Be a Better Version of You: Break Out of Homeostasis
“Homeostasis is when you want to change but you are stuck in your habits, trapped by convenience, and rationalizing your behavior. The inertia of past behavior is proving hard to overcome because your body has an agenda of its own. That is why change can be hard.”
Written By Noah Cohen: Published Jan 10th, 2020 | Updated Jan 10th, 2020.
Noah Cohen is the driving force behind Humanic.Tech, a habit tracking app and life dashboard designed to help people reach their most ambitious goals. 🚀
8 Minute Read
“The inertia of past behavior is proving hard to overcome because your body has an agenda of its own.”
Today Humanic has the opportunity to sit down and chat with Ludvig Sunström, the founder of Start Gaining Momentum to talk about how understanding homeostasis can help you re-design who you are. Let’s jump in!
First of all, thank you for joining us today Ludvig. What first made you want to take action to improve yourself?
Probably the same as everyone else, to be become better. At the time I was around 20 and playing video games all day. It just felt empty and meaningless.
You wrote the book “Breaking out of Homeostasis“. Can you tell us more about what Homeostasis is and why you focus on Homeostasis as a strategy to become a better version of yourself? Why has this approach worked so well for you?
Homeostasis is when you want to change but you are stuck in your habits, trapped by convenience, and rationalizing your behavior. The inertia of past behavior is proving hard to overcome because your body has an agenda of its own. That is why change can be hard.
Homeostasis is the biological mechanism for conserving energy and staying the same. It exists in all biological creatures, it’s just more sophisticated in humans.
The easy way to explain it is that homeostasis is the nerd word for “comfort zone”.
But when you know about homeostasis, it also gives you a broader understanding. So if you were to define self-improvement as stepping outside your comfort zone, you could do that a lot more precisely with this knowledge. That’s why I found it helpful.
What are the 3 minions of homeostasis?
The three evil minions of homeostasis are the main forces that trick the human mind into maintaining homeostasis. It is how we fool ourselves, defend our ego when we fail, or do bad/self-serving things without taking accountability for it.
⦁ Evolutionary mismatches = These are ways that society has developed to conspire against our biology — and make it normal for us to do things that are actually unnatural. Like living in big cities, eating chemically enhanced foods with salt sugar and fat that stokes us to keep eating more, watching porn on the Internet, or getting hooked on the phony reality of social media. Human biology is adaptable, but keep in mind none of these things existed before 1900.
⦁ Cognitive biases = These are ways our brain tricks us into thinking poorly and making bad decisions. Typically because of emotional factors that don’t have much to do with the decision.
⦁ Noble indulgences = This is when we rationalize something that’s inherently rewarding. For example, instead of saying, “that’s a hot girl, so I want her” or “that’s a tasty food, so I want to eat it”, we invent some other explanation for that action because we feel guilty about our urges. Which doesn’t make any sense. It’s more intelligent to acknowledge the process, accept it, and then say YES or NO. Because then you are not lying to yourself.
No one can completely overcome the 3 Minions of Homeostasis, but with practice it can be easier to see when we are tricking ourselves. And by doing that, we can learn faster and make fewer mistakes.
You’ve said it’s important to train the prefrontal cortex. What are some ways we can do this and why is this important?
The prefrontal cortex is the executive part of the brain, situated by the forehead. It’s the part involved in making decisions, prioritizing or keeping focused for extended periods of time. There are lots of ways to train the prefrontal cortex. The best is to live a lifestyle where you are forced to make many decisions or think a lot; like an entrepreneur or investor who is responsible for his own success. My book contains lots of smaller practical examples and habits you could use to become more wakeful or decisive — like walking across the street and against red lights (of course look for cars before). But the big benefits will come from setting goals, learning new things, and living a lifestyle where you are forced to make decisions often.
What are the 4 Pillars of Wakefulness? Please explain why they are important for the average person.
One of the most boring aspects of life is that we become habituated. This is when it starts to feel like life is on repeat and every day is the same. Habituation occurs when the prefrontal cortex stops processing a certain stimuli or environment because it’s grown used to it. When that happens, we become like a robot. The best example might be the zombie-like state of most people on the subway. That is when you need to do something different to liven things up and use your brain more.
The Four Pillars of Wakefulness are different ways I have invented that can be used to trigger dopamine to the prefrontal cortex when you become habituated.
1. Novelty = doing something new, breaking a record, or entering a new environment. Travel is the typical example of novelty.
2. Variation = coming up with a new way of doing something you are already doing. If you typically bench-press, try dips instead.
3. Surprise = when something happens that you did not expect. Life in 2020 and going forward seems to be full of surprise, so maybe that could be a free boost of PFC activity, as neuroscientist Elkhonon Goldberg said to me on my podcast Future Skills.
4. Goal-orientation = find goals that are motivating to you and find a way to think about them often (you could break it down to a daily quota, or find 3 big things that might give 80% of the effect). And then complete them.
However, it’s not a natural thing, it’s a trained habit and it requires practice.
Again, it’s ten times easier if you find a lifestyle or environment where you can build some of these things into it.
On your blog and in your books you talk in detail about the importance of rewiring your reward system. How is this done?
The reward system is the part of the brain associated with habits, addictions and your overall motivation to do things. If you have a “bad” reward system you need external stimulation all the time. If you have a “good” reward system, you can more easily do hard work or make difficult changes, because your threshold for stimulation is lower.
To rewire your reward system and/or trigger behavioral change, you could:
⦁ Desensitize yourself (e.g stop drinking coffee, alcohol or eating sugar).
⦁ Reward yourself less often
⦁ Practice meditation
⦁ Find a goal that’s more motivating than enjoying the stimulation of your bad habits or addictions
There’s also a fair amount of recent research suggesting that psychedelic drugs could help.
You’re a big believer in commonplacing. What is a commonplace and why do you believe it’s important?
Commonplacing is an old practice by various intellectual people and philosophers. The way it used to work is that you had a notebook and you made a special note-taking system for organizing the notes from your studies across different areas by shorthand or writing in the marginalia.
The reason this practice spread among many thinkers was because it’s good for combining thoughts from different areas and achieving synthesis. When you do it long enough, it will become habitual and you can instantaneously draw connections.
I believe it’s a great practice for all intellectuals, creatives and entrepreneurs. It helps you stay organized across different projects and also categorize your many ideas over the years. That’s worth a lot if you can learn it at an early age.
Lastly, if you had the opportunity to travel back in time and give a 17-year old version of yourself 3 pieces of advice about self improvement, what would those three pieces of advice be?
1. Stop eating candy.
2. Start doing intermittent fasting (look up Leangains by Martin Berkhan).
3. Find a way to make a living online.
Thank you greatly for taking the time to chat with our quantified self blog readers today Ludvig. We really appreciate it. To our blog readers, if you’d like to learn more about Ludvig and the work he does in the self improvement space, you can follow him on Twitter or head over to his website here.
Compete with yesterday’s version of yourself.
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