Metacognition

What Is The Cumulative? Pt 2

Last time, I wrote about how little actions add up to big results. I want to continue that line of thought with two related frames of thinking I use often: Keystone Habits and the Diderot Effect.

Keystone Habits are habits that, when changed, have a cascading effect on other habits. Example: you quit smoking. You start to feel better, so you start running, and as you get into shape, find it easier to eat healthier as well. You skip the late-night ice cream and instead, go to bed at a reasonable hour.

Keystone Habits can be positive or negative in nature. For whatever reason, I tend to think of them as leaning toward virtue.

On the other hand, I tend to perceive the Diderot Effect as leaning toward vice.

Denis Diderot was a French philosopher and art critic in the 18th century. Gifted an elegant robe, he soon found his other possessions to be lacking in quality and felt compelled to upgrade his decor with a new chair covered in Moroccan leather, a luxurious new writing table, and other prestigious possessions. Due to this phenomena, he came to loathe the gifted robe. He wrote about the experience in an essay titled “Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown.”

You have probably experienced this when buying a new phone, and accessorize it with a new case, screen protector, etc. Or when your old mats and phone charger seem so out of place in your new car, so you let the dealer charge you triple to tack on new accouterments to your loan.

While it is not a habit, and really only applies to our identities and how we relate to consumer goods – I see in the Diderot Effect a similar cascading effect as in Keystone Habits.

They are both cumulative in that changes one thing results in changes felt in multiple other areas.

In my life, when I want to alter a habit, I seek out the Keystone Habit – or the one decision that makes 1000 other decisions. I think of it as a cousin to First Principles Thinking – or better yet – an example of how washing a car from the top down can save time.

Additionally, whenever I am purchasing something or even receiving something for free, I am hyper-aware of the Diderot Effect. I will generally question any add-ons with puritanical fervor to determine if they are truly necessary, in an attempt to avoid my own fallacious thinking.

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