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  • Nothing captures the essence of a good life better than a tree flourishing.

  • A good life is one where we continuously grow, manifest our potential, and put forth our

  • best fruit.

  • I want you to keep this image in your mind as you watch the video: your best life is

  • the one in which you fully bloom like a tree.

  • And the difference between living your worst life and your best life depends on your habits.

  • And the secret to building good habits and breaking bad ones is contained in this simple,

  • but powerful image, in which there are two key components: the forest and the tree.

  • As I break down each component of the image, I'll give you the ultimate guide to building

  • habits.

  • Before I show you the new way to understand and build habits, let's take a look at the

  • current way.

  • Most books or videos on habits teach some variation of this loop: a cue leads to a craving

  • leads to a response leads to a reward.

  • Some variations use cue-routine-reward instead,

  • And some use stimulus-response-reward.

  • But as far as I'm concerned, they're practically all the same, so let's consider the newest

  • version: cue-craving-response-reward.

  • A cue is an external or internal trigger that signals the potential for a reward.

  • Your phone dings for example, which is a cue indicating that you have a notification, and

  • this leads to the craving of a potential reward.

  • Craving is a feeling that motivates you to take action, and the strength of a craving

  • depends on how you interpret the cue.

  • For example, when your phone dings, your brain begins to predict what the ding meant.

  • Did you receive a message from someone you like?

  • Or did you receive a message from someone you don't like?

  • The prediction you make determines how strongly you crave, or don't crave, checking your

  • phone.

  • Craving leads to a response, and response is the actual action or habit you use to satisfy

  • a craving.

  • In our example, our response means checking the notification.

  • And finally, the reward is the thing that actually satisfies the craving, closes the

  • loop, and encourages us to repeat the action in the future.

  • In our example, we see that we got some likes on our Instagram, and this makes us feel good

  • and more likely to check our notifications again in the future.

  • In this model, you can play with any of the four componentscue, craving, response,

  • rewardto encourage good habits and discourage bad ones.

  • When you want to encourage a good habit, make the cue obvious, the craving attractive, the

  • response easy, and the reward satisfying.

  • If you want to discourage a bad habit, make the cue invisible, the craving unattractive,

  • the response hard, and the reward unsatisfying.

  • Let's look at how the whole model works in practice.

  • Let's say I want to introduce the supposedly good habit of taking multivitamins each day.

  • So I buy a container of gummy multivitamins and place them on my nightstand.

  • The cue is obvious: I'll see the gummies every time I reach for my glasses in the morning.

  • The craving is attractive because I know the gummies will make me healthier.

  • The reward is satisfying because the gummies taste good.

  • And finally, the response is easy because, after the initial set up cost, all I have

  • to do each morning is walk over and eat them.

  • So that's an example of introducing a good habit using the current model, but how do

  • you get rid of a bad one?

  • Let's say I want to stop getting distracted by my phone when I'm working, so I give

  • my phone over to a friend before I start.

  • This helps because the cue is invisible: I no longer see my phone vibrating and receiving

  • notifications while I work.

  • The craving is unattractive because I have to embarrass myself by asking for the phone

  • back.

  • The response is made harder because I have to go through the trouble of negotiating to

  • get it back.

  • And lastly, the rewards are less satisfying due to the increase in work required to even

  • get them.

  • So the current model is easy to follow and implement.

  • Just modify the cue, craving, response, and reward depending on whether the habit is good

  • or bad.

  • So what's the problem with it?” you ask.

  • While the current model has many good qualities, I think it has one massive flaw that makes

  • it less useful than you might think,

  • and that's what I'm going to discuss next.

  • The main problem with the current model is that it's solipsistic.

  • What do I mean by this?

  • The current model encourages you to see yourself as the centre of the world.

  • Everything surrounding you becomes a cue or a tool to leverage for your own growth.

  • But the world is fundamentally not a place of cues surrounding you, which you can just

  • optimize and rearrange to your liking.

  • Rather it's a place of relationship.

  • If you view life through the lens of the current model, I think you'll have an inaccurate

  • perception of reality

  • which will stifle your capacity to bloom, which was, remember, why habits even mattered

  • in the first place.

