“My most effective habit building behavior is to build it around pleasure. I have to tap into that future pleasure, that sensation of possibility of pleasure, in order to build the habit.”

On building habits around pleasure, both for ourselves and in the spaces where we have power, so that our brilliance can flourish.

Transcript and notes:


Recorded 11 August 2023.


Hi, everyone. Thanks for tuning in.

Welcome to the August themes. I believe we are a little bit into August as this episode rolls out. Sometimes the theme boundaries get a little mushy.

But our theme for August is easing back, enjoying what we've done, sinking in to beginning of harvest. Stashing what we've done for later.

I grew up in southern New England, where August is absolutely the beginning of harvest season. Everything is coming in, the air is getting a little crisper, or at least it used to. And it's this time of becoming ready.

If, like me, you were tied to an academic calendar for most of your life, including when you moved into adulthood, then there's this anticipatory stashing getting ready getting supplies in making preparations making plans.

A number of years ago, this was the time when I decided that what I was going to do was really get myself out there and start giving talks and I laid out like a whole map for what 2020 was going to be like. I had, you know, people I wanted to talk to and organizations that I wanted to donate my time to, to help boost my experience and get the intensives expansives work out there. And we all know what happened in the spring of 2020.

Those plans didn't come to fruition. And so I have to admit that I've had a little bit of hesitation around annual planning and stashing and anticipation since then. Because, well, collective trauma, right? I mean, we've we've moved through these first three years of the pandemic, and we carry on, we're still in it, and it is still a radical change. And it is probably forever going to be a radical change to the way that we function as a society, as communities, as individuals. Because it's continuing to kill us off. And that's not hyperbole, that's just true.

So if we are setting a goal of not getting dead, and I have that goal, and it's a relatively new goal for me, so I'd like to hang on to it. If if we have that goal of staying alive and staying relatively vital, and being able to serve each other and be in contact and community, then we we need to be able to do this planning and this, this anticipation and this stashing and this- like we need to be able to do all those things that, coming back together that happens when we've all been dispersed, when we've all been out having adventures.

And then we come back. We need to be able to do that. And we need to be able to build systems for ourselves as we come back together that are sustaining and safer.

I'm picking up the language of the AIDS crisis, because that's the last pandemic I lived through. This idea of safer behaviors and safer habits. And it really was a cultural change, right? It really was a transformation for us. As young people coming of age; young queer people coming of age. We had to change what had been normalized for ourselves, and what every previous resource offered us in order to make the pandemic survivable.

Now, they're saying that maybe they have the beginnings of a vaccine, and maybe that has come out of the vaccine research that has been done for COVID. And that's incredibly exciting. But like, this is a pandemic that I have lived with my entire life. Deeply influencing my community, deeply influencing my access to elders, deeply influencing the culture that I move in.

And I think that's true for a lot of queer folks a lot of LGBTQIA, two-spirit; a lot of us who are not straight and cis- are are deeply influenced by the impact of the last pandemic, and now we're layering this new pandemic on top.

And as intensives we have some particular needs around habit building. And this is also true for some neurodivergent folks. Often ADHD folks will talk about struggling to build habits and autistic folks will sometimes talk about struggling to form habits and and so I want to talk about habits today because habit formation is the thing that makes this kind of cultural shift possible. And it's all kinds of cultural shifts that it makes possible.

It makes possible cultural shifts around behavior, around safety, around barriers like masks and condoms. And it makes possible cultural shifts around things like communication or normalizing therapy.

There was a meme going around recently where people were talking about another change- major change- that has happened in my lifetime. Where when I was a child therapy was like something people made fun of, and they kind of kept it quiet. And only people in New York had therapists, like everybody in New York has a therapist, but nobody else has a therapist. Therapists are like, that's a weird New York thing. And then suddenly, it wasn't. Suddenly everybody was talking about their therapist.

Everybody was recognizing that having some support in making emotional and psychological changes was a good idea. And so we went from in my lifetime, in my conscious lifetime we have gone from, "oh, well, you know, if you need a therapist that's shameful" to- at least in the dominant cultural spaces that I occupy- "oh, well, yeah, of course, I have a therapist. Oh, I'm seeing my therapist. Oh, I'll ask my therapist. Oh, look at this great advice my therapist gave me." It's become very normalized.

Sexuality is another one that has become not quite as normalized but certainly much more casual than before. Not casual, in the sense of casual sex, although also maybe that, but casual in the sense that we culturally accept conversation about sex.

We talk about sex, we talk about our sex lives, we talk about the desire discrepancy. We talk about challenges, we talk about curiosities. We're much more able and willing to have those conversations not necessarily in very public spaces. But in semi public spaces, in most cases, and in very public spaces occasionally. We don't flinch from it the same way we used to as a culture.

Now, I don't know what's happening overseas, but I have a feeling that what's happening in the US is rippling out to a lot of places overseas. And either there's a kind of a push back, or other countries that pay a lot of attention to American culture, are also having that transformation or having that shift.

