Tag Archives: change

How Are Your Habits Shaped by Your Surroundings?

“There is a myth, sometimes widespread, that a person need only do inner work…that a man is entirely responsible for his own problems; and that to cure himself, he need only change himself…The fact is, a person is so formed by his surroundings, that his state of harmony depends entirely on his harmony with his surroundings.” —Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building

One of the items on my Habits Manifesto is “It’s easier to change our surroundings than ourselves.”

Have you found ways to change your surroundings, in a way that helps you keep your good habits? Sometimes it’s as simple as not buying ice cream, or keeping the TV remote control hidden on a high shelf, or making your bed.

This comes up often with Obligers. Obligers often say to me, “I need to build my self-esteem,” “I need to learn to honor my own priorities,” or “I need to make time for myself.” My response is — change your surroundings, not yourself. Add external accountability, and you’ll meet that inner expectation. And adding external accountability is so much easier than trying to change ourselves.

What has worked for you?

Before and After: An Obliger Figures Out How To Exercise Regularly

Have I mentioned that I have a book coming out, about habits? Oh right, I may have mentioned it.

Yes, indeed, my book Better Than Before comes out March 17. So close and yet so far! Somehow the fact that it’s now “February” instead of “January” makes my publication date seem much, much closer.

The way publishing works these days, pre-orders give a big boost to a book. If you’re inclined to buy the book, pre-ordering is a big help to me. Order info here.

Occasionally, I post an interesting before-and-after story submitted by a reader, about how he or she successfully changed a habit.  I love to hear people’s stories about habit change. We can all learn from each other. If you’d like to share your story, contact me here.

This week’s story comes from someone who wants to remain anonymous.

“Between my and my husband’s full-time jobs, work travel, and 2 young kids, I’ve often felt I had very limited time to exercise in the last few years. My favorite form of exercise is to run or hike outdoors with a good friend. I happily trained for and ran several marathons with friends before having kids. For the longest time I thought the “friend” part of the equation was because I’m a fairly sociable person and often have to work alone. It’s nice to combine chatting and exercise. Also, meeting a friend is often the key to getting me out the door. If I don’t have a plan to meet someone, I tend to prioritize something else (work or family) even if there is no deadline for that other thing. Until reading your Four Tendencies framework and realizing I was an Obliger, I really didn’t know why.  [Readers, if you want to take a Quiz to determine your own Tendency, it’s here.]

“I began to have concerns in the past year or 2 when my previous exercise partners moved away or changed schedules, and I could not seem to make myself exercise consistently alone. I tried signing up for gym classes, large group training programs, or running events like 10Ks, but it didn’t work – I would find excuses not to go if something else seemed more pressing. Having invested the money was not a huge motivating factor for me (which bothered me, but not enough to drive a change). I tried recruiting other friends as exercise buddies, but if their busy schedules interfered then I would just drop my plan too. I was feeling terrible that I seemed so dependent on friends to do something I know I like doing & that is good for me- exercise!

“FINALLY I read the Four Tendencies framework and the light-bulb went off. As an Obliger I had to understand my motivations better and create solid external accountability for exercise! And it had to be really consistent and difficult to rearrange! I realized it would be nice if my new exercise plan could involve friends, but it didn’t have to. I do enjoy running and hiking alone once I get going. And in the past I had exercised successfully for months with a neighbor’s new puppy who had to go on long runs with me or she’d chew up the house! I realized that the pre-paid large group classes or 10Ks did not work for me because the instructors or organizers, while nice, did not “need” people to show up, and left it to our own motivation to participate. And unless I attended a class or event with a friend who expected or “needed” me to go, I often wouldn’t go.

“The new accountability system I’ve now followed for 4 months is simple. Our neighbors mentioned they were hiring a part-time babysitter 2 mornings a week. I asked if she could come to our house first, from 6-7 am. During this time, I go out to exercise. The babysitter is happy to sit, read, and drink coffee while the kids (usually) sleep. If my husband is home, he gets up and leaves for work earlier than usual, which he loves. If he’s traveling, I can still exercise. The great part is that the babysitter (and my husband and kids) all cheerfully expect me to go for a run and, when I get back, they ask how it was! In light of this, I feel I can’t just sneak off and do something else! Or cancel – I feel it would be very inconvenient (and unprofessional) for me to change plans, because the babysitter lives 15 min away and would not appreciate rearranging such an early schedule at short notice. The outcome seems to work & be win win for all of us.

“Exercising consistently on those 2 days somehow makes it easier to add in other sessions on other days (because I feel better about sticking to the plan?), and I have also realized that “team” relay run events are a great exercise goal for me – I have to train for my parts of the relay and participate on the day, or the whole team will be badly affected!  Even though I do still wish that my nature was different and that I could be more self-motivated to exercise, it feels really good to have identified the strategies that work best for me, after literally decades of trial and error!”

