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The Primal Habit Lab

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  • The Primal Habit Lab

    I am creating this journal with the hope that it will attract some like-minded individuals and become a collaborative space for interaction and support. My goal is to follow and exchange about my efforts to adopt primal behaviors and more generally behaviors of well-being.

    My guiding concept is kaizen: continous, incremental improvement, 1% (or less) at a time. I adhere to this because every time previously that I have tried to make too many changes at once, it has resulted in distress, neglect of my other roles in life, excessive mental chatter, and ultimately the inability to follow-through. I am not making any sweeping generalizations; some people can very effectively "white knuckle" their way through change, but this has never worked for me personally.

    Foundational reading for me has included: The Willpower Instinct, The Power of Habit, Savor, among others. All of these works are, in my mind, compatible with the Primal message (save the nutritional advice in Savor). I have come to believe that habit formation works very much in the same way as mind/mindfulness/compassion training (in the Eastern sense) and that the basic, overall approach can be applied to physical habits and habits of thought/emotion.

    My guidelines at this time are that if a new habit/response/behavior requires less than five minutes to practice at any given time and can be written on a 3x5 card, it is reasonable. If not, I need to break it down into smaller pieces. Some habits may even be bridges to more refined/advanced habits. I will apply new habits for at least 30 days at a time.

    Anyone who has had success with or is interested in this approach to self-improvement/transformation is welcome to join in.
    Last edited by M Claire; 09-21-2014, 02:16 AM.

  • #2
    My habits for this month are:

    1) Being in bed no more than 90 minutes after the last child has gone to bed (10pm at the latest).
    The cue: children are all in bed
    The routine: set a timer for 90 minutes
    The reward: when the timer goes off, put on music that I enjoy and go enjoy the quiet/dark while going to sleep.

    2) Addressing weight/diet/behavior anxiety
    The cue: I observe that I have been thinking about my habit practice for several minutes or am thinking about habits that are not currently on the docket or ruminating about change methodology.
    The response: I address the mental noise with simple responses.
    "I am overthinking change. This is not helpful to me. I do better when I keep it simple, slow, and steady."
    "I do not need to think about that yet."
    The reward: Five senses meditation to dive deeply into the present

    3) Replacement habit for eating between communal meal times
    The cue: It it not a communal meal time, but I observe a craving to eat
    The response: I put on upbeat music and sing along and/or dance
    The reward: I enjoy a natural boost in my mood

    Three may be too many habits at once, but habits 1 and 2 are essential. They condition the success of everything else, I believe. This is a lab, i.e. experimental process. If my rewards are consistently failing to replace the expected former reward, then I will reflect on other routine/reward combos to try.

    Guidelines for keeping it simple in the areas of:
    Tracking practice - when possible, make a quick note that the new habit has been practiced and perhaps a note about efficacy
    This thread - update once daily at most

    A remaining risk of overthought is the routine/reward (wanting to try different things/doubting/being uncommitted). I will have work on this if it does indeed become a problem.
    Last edited by M Claire; 09-21-2014, 02:39 AM.


    • #3
      I am actually open to suggestion for habit number three. In the realm of eating, I am not really sure what I should tackle first. Potential behaviors categories would be:

      Diet composition
      Food thinking (diffusing cravings)
      Handling social eating
      Mindfulness/honoring hunger and fullness

      It seems like most people here work on composition first. But when I have done this in the past, I tend to find myself eating nuts and cheese indiscriminately throughout the day, which is not healthful in the short or long term.


      • #4
        Yes! That's the way I'm thinking about it too. My subconscious needs simple rules to follow or it gets confused.

        My habits so far:

        Only eat real food. No processed anything. Make exceptions for travel - when I'm traveling, I eat whatever I want.

        Once an hour while awake and at home, get up and do 10 reps of a Shovelglove exercise on each side and 10 body weight squats.

        2.5 hours before sleep, put on red goggles. Wear a sleep mask for sleep.

        Sent from my iPhone using Marks Daily Apple Forum


        • #5
          Hi Meepster! Welcome, thanks for sharing! It seems like the concept can be applied to just about anything: exercise, speech, habits of reaction, etc.

          Have you read the Power of Habit or listened to Duhigg's TED talk? Do you use his 'habit loop' concept formally, or do you simply take on one new habit/change at a time? I'd be interested to know how you do the 'reward' part of the loop if you do.

          This way feels much healthier overall. My mental space feels more expansive and my interactions with loved ones are not disturbed by relentless chatter upstairs.


          • #6
            After a few days of practicing my 'dance instead of graze' habit, I feel like I may need to back-track. The problem is that since I have the bad habits of eating while cooking, while cleaning up, etc., my 'communal meal time' doesn't have any clear markers. I find myself extending lunch hour well into the afternoon. The solutions that I see are either:

            1) take a step back and begin with the habit of only eating at the table
            2) add some defining criteria to communal meal time such as a time window or whether or not my family members are still eating. The time window is probably a no-go just given how variable times may be in my family. Basing it on whether family members are eating could work. In the long run, I would want the end of meal marker to be "I'm full", but that is a habit for later on.

