I want to expand on my last post about habits by suggesting a few tips and tricks that can be helpful in breaking bad habits and helpful in incorporating good habits. Depending on our personality, different things work for different people, so doing a bit of self-analysis can help narrow things down. There are all kinds of free personality tests on line to help you. Author Gretchen Rubin has a quiz on her website to determine which of her “Four Tendencies” you belong to. This in turn can help you in determining your best habit forming strategies.
After doing the quiz myself (I’m a Questioner), I thought it might be interesting to have my husband do the quiz as well. Not surprisingly, he agreed and the quiz confirmed my suspicions, he is an Obliger. In fact, the only reason he did the quiz was to please me, as he is not the type of person that normally would feel compelled or particularly interested in taking quizzes to better analyze himself.
While I have included several habit strategies, there are many more that I’ve come across in my research and personal experience. If you have any you have found helpful and would like to share, please post them in the comments section.
When you want to adapt a new habit that you might be struggling with, try pairing or coupling it with something else that is more desirable. For example if you are having a hard time getting in a daily walk, you could choose to only get your daily Starbuck’s or Tim Horton’s beverage or treat if you walk there. If the struggle is to exercise, then perhaps the only time you get to watch your favourite series or reality show is while you are on the tread mill. If you are trying to give up smoking, try requiring yourself to do 15 minutes of another activity before you can have a cigarette. The activity you choose should probably be something you don’t enjoy doing as much, whatever that is for you.
Another tip is consider if you are a morning person or a night owl and the time of day you have the most energy. As much as I would like to get up an hour earlier and exercise, despite being a morning person I cannot muster the habit to workout early in the morning (before 7:30am). I also don’t like working out later in the evening, my preference is sometime between 8am and 7pm. I’ve tried different strategies, but just can’t stick to them if they are outside my “high energy” periods. On the other hand, certain tasks like cleaning or organizing I love to do first thing when I get up, no matter how early. So work with, not against your best times of day for certain activities.
How about scheduling? If I put something, officially, on the schedule it is almost guaranteed to happen. It has greater importance and priority on the schedule. I am also a lover of lists. I will move items from list to list until I can stroke them off. But if it’s an activity of low priority, then it may move to a lot of lists before I finally do it. This can cause me a certain amount of stress so another suggestion is to create some kind of strategy for necessary but not urgent tasks.
Power hour, this could be a time once per week to do any non-urgent task on your to do list. Limited to one hour and only for tasks that don’t have a deadline. Those nagging things you know need to get done, but because there is no deadline they just linger forever. The burnt out lightbulb in the fridge or stove? The pictures you took of your granddaughter that your sister has been waiting months for you to develop and send to her? The shirts hanging on a chair that need to be ironed?
Another one of my favourites is, what can I accomplish during a commercial? With PVR, these days commercials are in our control. Sometimes I let the commercials play and I race around getting a bunch of little tasks done in that time. It is amazing what you can accomplish during commercials.
What if a new habit isn’t working for you at all? Do you stick with it or give it up? Ultimately, you decide. If you have really given something a good try, or know right away that it just isn’t for you, then why do it if it isn’t adding value to your life? Not all things that are good need to be incorporated into everyone’s life. Going to a musical may be something lots of people enjoy, but neither my husband nor I like them at all, so we never go even though we are regularly invited to join our friends in attending. That being said, my husband would say exercise isn’t “adding value” to his life so he’ll just give it up, but if it’s something that will help the longevity or quality of your life, then try finding another strategy to incorporate it. There are some things in life that you really should do or even must do (like exercising or eating vegetables), but may never truly enjoy. Not everyone is going to love exercise no matter how much they want to like it or work at it, so the key is finding a strategy that will help you do it anyway, like pairing it with something else that you do enjoy.
Sticky notes. If you have a hard time remembering a new habit you are trying to incorporate, try sticky notes in the beginning. A note on your bathroom mirror is a great reminder at rising or retiring. Even long standing habits can be forgotten with a change in routine, and leave you wondering at the end of the day how you forgot to do it. Someone recently mentioned to me that when they get up in the morning, the first thing they do is read some inspiring messages, but when they slept right to their alarm, which they don’t usually do, it completely slipped their mind.
Ideally, I would only keep foods in the house that are healthy. Unfortunately, I have a family member who would strenuously rebel at this strategy to keep my habit of eating healthy. But, what I do try to insist on is that “unhealthy” foods are kept in cupboards, so at least I’m not seeing them all the time thus eliminating some of the visual bombardment of temptation. This works quite well for lots of habits. If you are trying to quit smoking for example, don’t have cigarettes in the house and ideally, don’t be around others that smoke. In short, avoid triggers. Figure out what your triggers are and then find strategies to avoid them. For some people alcohol itself may not be a problem, but if they drink, this lowers their inhibitions and makes them susceptible to other temptations they may be trying to avoid, thus it may be best to avoid alcohol or only have it in a “safe” environment.
So there you have it, a number of habit forming or habit ending strategies. Gretchen Rubin also has a series of Podcasts on happiness and habits I would recommend, especially when you are commuting. My biggest “pet peeve” of living outside of the city was the time “wasted” during my commutes. Since discovering podcasts, I LOVE my commutes.
Comments are always appreciated. Let me know how you are doing with your habit strategies. Thanks for joining the journey and remember that it’s great to strive for improvement, but you are good enough as is!