  • The blooming of a tree is not something that it can make happen on its own.

  • It can't just optimize itself into a good life.

  • The tree depends on the forest as much as the forest depends on the tree.

  • When you were a baby, you were born, as far as we know, into a family, in a home, in a

  • city, in a country, in a world that you did not choose, and this has probably been one

  • of the greatest factors in determining the quality of your life.

  • And when you were a baby, you hardly knew a thing.

  • You couldn't change your clothes, feed yourself, or really self-regulate yourself that well

  • at all.

  • The most effective actions you could probably do were laugh and cry.

  • You depended on your parents to survive and thrive, and a lot of your early lessons about

  • life and the world came from them.

  • Now think about the technologies that have most impacted your life such as the car, the

  • computer, the internet, and the phone.

  • Or what about theories like Plato's theory of forms or Einstein's theory of relativity?

  • What about works of art like Lord of the Rings or Dante's Divine Comedy?

  • All of these works were likely invented by someone other than yourself.

  • All of these examples show how much the quality of your life depends on others, but also,

  • how much the quality of someone else's life can depend on you.

  • The world is fundamentally an interdependent place of relationships, not cues.

  • The tree depends on the forest and the forest on the tree.

  • I believe this interdependence isn't accurately captured in the current model,

  • which is why I'm putting forward a new model in which the forest-tree relationship is central.

  • Because again, to fully bloom, you need a harmony between both.

  • So without further ado, let's get into it.

  • Here's a quick overview of the new model of habits.

  • There are two key components: the forest, which represents the environment, and the

  • tree, which represents the individual.

  • Let's start by analyzing the forest.

  • Every tree is born into a forest, and the forest sets limits on the potential of the

  • tree.

  • How much sunlight does the forest get, what are the soil conditions, how competitive or

  • friendly is the ecosystem, how much precipitation is there, what are the atmospheric conditions

  • like, so on and so forth.

  • All of these factors limit how much the individual tree can thrive.

  • When you're a baby, your forest is your home.

  • But as you grow older, your forest expands, and you begin to see yourself as the citizen

  • of a city, then a country, and then the world.

  • The forest represents your evolving environment, and the environment limits how much you can

  • thrive.

  • If, for example, you're stuck in a city with no opportunities and lots of corruption,

  • your growth will be limited.

  • But if you're open to moving to another city or if you live in one with a supportive

  • environment and lots of opportunities, you can maximize your chances of reaching your

  • full potential.

  • So the forest represents the entire environment which limits what you, the tree, can become.

  • And there are two important parts of the forest we need to consider: the soil and the relationships.

  • Let's start by analyzing the soil.

  • The soil represents all of the opportunities available to the tree in the forest.

  • If the soil is rich with opportunity, the tree has a lot of potential for growth.

  • But if the soil is lacking in opportunity, the tree will be limited in how much it can

  • grow.

  • The soil can be compared to the opportunities for growth available in a city.

  • How safe are the neighbourhoods?

  • How good are the schools?

  • The grocery stores?

  • What kind of jobs are available and how many?

  • How good is the collected knowledge?

  • How advanced is the technology?

  • And how accessible are all of these opportunities?

  • For example, a city with less job opportunities provides less or limited potential for growth

  • when compared to a city with more job opportunities.

  • So the soil represents the opportunity available for growth.

  • Now let's move on to the next important part of a forest: the relationships between

  • organisms.

  • Are the relationships in the forest symbiotic or parasitic?

  • Do the organisms help one another thrive or not?

  • How competitive is it?

  • These answers make up the politics of the forest.

  • Imagine two big trees surrounding a little tree.

  • If the two big trees take all the water and sunlight and refuse to share any with the

  • little tree, which trees can do through their root systems, the little tree will then have

  • to struggle much harder to survive, thrive, and achieve a fraction of the growth of the

  • bigger trees.

  • The relationships in our own lives function the same way: some people build us up and

  • make it easier to thrive, while others suppress us and make it harder.

