Implementing Habits

by : Henrik Flensborg

A year and a half ago I was introduced to something called Swarming or Swarm intelligence.

A big telecommunication company was actually mimicking ants to improve the performance of some of their products.

Now if a big telecommunication company is modeling behavior of ants and produce better products that way, there must be something worth looking at inside the head of ants.

Imagine for a moment that you are an ant. A worker ant - one of those responsible for bringing food back to the hill.

You have just found something edible that you want to bring back to the hill.

And before heading back you put Ant Rule #1 into action.

Ant Rule #1: If you find something edible you must mark the spot with a scent before heading back.

Simple rule - right?

So you leave a tiny drop to "mark the spot"

Once back at the hill you unload your loot and head out again to find more food.

Now as an ant you really don't have the massive mental capacity necessary to remember where you found the food.

Ant Rule #2 steps in.

Ant Rule #2: Head in the direction of the strongest scent from an "I found food here"-marker.

Simple rule - right?

So you head in the direction of the strongest scent.

It isn't the maker you left yourself, but apparently some of the other ants found food that was closer to the hill. Or maybe there was more food available, so more ants have visited and left more markers.

Anyway, you head for the food, leave a marker, head back to the hill, and then heads back out again.

But this time there is no food left at the marker, and you can't pick up the scent from other markers.

Ant Rule #3 steps in.

Ant Rule #3: If you don't know where food is, just start walking in a random direction.

So you pick a random direction and start walking.

A few minutes later you pick up the scent of an "I found food here"-marker - and you are back in business.

Now, listen closely: "When I snap my fingers you are no longer an ant"


Back in the realm of the humans? - good

So an ant uses only a few simple rules for bringing back food to the hill.

How many rules are in play when you bring food to the house?

Thousands I guess.

Get up in the morning, go to work, wait for paycheck, deposit paycheck, withdraw money from bank, compare offers, go to shop, find groceries, pay for the stuff, go home...

And these are only top-level rules/tasks - each of these break down into smaller and more complicated rules about how we get up in the morning, how we behave at work, how we compare offers etc.

Now you can't just live a simple life like the ant - the world we live and operate in is just too complex for that.

But you can easily apply Ant Rules to your daily life to make it easier.

And you can even use Ant Rules to create good habits.

Let's say you want to acquire good eating habits.

"Good eating habits" is a very complex entity, but what if you break it down into little Ant Rules?

Ant Rule #1: When given the choice: Always choose sparkling water instead of soda.

Ant Rule #2: Go for a walk right after eating supper.

Ant Rule #3: Eat fish on Mondays.

See, each of these rules are simple enough to be implemented with ease.

And they can be implemented gradually so you are not overwhelmed with "all the new stuff" in your new habit.

Another beauty of the simplicity of Ant Rules is that you can teach them to anybody.

How about your children?

Do they leave stuff around house?

And can it be a real challenge to get them to clean their *entire* room?

How about an Ant Rule that says "When you enter your room you must pick up one thing from the floor and put it in its right place"

Do you think you could get your kids to agree with just picking up one thing instead of cleaning up the entire room?

Now, I promised to talk about swarming and swarm intelligence, but one person with a set of Ant Rules can't really be considered a swarm?

So where do you find swarms of people?

In your home and at your workplace.

What if everybody lives by the rule of fixing just one thing when they enter a room? - how much simpler would you think it would be to keep a tidy place?

And how about at work?

Which Ant Rules can you think of that would fit into your workplace? - Rules that your team or co-workers could easily agree with and that would make you function more effectively as a team or make it a more pleasant place to work?