            What do you think?


            I've broken these two habits down into -habit around meals (cooking/tidying) -habit beween meals
            Last edited by M Claire; 09-22-2014, 08:55 AM.


            • #7
              In thinking about logical progression, I come to the metaphor of gross and fine motor skills. The brain learns to grasp before it learns to throw, weave, knit, etc.

              I feel like basic eating etiquette that cuts out impulsive overeating falls into the gross motor skills category. Dietary composition and rewriting thought patterns of craving are fine motor skills.

              The progression that I see here would be:
              1) form the habit of eating only at the table
              2) create a communal meal-ending ritual (ex. tidying kitchen, tooth care)
              3) find replacement habit for the habit of eating between communal meals
              Last edited by M Claire; 09-22-2014, 06:42 AM.


              • #8
                Change inventory for M

                This is where I will keep an inventory of habits/changes

                Don't eat poisonous things - develop the habit of not eating grains.

                Note to self: No change is too small. I believe it was Dr. McGonigal who highlighted a study wherein a group of smokers who were trying to quit were asked just to smoke the same number of cigarettes every day. The study found that the smokers gradually decreased the number of cigarettes over time, simply by virtue of heightened awareness.
                Last edited by M Claire; 09-24-2014, 04:57 AM.


                • #9
                  I read and enjoyed The Power of Habit, in fact I should read it again.

                  Snacking is my biggest hurdle - I eat out of boredom or habit. If I find myself in grazing mode, I think back on the last time I ate, what I ate - it is reasonable to actually be hungry? If so, maybe I need to prepare a meal. If not, I have to note that I didn't choose my last meal wisely. Other than making herbal tea, I do best if nothing crosses my lips except at a meal. I can't control my snacking otherwise.
                  My journal - The Walrus:

                  Be silly, be honest, be kind. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson


                  • #10
                    There is a really bad upper respiratory virus going around right now and I have caught it. While suffering with the symptoms, I realized that I used to catch colds like this all the time. I have clear memories of childhood nights spent suffering with dry airways and a sore, burning throat. I had actually forgotten about this because, while I was following a popular vegan plan, I also eschewed grains. I eventually developed other health problems, but during the several years that I followed that plan, I never got sick. Virulent bugs like stomach flu would be going around, but I was always immune. My theory is that this is because grains take up a valuable slot in my diet that would otherwise be occupied mainly by vegetables. So this has reminded me to again try out the habit of not eating grains .


                    • #11
                      I have been listening to The Power of Habit audiobook again and fiddling with my routine. I really liked singing as a new routine, but discovered that I cannot do it as consistently as I thought. It doesn't work out in social situations where breaking out into song would be awkward, nor when my husband is playing music loudly, and is not satisfying if I have a cold and my voice is weak or sounds terrible. So it is a process of trial and error. But I accept that. I simply can't force myself to go any faster at this time in my life. Duhigg talks about the power of community. This will be something to work on for me. Ostensibly, the forum is meant to provide community, but it has not yet worked out this way for me in practice. I don't really 'know' anyone here or have strong relationships that might bolster me.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by M Claire View Post
                        Hi Meepster! Welcome, thanks for sharing! It seems like the concept can be applied to just about anything: exercise, speech, habits of reaction, etc.

                        Have you read the Power of Habit or listened to Duhigg's TED talk? Do you use his 'habit loop' concept formally, or do you simply take on one new habit/change at a time? I'd be interested to know how you do the 'reward' part of the loop if you do.

                        This way feels much healthier overall. My mental space feels more expansive and my interactions with loved ones are not disturbed by relentless chatter upstairs.
                        I have read the Power of Habit, and I've also been influenced by the thinking on "systematic moderation" on Also, personally I'm very much a creature of habit - I default to habit on just about anything. The key is setting those habit-loops to something productive.


                        • #13
                          My problem is that I lose confidence very easily. I will get going with a change, but when I am faced with extra stressors, I will start to wonder if some part of what I am doing is off. And then I start overthinking change again. I think I need to approach the idea of habit from the angle of a new habit crowding out an old one, not necessarily changing the old one, because I get too caught in the details of 'have I found the right reward that the old habit had? will this routine deliver right?' and so forth. It really is not that complicated. My habit needs to provide basic self-soothing, period. And I need to be able to perform it in all the variously noisy, hands-full-of-children scenarios that take me to my limit. Natural boosts could be self-praise, interior self-soothing practices, etc.

                          I had never come across the Everyday Systems site, thank you for pointing me to it.