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The first time I participated in high/secondary school truancy, a friend had pushed me to do it as a reward for being a good boy throughout the session. This friend took me to a gaming centre outside the school where we played PS2 till we ran out of money.
I would return there the next term to play only one game. One game became one week of gaming. One week of gaming became one month. And I eventually started leaving the house, signing the morning attendance and leaving the school altogether to play PS2 for two consecutive terms. I went from representing my school in competitions to not showing up to class.
Our brains do not recognise good or bad the way our moral compasses do. Our brains (through different chemicals) interpret activities as pleasurable, painful. When people develop habits that are bad for us, like smoking, our brain recognises the immediate pleasure but ignores the long term pain. Dopamine, the "chemical messenger" that teaches our brain to recognise pleasure will only do its job. The consequences of smoking your first cigarette turning into damaged lungs can only be understood by your morals and the damaged organ, not dopamine. When I skipped school, dopamine told my brain PLEASURE! and that was it. One action rolled into a series of other acts that became a habit for me.
Snowballs and habits
There is a psychological phenomenon known as the snowball effect. The snowball effect is a process that starts from an initial state of small significance and builds upon itself, becoming larger (graver, more serious), and also perhaps potentially dangerous or disastrous.
The small act in my case was going to play a game. It was harmless. It was a toast. But it started growing and gathering more snow. Within a year I had become a chronic gamer who barely stayed in school. After seeing my terrible academic performance, my parents followed me to school at the end of the session to ask that I repeat the class (even though I promoted on trial). It was the school’s counsellor who promised to guide me through the next session -- otherwise, I would have lost a year. Just because a habit has an immediate positive result, it doesn't mean that it will be helpful in the long-run.
What can you learn from this?
Habits do not just grow on us as many people think. We nurture them intentionally or unintentionally. One thing I have come to do often is to ask myself that if an action I am about to take becomes a habit, will I like the consequences? Snowball does not have to be negative. But using it to examine your habits will help you to know what actions to take and which ones to avoid.
If I wake up at 4 am to write every Friday, what are the long term effects? Would I be happy that I did so in a year? Always examine your actions before taking them to avoid building the wrong habits. Remember that your brain will only receive the action as pleasurable or painful depending on the level of dopamine rush you feel immediately. It is therefore left to you to decide what actions you groom into habits and what actions you eliminate immediately.
1. Habits are built through actions;
2. You can decide what habits will stay but watching your actions before they become habits;
3. Every action you take is likely to have a snowball effect;
4. A snowball effect does not have to be negative, but always check the pros and cons of each action;
5. Always ask yourself if you'll be happy with the consequences of an action before you start it.
This week’s Tea
I am very anxious to resume my new role as the Sub-editor of HumAngle. This is influenced by the fact that I will be living in Abuja, having spent the past 11 months in Ibadan. I will be working with new people, in a physical office for the first time since I graduated from the University in 2019, and I'll be doing much more than I used to. As I settle in and enjoy my new work, I will be writing about the hacks and tips that are helping me to cope. More tea next week.
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