Controlling my habits is probably the biggest challenge I’ve ever had to deal with, both breaking bad habits and creating good ones. I have done a ton of research on it because I’m always searching for that magic solution.
And I’m not alone. I read somewhere that something like 90% of heart attack patients can’t change their habits, even when it might cost them their lives. No wonder we struggle every January 1st when we make our little resolutions to lose weight, clean up our houses, and stop abusing our charge cards.
The trick is to do two basic things:
1. Understand WHY you do the bad habit, or don’t do the good habit. There is always some kind of payoff for the things we do.
2. Make it easier for you to do the right things and harder to do the wrong things.
If you can just remember these two steps, your problem will be solved.
For instance – here is one of my big problems. I am always late. I’m late for just about everything, but particularly for work. I’m a hard worker and I usually make it up by staying late, but it is a persistent habit that has hung on for years and years, so obviously there must be a payoff for me.
So, after some thought, I decided that my WHY is that I like to piddle around in the morning. That’s my payoff. I like to check my iPhone in the morning and see what’s going on and then take a leisurely shower. I do my best thinking in the shower and it’s the one time of day that I am guaranteed to have a little time to myself. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s going to get me in trouble some day for being late so much.
So now that I’ve figured out the why, how do I engineer my mornings so to make it easy to not piddle around and make some drawbacks to running late in the mornings?
So my solution was to enlist an accomplice to help me – in this case, my son Blake. All I have to do is set out a load of laundry and a timer. I set the timer for 15 minutes. If I’m not out of the shower by then, Blake has my permission to start the load of laundry – thereby turning the water FREEZING COLD!
See how this works? I can only sustain my long shower habit at the cost of a freezing cold rinse at the end, plus the embarassment of watching my son gloat over it! And the side benefit is that I get a head start on my laundry every day.
Here’s another example. I read about a brilliant mother who had figured out how to get her kids to observe their date night curfew. She would set an alarm clock outside her bedroom. If they got home at the proper time, they could shut off the alarm and go off to bed. But if they weren’t home on time, the alarm would go off and they would have an angry mother waiting up for them when they finally showed up. That is really clever!
So if your bad habit was not cleaning up your kitchen every night, how could you make this strategy work for you?
I would just set an alarm for your normal bedtime. If you have cleaned the kitchen, you get to turn off the alarm and go to bed. But if the alarm goes off and you haven’t done it, then you have to stay up until the kitchen is clean. You could even enlist your spouse to help keep you honest. It also encourages you to go to bed at a regular time – a twofer!
I guess what I’m saying is that it is not enough to simply MAKE New Year’s Resolutions and just figure you are going to muster the willpower from somewhere to make them work for you. Millions of people think that and by the second or third week in January, they are typically back to their old habits. But the people who take the time to think it through and set themselves up to succeed, they have a lot better chance of being successful at these changes.
In the meantime, I have another post you might find helpful. These are my Top 5 Motivational Strategies.