So when we think about habit formation, it's not just about making sure that we brush our teeth, or making sure that we do our accounting every night, or whatever it is that we're trying to do to be quote unquote, better people. And when we want to be, quote, unquote, better people, often we're talking about being more expansive-behaving, right? Taking on expansive behaviors, because that's what our culture thinks is good or appropriate or best or right. And sometimes it serves us because our culture's entire system, all of the systems almost are built for that kind of expansive behavior.

So if the system requires expansive behavior, then it does work better to act like an expansive even when we're not. It's tricky. But it's also useful to know that that's just an imposed structure that happens because of the culture we're in. And that a different structure culturally might lead to different behaviors being advantageous, some of which might come more naturally to us.

So all of that to say, there's nothing wrong with you. If you find a lot of that routine building difficult or unpleasant or unappealing. That's, normal. And it's because of the bias that's built into our culture, toward expansiveness and expansive behaviors, which goes all the way back to colonialism. So when we think about how do we build habits, it's, it's not just those things, it's also these, these habits of thought, or habits of public behavior, habits of group behavior, that influence again- influenced our thinking, right?

It becomes a recursive cycle. Which is to say, habits have incredible power to move culture, they have incredible power to move human behavior, even when we don't realize it, especially when we take them on, or set them down, collectively.

So how do we as intensives build habits? Because we cannot build habits by just saying, "well, you must do it every day at 8am." That that's not how we build habits. It's not how our brains work. We tend to, A) we tend to get rebellious about it. The minute we say "you must do this", we're like, "no, no, I don't must do this, and you can't make me" and that throws, of course, the whole process off. So what do we do instead of just saying, "Okay, I'm going to do this every morning at 8am?"

I work with my clients on this a lot. Because there are frequently patterns of behavior that we'd like to develop, or patterns of behavior that we'd like to un-develop. What do we do? We have a lot of tools available. If you want external support with something like that you might look into hypnosis. And I can give you, if you message me, I can give you a referral for that. Or if you're working one on one with me, we can incorporate those tools, hypnosis tools, into our work, because I am trained to do that. That's how I know about it.

And it really is "hitting the easy button." So I don't want to discount things like that, that can just soften the resistance. That's great. But what if that's not the right tool? For whatever reason? Maybe hypnosis isn't a thing that works for you. Or maybe you would like to approach it a different way. Maybe you don't have access to hypnosis right now. Whatever it is, what what else? What else can we do other than things like CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy, or other kinds of one-on-one or tool-based support? What else can we do?

My most effective habit building behavior is to build it around pleasure. And I know that sounds obvious, and you're asking me, but Leela, honestly, what is pleasurable about doing the dishes? Nothing.

First of all, it's icky. Second of all, it's like sticky and wet. Third of all, it's boring. Fourth of all, it makes my back hurt, right? Like, so I want you to just think about how delicious it feels when you look at your sink, and it's shiny and clean and empty of dishes. For me, there's a feeling of relief that I'm not even entirely aware of most of the time, when I walk into the kitchen and it's tidy. Or when I look at the sink, and it's tidy.

I'm not inherently a tidy person, I'm inherently I drop my shorts on the floor of the bathroom, and just leave them there person. That is, that is the kind of person that I am. So in order to not do that, or in order to not do that all the time- accepting without blame or judgment, that I will sometimes just leave my shorts on the floor of the bathroom- what can I do?

I can remember how soothing it is to find the stuff that I want exactly in the spot where I always put it. Same with my keys, I tend to leave them in like three or four different places, which is better than leaving them just anywhere. But the best is when I put them back on the hook where they're supposed to go. And I have to tap into that future pleasure, that sensation of possibility of pleasure, in order to build the habit.

Now, I know not everyone's brain wires for habit. So if your brain doesn't wire for habit, this may be less useful. But for me, there comes a pivot point where I've put the keys in the regular place enough times that it feels uncomfortable not to. And I think that's the thing that we don't talk about frequently enough in habit formation. It feels uncomfortable not to do the thing. It feels crunchy, it feels weird, it leaves a weird feeling in my chest. It makes my jaw a little tight. In the same way that other things that I avoid impact me.

So when I want to build a habit, I simultaneously tap into "Ooh, this is going to be fun." If there's a fun part. "Ooh, the result is going to be great," if the result is the thing that I'm really interested in. Because sometimes I'm a process doer, and sometimes I'm a results person. And I have to figure out for each task, whether the process of the result is the thing that's most enticing. That's most pleasurable. That feels like warm and almost a little bit erotic when I think about having done it.

And my body is wired, interestingly. So sometimes just the sensation of, for example, working on sanding a piece of wood, is so deeply sensual is so deeply satisfying that that by itself, it's like "Oh, I get to go do that." And what I have to get around, the obstacles for me, are things like I have to pull the car out, or I have to set up the workspace so that I can put it in the garage in the right place so that I can work on the sanding part.

But the sanding part itself is sensually satisfying. So that's different from dishes or dishes is mostly about the empty sink afterwards. Although sometimes, especially in cooler weather, it can be about standing there with warm water running over my hands.

