Eliminating Bad Habits with the Dark Side of Motivation

Yesterday, I shared the psychology of addiction. In summary, our personality consists of various independent subpersonalities. They get activated at different times and take control of our psyche.

When you’re going through the cycle of addiction, two programs get triggered in turn. First, temptation takes over us and causes us to engage in the addictive behavior. Second, regret sets in when the activity is over.

At the beginning of the activity, the first program is active and the second program is in a latent state. Toward the end of the behavior, the first program loses its intensity, and the second program gets activated.

Our goal is to trigger the second program whenever we feel the first program getting triggered. Moreover, we need to increase the intensity of the second program to the extent that it overpowers the first program.

Quitting Smoking

This is an example from my own experience. I used to be a severe smoker in the past. After a while, one of my subpersonalities, my rational mind, decided that it was time to quit because this habit wasn’t sustainable.

Nevertheless, I didn’t quit 100%. Even though I was fully aware of the hazards of smoking, I kept smoking here and there without overdoing it. Every time I did that, I regretted it afterward because of the harm I did to my body.

I needed to find a program to overpower my urges to smoke. I found that program when I discovered pictures of cancerous mouths, throats, and lungs. Those pictures caused intense feelings of disgust that overpowered my urges to smoke.

The Practice

It’s not sufficient to find a dark motivation to quit your addiction. You have to practice it in advance so that you can instantly trigger it whenever you feel the urge.

The best way to do that is to practice when you’re feeling good without waiting for an uncomfortable situation when the urge is too intense.

First, trigger the urge to engage in your bad habit. You can do that by thinking about your habit. Once the urge is there, immediately trigger the second program and increase its intensity so much that it overpowers the first program.

Practice this at least once a day for a month and whenever you feel the urge. Our goal is to get to the level of unconscious competence with this practice. That way the second program will be triggered automatically whenever the first program is triggered.

You need to make some conscious effort to get to the unconscious competence level. So, practice it every day for at least a month without waiting for the urge to appear.

Conclusion

Addictive behavior consists of two phases. In the first phase, temptation takes over our psyche and makes us engage in the bad habit. In the second phase, regret sets in and makes us feel bad.

We can eliminate our bad habits by consciously triggering dark emotions such as regret, disgust, anger, or fear whenever we feel temptation.

This isn’t easy to do in the heat of the moment when an intense urge hits you. If you want to use this method, you need to practice it in advance, when you don’t feel any temptation at all.

Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.