tenacity in all areas of your life.

As Jerzy Gregorek has said: “Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.” To learn more about how to avoid 24/7 comfort and grow your aMCC, read this.

3. Avoid 24/7 solitude deprivation. “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”, Blaise Pascal wrote centuries ago. In his book Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport argues that most people rarely get a minute of being alone in the modern world. This solitude deprivation is a huge problem, Newport argues. We evolved to experience significant amounts of time alone with our thoughts. That’s why today, we’re not only more prone to anxiety, but also diminish our creativity.

The good news is that you don’t need to sit quietly in a room alone. Instead, take regular walks to feel better and boost your creativity. For most people, this works best at the beginning or end of your workday (here’s how).

4. Avoid 24/7 phone usage. While we have more leisure time than 50 years ago, there’s an important twist. Our “leisure has never been less relaxing, mostly because of the disintermediating effects of our screens”, says Harvard professor Ashley Whillans. The reason: “time confetti”. We increasingly use our free time for tiny bits of easy and fast digital distraction. Our free time thus comes in tiny snippets – or “time confetti”. We then experience time famine, or feeling hungry for time. Like in a hunger famine, we’re constantly triaging and stressed.

A great way to avoid 24/7 phone usage and time confetti is Intermittent Digital Fasting — by staying away from your phone in the first and last hour of the day. It works because most screen time occurs early and late in the day. Here’s how.

Take it from someone who used to do all (!) of the above every single day: getting rid of those “anti-habits” is life-changing. Give it a try and let me know how it went.