Tag Archives: change

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?

My New Book about Habit Formation, as Distilled in 21 Sentences.

Every Wednesday is List Day, or Tip Day, or Quiz Day.

Today: My new book about habit-formation, handily distilled into 21 sentences.

As I may have mentioned, I’m working on Better Than Before, a book about how we can change our habits. It’s at the copy-editing stage now, so it’s really nearing completion — both thrilling and slightly terrifying. (If you want to know when Better Than Before goes on sale, sign up here.)

In each chapter, I identify a strategy we can use to make and break habits.

I was thinking of Lytton Strachey’s observation, “Perhaps the best test of a man’s intelligence is his capacity for making a summary.” So I decided to try to summarize each chapter of Better Than Before in a single sentence.  The entire gist of the book, in 21 sentences.

You may think, “Twenty-one strategies! That’s overwhelming.” It may seem like a lot, but it’s actually helpful, because you can choose the ones that work for you. For instance, if you’re a Rebel, you’re not likely to use the Strategy of Scheduling, but the Strategy of Identity would work well. Or if you’re an Obliger, the Strategy of Clarity will be much less important than Accountability.

Many experts suggest one-size-fits-all solutions for habit change — and boy, it would be great if there were one magical answer that helped everyone. But we’re all different, so different strategies work for different people.

In fact, that’s why the first two Strategies relate to Self-Knowledge…

Self-Knowledge

The Four Tendencies: To change your habits, you have to know yourself, and in particular, your Tendency. (Are you an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel?)

Distinctions: Knowing yourself is so important that it’s not enough to know your Tendency, you must also recognize your Distinctions. (For instance, are you a Marathoner or Sprinter? Under-buyer or over-buyer? Finisher or Opener? Novelty-lover or Familiarity-lover?)

 Pillars of Habits

Monitoring: You manage what you monitor, so find a way to monitor whatever matters.

Foundation: First things first, so begin by making sure to get enough sleep, eat and drink right, move, and un-clutter.

Scheduling: If it’s on the calendar, it happens.

Accountability:  You do better when you know someone’s watching–even if you’re the one doing the watching.

 The Best Time to Begin

First Steps:  It’s enough to begin; if you’re ready, begin now.

Clean Slate: Temporary becomes permanent, so start the way you want to continue.

Lightning Bolt: A single idea can change the habits of a lifetime, overnight. (Enormously powerful, but hard to invoke on command.)

 Desire, Ease, and Excuses

Abstaining: For some of us, moderation is too tough; it’s easier to give up something altogether. (Works very well for some people, and not at all for others.)

Convenience: Make it easy to do right and hard to go wrong.

Inconvenience: Change your surroundings, not yourself.

Safeguards: Plan to fail.

Loophole-Spotting: Don’t kid yourself. (The funniest strategy. I love collecting loopholes.)

Distraction: Wait fifteen minutes.

Reward:  The reward for a good habit is the good habit, and that’s the reward to give yourself.  (The most misunderstood strategy.)

Treats: It’s easier to ask more of yourself when you’re giving more to yourself. (The most fun strategy.)

Pairing:  Only do X when you’re doing Y. (Simple but surprisingly effective.)

 Unique, Just like Everyone Else

Clarity: The clearer you are about what you want, the more likely you are to stick to your habits.

Identity: Your habits reflect your identity, so if you struggle to change a particular habit, re-think your identity.

Other People: Your habits rub off on other people, and their habits rub off on you.

Have I forgotten any strategies? Which ones appeal most to you? I’m an Upholder, so I like just about all the Strategies.

Habit-formation is an endlessly fascinating subject. If you want to know when Better Than Before goes on sale, sign up here.

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“If I Didn’t Take Drastic Steps I Wasn’t Going To Be Around for My Son.”

I’m writing my next book, Better than Before, about how we make and break habits– an issue  very relevant to happiness. Each week, I’ll post a before-and-after story submitted by a reader, about how he or she successfully changed a habit. We can all learn from each other. If you’d like to share your story, contact me here. To hear when Better than Before goes on sale, sign up here.

