Here is the transcript and summary of Jude Aburdan’s talk titled “The Power of Habit” at TEDxSafirSchool conference.
Listen to the audio version here:
Hi everyone, my name is Jude Aburdan. I’m a fresh graduate from the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery at Istanbul Medical University. That makes me a general practitioner or a physician, and today I want to share with you a personal story on how I got to where I am today.
Back in high school, I was always seeking to be the best at everything, like literally. Starting from a young age, I taught myself how to paint, play guitar, and I even successfully stole my sister’s professional camera to learn photography. Additionally, I excelled at being a nerd in all subjects except for Arabic language. My average dropped from 100% to 99%, and God, that drove me crazy. Told you, excelled at being a nerd.
I participated in almost every school competition and was so popular and known for all of my achievements. All of that combined with the support and ovation I got from those around me made me feel confident and powerful beyond belief, like, “Wow, I’m actually good.”
So what happened next? I got into university, accepted into the major of my dream, medicine. Do any of you want to become a doctor in the future? Do I see hands? Yes.
Well, I got into the major of my dream and I failed my first exam. It was the very first exam in the first year of medical school. It included basic knowledge regarding what we learned throughout the first semester. It wasn’t a matter of failing the entire year but it was the first hit of reality to experience failure the first time in my life.
Well, for those who are a type A personality, you’ll know exactly how I felt by that time. For your information, type A personality individuals are ambitious, highly self-conscious, proactive, and always concerned with time management. In contrast to type B personality who are more patient, less anxious, and relaxed.
I am a type A personality, never satisfied and always seeking to be more than good enough. So experiencing failure for the first time in my life was tough, especially that I experienced it away from my family and friends who could have played an important role in supporting me.
Failing that exam absolutely shattered me into pieces. I lost my confidence, I started doubting myself and I even started to question whether or not I was good enough for medicine. From an urgent high school to a failing grade in the major of my dreams.
That got me into severe depression. At that time I did not realize the importance of failure. I wasn’t aware of the potential that it would add to my life and to my growth. Everything I had ever wanted I felt it was crumbled. I hated feeling that way. I had to change something.
Deep down I knew that I could get back up, try again since there would be other chances of scoring high on other exams. All I needed was a method, a certain recipe to have the power to try again.
Well fast forward to after that exam and until I graduated from medicine, I managed to become one of the top students in my faculty. How I did it? I obtained new habits. So here’s what I did.
I developed new study techniques. I used colorful sticky notes to write high-yield information and would stick them everywhere around my room. I started drawing anatomical structures over my body to improve my photographic memory. Helped my colleagues by teaching them the subjects they didn’t understand.
I depended mainly on active recall technique which I highly recommend, guys. You do it by reading your lesson or watching a video about it and then you put it away and start taking notes on what you can recall or what you understood from it. Second, I fixed my diet. I started eating healthy, made time to cook at home and prepare meal boxes on a weekly basis. Third, I learned yoga which is the exercise that heals the body, mind, and soul. It’s the type of exercise I needed to be able to manage the stress and pressure I was going through.
Fourth, I focused on my circle of friends by keeping those who motivated me to be and do better and by staying away from those who discouraged me and distracted me and made me feel bad. Fifth, focus on this, guys. I paid more attention to the words I tell myself every day.
The thoughts I get before I go to sleep and the thoughts I get in the morning, they all depended on what I tell myself every day. Your words matter.
So the next question is how did I maintain all of this? I used the habit loop method which I learned from a book called The Power of Habits by Charles Duhigg. The habit loop is a neurological loop that governs any habit. It has the ability to override old habits by creating new impulses that are stimulated by new urges or behaviors. It consists of three elements: a cue, a routine, and a reward.
The cue for a habit is anything that triggers a habit. Cues most generally fall under the following categories: a location, a time of day, or other people. My cue was my desk. After I finish my classes in the university, I go back home, see my desk, and start my routine.
The routine is the most obvious element of the habit loop since it’s the behavior you wish to change or reinforce. In my case, the cue is my desk. I start studying, which is my routine, and then I get to the reward, which is my favorite part.
The reward is the reason our brains decide that the previous steps are worth remembering for the future. It provides positive reinforcement for the desired behavior, making it more likely that you will produce this behavior again in the future. It can be, for example, for me, it was doing yoga with my coach, eating something that I like, or watching an episode of my favorite series, Friends. You guys like it, right?