I find the concept of habits fascinating.
I finally was well enough to go back to the gym recently. Now I am working on improving my diet and drinking less alcohol. (I still am aiming to quit. One day).
Here’s what the research says builds good habits:
- Start with “Keystone Habits”: It’s like three good habits for the price of one. Get to the gym.
- Use “Minimum Viable Effort”: Floss one tooth. It’s that simple.
- Make a plan: Like the A-Team. Think through the details and write them down.
- Give yourself rewards: Tie a “want” to a “should.”
- Use reminders: Mark the calendar. Set the alarm. Use a checklist.
- Get help from friends: Peer pressure rocks. Hang out with pals who have the habit you want.
And if you screw up (and we all do) on following through with your good habit, …..Forgive yourself and try again.
There’s this fundamental finding in science that some habits seem to matter more than others. When researchers look at how people change their habitual behaviors, they find when some changes occur, it seems to set off a chain reaction that causes other patterns to change as well. For some people, exercise is a good example of this. When you start exercising habitually, according to studies, you start eating more healthfully. That makes sense. You start feeling good about your body. For many people, when they start exercising, they stop using their credit cards quite so often. They procrastinate less at work. They do their dishes earlier in the day.
The power of a keystone habit draws from its ability to change your self image.
Definitely since I’ve joined the gym, I feel better, and that feeling is addictive. Like I feel “clean” and just good in myself. So this idea of a keystone habit makes sense to me. I’ve since started packing an apple and almonds every day before work as my snacks. And so on.
A good example of this is, if you don’t want to exercise, give yourself permission to just do ten minutes. Chances are, once you start, you won’t want to stop. This works for me.
A portion of students received a detailed plan on how to get to the medical clinic; they were told the times when shots were available; they were given a map with the clinic clearly circled; and they were asked to review their schedule to find a time. Of the students who received this detailed plan, 28 percent went to get a shot, compared with 3 percent of students without the plan.
Thinking about the details makes you more likely to follow through. And another small thing that makes a big difference is just writing down your plan.
My downfall is the post work snacking. I know that sitting in front of the TV is fatal. I still succumb to this, but I now have a list of alternative things to do instead. So the other night, after my document was corrupted and took me an hour to fix, I didn’t relax in front of the TV (and eat my head off), I had a bath with candles instead.
Research shows that bribing people to go to the gym works:
She only let herself listen to audiobooks at the gym. It worked for her — and when she did a study of 226 students it worked for them too. So reward yourself.
Rewards never really work for me. I cave and then decide I didn’t want the reward anyway.
I love going to the gym, so bribery isn’t needed. What I need is to not feel guilty about neglecting work or my daughter, and to accept that I must exercise, and to give myself permission to spend time on myself. One way I do this is to plan (step 3). If I’ve planned my work hours and planned to spend time with my daughter, then I’m “allowed” to spend time doing what I want.
That alarm app on your smartphone isn’t just for waking you up. Numerous studies show simple reminders have impressive effects:
All habits have a trigger. I’m not sure a phone is the best solution for me. I often am away from my phone. Many of my habit triggers are situational – I do my breathing exercises on the train, I eat junk food when watching TV.
One of the big important things is that when you’re trying to change a habit, you have to believe that change is possible. It’s what’s known as an internal locus of control. Part of getting that belief, oftentimes, comes from participating in change in a group environment.
Certainly stopping drinking alcohol is hard when all my friends drink and we have bottles of wine in the house. So I accept for now that I am not always strong enough to avoid alcohol when they all drink.
I only drink cold white wine or prosecco. Since we decided to not have any wine in the fridge during the week I’ve found it so easy to stop drinking mid week. Small steps! My plan is to nix the mid week alcohol first with no wine in fridge, no TV watching. Then work up to killing the next bad habit, and so on.
Anyway. I don’t consider myself an alcoholic, but I do comfort eat and alcohol is just a type of food I like the taste of. I’m lucky that alcohol makes you drunk, and I hate feeling drunk, so I never drink that much. 2 glasses mostly. But I do want to stop altogether.
My theory is that by ADDING good habits, they crowd out the bad habits, so I just won’t have time for bad habits – junk food, TV. Rather than DENYING myself, I’m aiming for the attitude of being kind to myself. Cross fingers!