I don't like stuff that drips. So loading the dishwasher is actually harder for me than washing the dishes by hand. But we have too many dishes in this household to wash by hand efficiently. So into the dishwasher, they go and my reward is the empty sink. This clean sink that ready-to-go-sink, the not having a problem putting my next dish where it belongs in the sink, while it waits to go in the dishwasher.

But then with sanding, it's Oh, I get to I get to be in relationship with the wood. There's this kind of soothing, repetitive quality to it. It's not as good as building stuff for me, but there's a satisfaction and a kind of peacefulness to it. So all of this, all of this talking about what are the essential rewards for doing the thing.

Because that's where intensive brains focus, is on the pleasure experience.

And we have to figure out for ourselves, how to evoke pleasure. What is it that will draw pleasure out of the experience for us. And sometimes efficiencies, like having a dishwasher, actually reduce the pleasure centers for us.

Sometimes bumping up against other people's needs or routines reduces that pleasure center for us. And so when we're trying to form habits, we have to follow this kind of pleasure... pleasure trail. Because it doesn't always make sense. And it's not always linear. And it's not always direct.

And it won't probably be the same for anybody around us. So we can't teach our kids to use our pleasure mapping process to get a habit. What we have to do is teach them how to map their own pleasure. What about each thing makes them happy.

So you can't say to a kid, oh, but won't it feel great when your bed is made? Maybe it won't, maybe they don't care if their bed is made. I don't care if my bed is made, but I'm a grown up. So I don't have to make it if I don't want to. I like it a little bit. But I don't usually like it enough to spend the energy that it takes to overcome all of the inertia and all of the resistance, to make that a habit. I did for a little while.

For a little while it was really important. For a few years there, where my entire life felt like it was falling apart, the one thing I could control was the state of my bed. And I did. I made my bed consistently. I was like, let's just try this as an experiment. And when it stopped bringing me sufficient pleasure, I stopped making it. That's all. That's what happened. When the awkwardness of making it, when the when the challenge of making it, became too much again, I stopped making my bed.

Sometimes I still do make my bed, it depends on what I want to do. And the key here is to release ourselves from judgment, from cultural judgment, from social judgment from this idea that there's a better or worse way of doing this.

Which is the next point. And perhaps the final point for this episode. When we release ourselves from cultural, external judgments and purely judge something on whether or not it makes us feel good, whether or not it benefits us, whether or not it supports us- our lives become so much easier.

We are intensives. There's an entire expansive-built cultural system out there telling us that we should not be who we are or how we are. That the things we value are not the things we're supposed to value. That the ways we behave or not the ways we're supposed to behave. And when we release ourselves from that morass, we discover that we're free to move.

Harrison Bergeron is a story that I read in middle school. It's a very famous Kurt Vonnegut short story. And in it, the idea is that everyone is brought down to average. So if you're extra beautiful, you have to wear a mask that makes you less beautiful. If you're extra graceful, you have to wear weights so that you're less graceful. If you have an extra melodic voice or you're extra good at thinking or whatever they they- they interrupt every beautiful, every extraordinary thing in this cultural, dystopian future. So that everybody is equal, but like, brought down to equal.

We need to not let that happen. Which means we need to to create enclaves, spaces, communities, groups of friends, institutions, corners of institutions.

If you're in charge, if your manager for example of a department, maybe your own department can be more intensive-friendly than the rest of the company. How can you as the manager be the buffer? We have to keep asking those questions. Because when we create those buffered intensive spaces for ourselves individually, within our families, within our companies within our communities, what we do is we create space for our particular kinds of brilliance and inventiveness to flourish.

And when we can do that, then building habits around pleasure, rather than building habits around a list of shoulds becomes much, much more viable. Maybe your routine doesn't involve a schedule.

My podcast recording routine does not involve a schedule. It involves sitting down at the microphone when I have something to say, and saying it. And sometimes that means I get three episodes recorded at once. And sometimes it just means one, like today. Today, it's going to be one I have other things to do. But I had this moment, where I knew that the most pleasurable thing I could do was sit down and talk to you all. And so I did. And I have those moments, when I pay attention to them.

When I make the space in my schedule for them. I have those moments frequently enough that I can keep producing this podcast. I've been able to form- it's not a formalized habit. It's not the usual idea of a habit, it doesn't happen at the same time. It doesn't happen in the same pattern every week. But it does happen often enough that I'm able to produce enough episodes, that I can keep producing a podcast, I can keep talking with you.

I can keep listening to people in social media and my conversations in my one-on-ones, and then bring that to you. That is possible. But if I believed that I had to sit down twice a week for 20 minutes and record a perfect episode that would go out over the next two days, I would be lost and this podcast wouldn't exist.

So think about pleasure, bring pleasure into your life. Ask yourself, where can I form a routine? Where can my people form their routines? How can I form my organization or my piece of my organization around pleasure?Around things that support our continued collective pleasure. Because pleasure in many ways is the opposite of resentment. And resentment is one of the greatest drains on our institutional resources, on our communities, on our lives.

If you don't want to resent yourself, and you don't want people resenting each other, see if you can find some pleasure for everyone.

Thanks for tuning in. I'll talk with you soon.