  • And naturally, someone who goes through lifefrom a home, to a school, to a business, to a marriagemaking

  • lots of symbiotic relationships is going to have an easier time blooming than someone

  • who doesn't.

  • So now that we've looked at the two important components of a forest, the soil and the relationships,

  • let's move on to analyzing the tree.

  • The tree represents the individual, and when it comes to the tree, we need to analyze two

  • critical component: the roots and the fruits.

  • The roots represent the actions we take to discover and capitalize on the opportunities

  • in our environment.

  • And at any point in time, the tree is making one of two choices: create a new root and

  • discover a new path, or optimize its current ones.

  • So how does the tree decide what to do?

  • For now, let's make the assumption that the tree spreads its roots in such a way that

  • it can maximize its growth.

  • Remember that the soil contains opportunities for growth, and so the tree is trying to discover

  • and capitalize on those opportunities with the least amount of work possible.

  • In other words, you can say that the tree spreads its roots in a way that maximizes

  • its rewards from the environment and minimizes the work required.

  • Let's put it into a formula which we can use later on.

  • And at any point in time, you're making the same decision as our tree: should you

  • discover a new action or optimize and utilize your current ones.

  • And like the tree, you're trying to maximize the rewards you get from the environment while

  • minimizing the work required.

  • Imagine two people who want to start eating healthier snacks.

  • Let's call them John and Jane.

  • Now both John and Jane have an action list which shows all of the actions they know they

  • can do.

  • On the left is the action, and on the right is the perceived value of that action.

  • Let's populate these lists and calculate the perceived value score.

  • Remember that formula I presented earlier?

  • Value = reward/work.

  • We're going to use this formula now to calculate the perceived value of an action.

  • So right now, John and Jane are both currently aware of two types of snacks: ice cream and

  • broccoli.

  • They both keep ice cream and broccoli easily accessible in their freezer or fridge.

  • All they have to do to eat either one is pull it out.

  • So let's assign a flat work score of 1 to both actions.

  • Now let's say John doesn't really like broccoli: he hates the taste and doesn't

  • really perceive the health benefits.

  • So he assigned a reward score of 1, and to him, this gives broccoli an overall value

  • score of 1.

  • On the other hand, John really loves the taste of ice cream and doesn't perceive any negative

  • health consequences.

  • So he assigns it a reward score of 9, and this gives ice cream, for him, a value score

  • of 9.

  • Now Jane on the other hand doesn't mind the taste of broccoli and gives it a reward

  • score of 4, but she really loves the taste of ice cream and gives it a score of 9.

  • And like John, health consequences don't factor into her decision.

  • This gives Jane a value score of 9 for ice cream and 4 for broccoli.

  • Because ice cream sits at the top of both of their action lists, John and Jane always

  • end up choosing it over the broccoli when it comes time to eat a snack.

  • But let's introduce a small optimization for both of them: they both stop bringing

  • ice cream homes and so whenever they want to eat it, they have to go out and buy it.

  • This optimization triples the work required, so now the work score for both people is 3.

  • And remember, they both gave ice cream a reward score of 9, so this gives ice cream a value

  • score of 3 for the both of them.

  • Now we can see something interesting: this optimization was enough to knock ice cream

  • below broccoli on the action list for Jane but not for John.

  • Jane actually stops eating ice cream and switches to broccoli, while John just ends up driving

  • to the store when he's hungry.

  • Optimization works for Jane but not for John.

  • So what should John do?

  • John needs to discover a new action through trial and error, and he can speed this process

  • up by imitating the actions of someone who's already successful at what he's trying to

  • do.

  • John talks to his body building friend who suggests trying a particular hummus dip.

  • So John gets the hummus with some carrots and ends up liking it.

  • He gives it a reward score of 5.

  • So if he leaves the ice cream at the store and brings the hummus home, this gives the

  • hummus and carrot snack a value score of 5 and the ice cream a value score of 3.

  • John has successfully replaced his ice cream snacking habit with an alternative.

  • Because we have a limited amount of energy, there's only so much we can do off the action

  • list in a day, and we only do the actions starting from the top.

  • So if you want to change what actions you do, you need to change the value score by