This terrific story illustrates an important point about Obligers: they differ in what makes them feel “Obligated.”

In this case, we hear, being part of a large group didn’t trigger  a sense of external accountability. The sense of obligation arose from a connection to a specific person.

Second, paying money didn’t seem to make this Obliger feel very obligated, while for some people, money is a very powerful factor. Having paid for something, the thought of wasting money on something not used, having to pay a late fee, etc.

As with everything related to habits, the key is to think about what works for you. That’s the way to find success.

Have you found a good strategy to get yourself to exercise regularly? This is one of the habits that people most want to form, and have most trouble with.

If you want to take a Quiz to learn about your Tendency, go here.  More than 35,000 people have taken it!

 

Video: Are You an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel?

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the various strategies that we can use for habit-formation.

Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative.

My forthcoming book, Better Than Before, describes the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits. To pre-order, click here. (Pre-orders give a real boost to a book, so if you’re inclined to buy the book, pre-ordering now is a big help.)

In this video, I talk about the Strategy of the Four Tendencies. I have to say, of everything I write about in Better Than Before, I’m most proud of this section. It’s the most original, the most startling, the most helpful — and predictably, it was the most difficult to write.

 

If you want to find out your own Tenency, take this Quiz. More than 35,000 people have taken it!

It’s very important to know ourselves, but self-knowledge is challenging.  I’m like a Muggle Sorting Hat: I sort everyone into four categories, which describe how people tend to respond to expectations: outer expectations (a deadline, a “request” from a sweetheart) and inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, keep a New Year’s resolution).

Your response to expectations may sound slightly obscure, but it turns out to be very, very important.

In a nutshell:

  • Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations (I’m an Upholder, 100%)
  • Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense (my husband is a Questioner)
  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves

 

What’s your Tendency? Does knowing your Tendency give you some insight into how to change your habits more readily? From what I’ve observed, Obligers find this the most helpful, because when they realize that external accountability is the key for them, they can easily plug that in — and succeed.

What Appeals to You? Ditch Day, Catch-Up Day, or Mandatory Vacation Day?

When we’re tackling our habits, word matter.

Research shows that people who use language that emphasizes that they’re acting by their own choice and exercising control (“I don’t,” “I choose to,” “I’m going to,” or “I don’t want to”) stick to their habits better than people who use language that undermines their self-efficacy (“I can’t,” “I’m not allowed to,” or “I’m supposed to”). There’s a real difference between “I don’t” and “I can’t.”

For instance, I don’t eat sugar; I can eat sugar, but I don’t. In fact, I love not eating sugar!

Also, in my own mind, I try to replace “I have to” with “I get to” whenever possible. “I get to go the library today.” “I get to go to a parent coffee tomorrow.”

The very words we choose to characterize our habits can make them seem more or less appealing. “Engagement time” sounds more interesting than “email time.” “Playing the piano” sounds more fun than “practicing the piano.” And what sounds more attractive, a “personal retreat day” or a “catch-up day” or a “ditch day” or a “mandatory vacation day”? (People of different Tendencies might choose different terms.)

Would a person rather “take a dance class” or “exercise”? Some people like the word “quit,” as in “I’ve quit caffeine”; some are put off by its overtones of addiction. A woman told me, “I try not to use the words ‘forever’ and ‘never,’ but I like the word ‘permanent.’ ”

Do you make choices about the vocabulary you use, to help you master your habits?

To read more about this, check out Better Than Before, my book about when and why we change our habits. You can pre-order here – and if you’re inclined to buy the book, it really helps me if you pre-order. Don’t worry, you won’t be charged until it ships.

Video: For Habits, the Strategy of the Clean Slate.

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the various strategies that we can use for habit-formation.

Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative. My forthcoming book, Better Than Before, describes the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits. To hear when it goes on sale, sign up here.

Today, I’m talking about the Strategy of the Clean Slate.

It’s one of three strategies that take their power from beginnings, and it’s particularly related to the Strategy of First Steps.

 

The slate may be wiped clean by a change in personal relationships: marriage, divorce, a new baby, a new puppy, a break-up, a new friend, a death. Or the slate may be wiped clean by a change in surroundings: a new apartment, a new city, even rearranged furniture. Or some major aspect of life may change: a new job, a new school, a new doctor.

Even minor changes can amount to a clean slate — a change as seemingly insignificant as taking a different route to work, or watching TV in a different room.

The Clean Slate is so powerful that it’s a shame not to exploit it. For example, in one study of people trying to make a change — such as change in career or education, relationships, addictive behaviors, health behaviors such as dieting, or change in perspective — 36% of successful changes were associated with a move to a new location.

So take advantage whenever the slate is wiped clean, as a moment to change a habit.

Have you experienced this? Did you find that you changed a big habit after a major change, such as getting married, or getting divorced, or moving, or starting a new job? Or after a small change?