This week’s story comes from Angela Peinado:

I believed myself to be Wonder Woman and loved when people used to say “I don’t know how you do it all.” I would never say “no” to anything. I loved the recognition and praise. This Wonder Woman Habit came tumbling down fast and hard. I found myself working a 40 hour/week job, teaching one or two nights a week, finishing up my dissertation, part of my son’s school advisory council, home room mom, volunteering for a large community event, on top of being a wife and mom.

 

I was feeling stress and the beginning stages of anxiety. My sleep habits were out of whack, not to mention my eating schedule. I had gone to the doctor because I wasn’t feeling good (wonder why), and she starting asking me questions about my daily habits. She almost flipped off her stool and said I had to let some things go. I walked out saying OK but then didn’t do a thing (except added on a church committee).

 

One day, every single thing I was doing either had questions I needed to answer, problem to address, or deadlines for that day. I just lost it and felt this thing happening inside me but couldn’t tell what. My heart was beating fast, had shaky palms, and felt this exhaustion I never had before. My first thought was I was having a stroke. Nope! It was a full fledged panic attack. My doctor then said if I didn’t take drastic steps I was not going to be around for my son. Talk about a wake up call.

 

I refocused my life, read well-being books, meditated, took some me time, and learned how to relax. Slowly the Wonder Woman habit wants to sneak up but I have to learn I can say no. This was a tough habit to break, since I had been doing it as long as I had. Slowly my life is becoming something I am proud of and do not care what others may say or think. This was the toughest habit to break and it took a long time to recover, but I did and and work hard each day to be mindful and find that balance.

This is what I call the Strategy of the Lightning Bolt.

Discussions of habit-change often emphasize the importance of repeating an action, over and over, until it becomes automatic, and such repetition does indeed help to form habits. However, it’s also true that sometimes we’re hit by a lightning bolt that transforms our habits. We encounter some new idea, and suddenly a new habit replaces a longstanding habit. The Strategy of the Lightning Bolt takes its power from knowledge, beliefs, and ideas.

The Lightning Bolt is a highly effective strategy, but unfortunately, it’s rare, and practically impossible to invoke on command.

A milestone event, whether positive or negative—a panic attack, as in this example, or a marriage, a diagnosis, an anniversary, hitting bottom, a birthday, an accident, a midlife crisis, a long journey taken alone—often triggers a Lightning Bolt, because we’re smacked with some new idea that jolts us into change.

Have you ever been hit by the Lightning Bolt, and found that your habits changed — whether gradually, as in this example, or perhaps even overnight?

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Has a “Clean Slate” Ever Led to a Major Habit Change for You?

In my forthcoming book on habits – the most fascinating subject ever — I explore the various strategies that we can use to shape our habits. Strategies such as Monitoring, Convenience, the delightful Treats, and the hilarious Loophole-Spotting.

One effective strategy is the Clean Slate.

The fresh start, the do-over, or the new year is a crucial time, because it offers tremendous opportunity for forming new habits — but it can also pose great risk to existing habits that we want to maintain. It’s important to stay alert for signs of a clean slate, because too often, we fail to use the opportunity of a clean slate to form a desirable habit, or we fail to recognize that a clean slate is triggering a habit that we don’t want to form.

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.

One reader wrote: “I’ve always been a regular exerciser, and the weirdest thing happened once my son started taking the bus to school. I stopped. Why? Because my routine was to drop him off at school, then go right to the gym every week day. It was an ingrained habit. Once he stopped taking the bus, the trigger was gone.”

The Clean Slate is so powerful that it’s a shame not to exploit it, and by making ourselves conscious of times of beginning, we can harness these crucial moments of opportunity to forge new and better habits. 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 if you’re moving, take advantage of your Clean Slate! What might you do differently in this new environment? And be wary of allowing new, bad habits to form. It’s a Secret of Adulthood for habits: Temporary often becomes permanent, and what we assume is permanent often proves temporary.

Here’s my question for you: 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? I’d love to hear examples from other people.

Beginnings are so important; in fact, two habit-formation strategies take advantage of beginnings, Clean Slate and First Steps.

Habit-formation is an endlessly fascinating subject. If you want to know when my book goes on sale, sign up here.

If you’re reading this post through the daily email, click here to join the conversation. And if you’d like to get the daily blog post by email, sign up here. You can ignore that RSS business.