When it’s too hard to quit a bad habit, what’s a trick to regaining control?
Don’t try to reduce the habit, reduce the variability in the habit.
In other words, don’t even try to quit smoking; try to smoke the exact same number of cigarettes each day.
This little effort toward self-control led to a decrease in smoking over time.
Behavioral economist Howard Rachlin proposes an interesting trick for overcoming the problem of always starting a change tomorrow. When you want to change a behavior, aim to reduce the variability in your behavior, not the behavior itself. He has shown that smokers asked to try to smoke the same number of cigarettes every day gradually decrease their overall smoking— even when they are explicitly told not to try to smoke less. Rachlin argues that this works because the smokers are deprived of the usual cognitive crutch of pretending that tomorrow will be different. Every cigarette becomes not just one more smoked today, but one more smoked tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that. This adds new weight to every cigarette, and makes it much harder to deny the health consequences of a single smoke.
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