Layers of an Onion
Context: This is a new series where I dive into nuggets of wisdom that Habit Gym participants self-discover through the program.
This week, we’re featuring Rinzler’s check-in (edited for clarity).
Vices - where am I compared to one month ago?
“I filled in the gap with other lesser vices, which aren’t yet as healthy as I hope they would be. But I see the scale going down, and my original vices have been pretty toned down.”
This is a great insight about the nature of vices and how cutting them out is a gradual process.
At first glance, conquering bad habits seems a lot like playing whack-a-mole. After you defeat one, another pops up somewhere else.
This can feel futile. If you’re just jumping from one vice to the other, are you really getting anywhere?
The answer is yes. You are making progress, just gradually.
Layers of an onion
Whack-a-mole is the wrong mental model to have.
In reality, addressing your vices is more like peeling layers of an onion. With each step, the problem gets smaller and smaller.
Let me explain with an example from my own life.
Like many, I was addicted to YouTube. I would open it intending to take a short break, but I’d always go over. “Just one more video.” Before I knew it, one video turned into many and a few minutes turned into an hour.
Since I mostly used it on desktop, I installed a feed blocker. It hid the suggested videos so I wouldn’t get tempted by the Algorithm. This worked until it didn’t. Soon after, I resorted to my mobile app for those sweet, sweet recommendations.
Next, I disabled the app on my phone. Again, this worked until it didn’t. As a workaround, I started visiting the site on my mobile browser to get my fix.
So, I removed the site from my browser’s frequently visited list. Same as last time - this worked until it didn’t. It didn’t take me long to develop the new muscle memory of typing out the entire URL instead of just tapping my way to video goodness.
You can look at this situation in one of two ways.
Glass half-empty: I never solved the underlying problem. I still use YouTube, just differently now.
Glass half-full: I’m slowly approaching a solution. The hold of the vice is weakening.
The latter is more accurate. While I haven’t stopped entirely, I’m less dependent on it thanks to the added friction.
Each intervention made it increasingly inconvenient to use. First, the mobile app wasn’t as immersive as desktop. Then, the mobile browser wasn’t as seamless as the app. Finally, typing out the URL involved more effort.
As a result, my usage considerably reduced. In Rinzler’s words, “I see the scale going down.” The trajectory is promising.
Focus on the trajectory
Hence, layers of an onion. Fix one problem and it exposes a smaller one underneath. Eventually though, you reach a level where there’s nothing left to peel.
The lesson: progress is linear, not binary. Your vices don’t magically disappear overnight - they must be addressed gradually.
Since your attachment to these habits formed over a long period, detaching from them will take time too. So, don’t focus on whether a single intervention will solve your problem.
Instead, ask yourself: has the vice’s grip on me loosened? If the answer is yes, it’s only a matter of time before it fades into nothingness.
Note: Want to experience this for yourself? Check out Habit Gym.
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P.S: You can find more of my thoughts on Twitter @_suketk.