Habits can work for you or against you, but good, bad, or indifferent, they are hard to break.
In my case, the fact that I really needed to break a habit was complicated by the fact that I really didn’t want to. Fortunately, these boots helped me do what I didn’t want to:
I have no idea how to play what I think of as “real” mahjong with the gorgeous tiles and deft thinking, but I am a devotee of longstanding of the online versions of the game.
It has been my go-to amusement for all those times I found myself waiting with nothing but a line ahead of me and a phone in my hand.
However, at some point in early 2018, I injured my left arm. I have no idea how I did it, and the pain was intermittent and hard to describe. It migrated here, and then it migrated there. It would get better; then I would do something, and it would suddenly be back to where it was at its worst.
The injury to my arm didn’t quite resolve, and it didn’t get worse. I was in the middle of a protracted move, and while it was uncomfortable, it never rose to the level where I thought that the time spent seeing a doctor would be more productive than packing another box.
The pain continued, but it limited me in ways I was able to work around. Then the pain started to get bad enough that I was ready to see a doctor. Because I was going to have to explain to someone about this mysterious pain of unknown etiology, I started paying better attention to what activities would aggravate it, and I noticed that whenever I picked up my phone to play mahjong in the name of “stress relief” my arm felt worse. Not a little bit worse, but a lot worse.
Once I made the connection, I started to promise myself that I would play just one game. Once that game was over, I would create another completely different criteria which always resulted in me playing another game until I found I had spent over an hour matching and tapping on assorted digital candies. I would set myself arbitrary limits (just one game or just 15 minutes) and arbitrary goals (clear the board in under a certain time or quit), but nothing I thought of got me to stop playing.
Enter Tiny Habits
Then one day, I came across the work of B. J. Fogg and learned about a five-day online course called Tiny Habits.
When you learn my Tiny Habits method, you can change your life forever. — BJ Fogg, PhD
If I couldn’t resist a game of online mahjong, how could I be expected to resist the opportunity to change my life forever?
I immediatley signed up for the the course.
The purpose of the Tiny Habits method is to help you create new habits by building onto existing habits. My hope was that by following the course, I would not only learn how to create a habit, but that I would how to unravel a habit I wanted to quit.
The course did and didn’t work for me.
While I did create new habits that I wanted, I still had no idea how to dismantle my online mahjong habit that I didn’t want.
I try a new plan
One day several months ago I was in the middle of a game of mahjong, and I hit on an idea. I have some wonderful boots that I got as a gift last year. They are gorgeous, but they are not the kind of thing you can wear everyday, and I wanted a pair of boots that were more understated.
I had some money set aside and decided on the following plan: If I stopped playing mahjong for one day, I could go buy a pair of boots. Then, every day that I didn’t play mahjong, I could wear the boots.
I stopped playing online mahjong that very instant, and I have been mahjong-free ever since. This past week, I finally went out and got the boots I had promised myself.
I don’t know why it worked
Since it took me several months to go buy the boots, I can’t explain why this promise of a reward worked for me, but it did — and if I ever decide I need to break another bad habit, I’m sure I can find just the pair of boots for the occasion.