Just A Bitting

When I start doing something, knowing that once I start, it’ll be hard to stop, I call that “just-a-bitting” myself. I, like everyone, do this to myself surprisingly frequently without noticing it. Common examples of just-a-bitting that people express some misgivings about are watching Netflix, reading Hackernews / your favorite way to browse the internet, playing video games, and eating cookies. But you can also just-a-bit yourself with lots of other things. Once I get in a good writing flow, I don’t want to stop. It’s the same for programming and for soccer.

As those last examples suggest, it can actually be a very positive thing to just-a-bit myself. One of the best ways to get into a new hobby or career interest is to fall in love with the thing you’re learning to do. You can think of the task as: how do I design an activity, such that when I start, I am intrinsically motivated to keep going. Repeatedly just-a-bitting yourself is a core component of this.

There’s also an important corollary to the positive reinforcement of repeated actions. If you can cut a thing out of your life completely, your brain will often stop desiring the thing soon after stopping (like, within a few days for many things in my experience).

Up until age 13, I used to play something like an hour of video games a day. But then one day I decided it wasn’t worth that much time, and cut it out completely. What surprised me is that after a few days of not playing, I also didn’t desire to play. There appears to be an important shift between “thinking about whether I want something every day” vs. “I never do this” – if I don’t need to consider the decision, I don’t think about it at all.

There are many biological needs that one cannot cut out. Humans need enough of many types of nutrients, and people feel hungry if they don’t eat enough of those. Friendship, exercise, and sex are also core needs. But for many of the things we do habitually, the desire to do them diminishes greatly by not doing it all.

Two of the most common things to just-a-bit oneself about are disputes and money, and as PG says, it’s easy to let these things become the “top idea” in one’s mind – the thing we keep thinking about constantly throughout the day.

In addition to trying not to get into fights in the first place, another tricky part about disputes is that there’s often a component from one party of “I don’t want to talk about this right now.” If the dispute matters a lot to at least one person, it can then be very hard to stop thinking about the dispute until it is resolved.

I don’t know of a one-size-fits-all solution for this unfortunately. One thing that seems to help me is to have a set time when I will talk about the thing next, so that I can comfort myself in knowing “we will resolve this tomorrow” instead of feeling a need to figure out how to solve the thing. Another thing I tried recently was trying to notice every time I was thinking about the dispute, and to just write down on paper how I was feeling as soon as I noticed, without judgement for getting caught up in it. This was helpful for preventing just-a-bitting, as I had a simple action for what I should do when it comes up.

Interestingly, I also noticed that I wasn’t actually angry almost all of the times I started thinking about the dispute – I only got angry when I let myself keep thinking about all of the details of the disagreement. This helped me feel like the dispute actually wasn’t a big deal, and that I didn’t have to keep thinking about it as often.

Every once in a while, I try to just write down all the things that I’m doing regularly. Oftentimes I find that I’m just-a-bitting myself on something that I don’t actually want to be doing. And sometimes, just by not doing the thing for a few days or changing my mindset about starting the thing in the first place, I can greatly reduce the desire to do the thing.