Zombie Harnessing

May 13, 2016

Apropos to this course on learning how to learn, I learned that drawing things can help people remember.


While our hearts may want to 'rip and replace' bad habits, we need to go slow and build new habits out of the debris of the existing not so great habits.

Overwriting bad habits

We have to change our reactions to cues to start to change old habits. Zombie Harnessing. We want to systematically look at 4 aspects of cues to really understand where we go off the rails: location, time, our current emotion and reactions. We want to ID these cues that trigger procrastination and reorient them towards productive uses. If certain locations or times are bad for productivity, let's avoid them. Emotion can mean noting which mental states can lend themselves more to procrastinating. Reactions mean noticing when stimulus A leads to effect B that we don't want.

Routines need to be broken, too. For example, if we sit down, open a book, and check the smartphone, that is a bad routine. We need to recognize our bad routines and have a plan to counter them. For example, leave the phone in the car, or pick a place in the library that is quiet and stimulus free.

Rewards are also important. Why are we procrastinating? What rewards are we getting now? Can we reframe this somehow to give ourselves rewards? Anything from bargaining with ourselves ('if I study now, I will watch TV tonight'), or buying ourselves treats.

Lastly, we need to believe in the system and that we can change. We have to actually, consciously, want to change. We need this to power through the first few tries of making a new habit, because we may stumble, and succumb to temptation. I know I did in writing this post, I have been on and off goofing off for an hour.


Write weekly tasks in a planner journal and then write daily to-dos the night before, immediately before you go to bed. Zombie Walker This helps our inner zombie know what it is you expect, and frees up working memory for more useful things, as our mind mulls over our activities while we sleep. Long term items should be process oriented and provided chunks of time - instead of "I need to finish Climate Cents website" which is a fairly involved endeavor, I ought to be putting block of time dedicated to that every day, which makes things achievable.

Short term items should be treated as product-oriented only if you can ship them today. Even then, break down product to-dos with Pomodoro sprints. In the daily to-do list keep it to, say, 6 items to be realistic.

Think about using physical activity for the 5 minute breaks. This can break up uhealthy long stretches of sitting and allow the brain to more fully go into diffuse mode and truly break.

Also set up a goal time for quitting. This is important psychologically so you reward yourself, and it can help make you more productive because you are as committed to leisure time and the renewal that brings.

Eat Your Frogs First

Do your least favorite task first. Get it over with. Zombie Face Eater Perhaps start by waking up in the morning and doing a quick Pomodoro session, focusing on a task you like the least. It is a good way to get a quick win.

Neural Scaffolding

Building new habits is a daily task.

  1. Keep a planner journal. Track to do items by week and by day, track progress on what is and is not working, and remember that long term (multi-day) projects should be allocated time (process) not judged on output (product)
  2. Arrange work in a series of sprints using the Pomodoro.
  3. Commit to daily routines and tasks. I find that I do best when I schedule things in a calendar.
  4. Watch for your procrastination cues (location, time, emotion, reaction) and be proactive in reframing or avoiding procrastination triggers
  5. Gain trust in your new system, which I take to mean play Dodger baseball. Stack up series of hits instead of trying to go yard each time. Incremental progress should build confidence.
  6. Have a backup plan if you slip up and procrastinate.
  7. Eat your frogs first. Get the worst stuff out of the way.
  8. Habits have 4 parts too: Cue, Routine, Belief, Reward.
  9. Picking a qutting time is as important as anything else in your planning.
  10. Design rewards for yourself that motivate you.
  11. Keep your task list for the day achievable.