My current emphasis: how to make good habits and break bad ones (really)

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

change aheadEvery 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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I'm just about finished writing my next book, Better Than Before, about how we can make and break our habits. If you’d like to hear when the book goes on sale, sign up here.

Secret of Adulthood: Working Is One of the Most Dangerous Forms of Procrastination.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:

WorkingIsOneOfTheMostDangerousForms_124851

 

Agree, disagree? I know some people practice “constructive procrastination,” but in my experience, it’s usually not very constructive.

I write a bit more about this Secret of Adulthood, here, and I discuss it at some length in Better Than Before, my forthcoming book about how we make and break habits. (To hear when the book goes on sale, sign up here.)

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Suffer from Insomnia? Try This Counter-Intuitive Trick.

moonoutsideswindowI’ve been on a bender of reading Josephine Tey recently. I don’t like mysteries, usually, but I just discovered her, and for some reason I’ve really been in the mood for her books.

In The Singing Sands, I came across a counter-intuitive trick for falling asleep. I’ve tried it now, myself, a few times, and it really works.

He put the light out, and resorted to his own cure for insomnia: pretending to himself that he had to stay awake. He had evolved this long ago from the simple premise that human nature wants to do the thing it is forbidden to do…He had only to begin pretending that he was not allowed to go to sleep for his eyelids to droop. The pretence eliminated in one move the greatest barrier to sleep: the fear that one is not going to, and so left the beach clear for the invading tide.

Some people don’t get enough sleep because they don’t turn off the light, but some people do turn off the light, but then lie awake — which is horribly frustrating.  If that’s your issue, look here for more, but fairly conventional, tips for falling asleep.

I’m a crazy sleep zealot. Sleep is so important. It’s a key to happiness and energy, and is also one of the crucial Foundation Four for maintaining good habits generally. (The other three? Eat and drink right; move; unclutter.)

Have you figured out any other unconventional tricks for helping yourself drift off?

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Video: For Habits, the Strategy of Accountability.

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.

I identify four strategies that are so essential that I call them the “Pillars of Habits”: Monitoring, Accountability, Scheduling, and the strategy I discussed in the last video, the Strategy of Foundation.

Today I’m going to talk about the Strategy of Accountability.

 

I can’t emphasize enough: Accountability is helpful to many people, but if you’re an Obliger – and there’s a good chance you are, because it’s one of the largest categories — you must develop systems of external accountability. This is the answer for habit-formation! This will work for you!

Don’t know what an Obliger is? Look here.

If you want a copy of the “Resolutions Chart” that I mention, email me here.

How about you? Do you find that Accountability helps you stick to your good habits?

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Do You Love Numbered Lists? Here Are Some Lists to Help with Your Habits.

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

This Wednesday: a round-up of numbered lists to help you shape your habits.

As I’ve mentioned many times, I’m working on a book called Better than Before, about how we make or break habits — which is an intensely fascinating subject. (To hear when the book goes on sale, sign up here.)

With habits, and happiness, and everything else, I’ve always been attracted to organizing information according to numbered lists — this process helps me think clearly and remember better.

Slight tangent: I get a tremendous kick out of the numbered lists that pop up throughout Buddhism: the Triple Refuge, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Four Noble Truths, the Eight Auspicious Symbols. It was surprising to me that Buddhism, with its emphasis on gateless gates and transcending the bounds of rational thinking, has so many of these numbered lists. I love them, but still, it seems incongruous. There’s a koan to be written about it, that’s for sure. Like, “Use numbers to throw away enumeration.”

Here are some numbered lists that are useful for habit-formation — presented, of course, in a numbered list:

1. The Four Tendencies

When it comes to making a habits, it’s crucial to know how you tend to respond to expectations: both 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:

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

If you’d like to see me discuss each category in  a video, you can watch: for Upholders, watch here; Questioners, here;  Rebels, here, and Obligers, here.

 

2. The Foundation Four

It’s a Secret of Adulthood: Good habits foster good habits. Change fosters change.

Certain habits seem to be particularly important; they serve as the Foundation for other habits. I always remind myself, “First things first.” That is, pay attention to the obvious before worrying about more subtle concerns.

Foundation habits keep us from getting too physically taxed or mentally frazzled, and then, because we have more energy and self-control, we follow our healthy habits more easily.

From my observation, the four Foundation habits are:

The Strategy of Foundation holds that when you’re trying to change some habits, think about strengthening your Foundation.

3. The Essential Seven

When I think about the habits that I wanted to cultivate, or talk to people about their happiness challenges, it seems as though just about every habit that people seek to make or break falls into the “Big Five”:

1. Eat and drink more healthfully (give up sugar, eat more vegetables, drink less alcohol)

2. Exercise regularly

3. Save, spend, and earn wisely (save regularly, pay down debt, donate to worthy causes, make purchases that contribute to happiness or habits, stay current with expense reports)

4. Rest, relax, and enjoy (pursue a hobby instead of cruising the internet, enjoy the moment, stop checking email, get enough sleep, spend less time in the car, take time for myself)

5. Stop procrastinating, accomplish more (practice an instrument, set aside two hours daily for uninterrupted work, learn a language, maintain a blog, keep a gratitude journal)

6. Simplify, clear, clean, and organize (make the bed every day, file regularly, put keys away in the same place, recycle, give away unused clothing)

7. Engage more deeply—with other people, with God, with yourself, with the world (call family members, read the Bible every day, volunteer, spend time with friends, observe the Sabbath, spend time alone in nature)

4. The Ten Categories of Loopholes. I love this list; loopholes are hilarious.

When we try to form and keep habits, we often search for loopholes, for justifications that will excuse us from keeping this particular habit in this particular situation. However, if we catch ourselves in the act of loophole-seeking, we can perhaps reject them.

1. False choice loophole “I can’t do this, because I’m so busy doing that” – this is one I often use, myself

2. Moral licensing loophole  — “I’ve been so good, it’s okay for me to do this”

3. Tomorrow loophole — “It’s okay to skip today, because I’m going to do this tomorrow”

4. Lack of control loophole — “I can’t help myself”

5. Planning to fail loophole — “I walked into this bakery to buy a bottle of water”

6. “This doesn’t count” loophole – “I’m on vacation” “I’m sick” “It’s the weekend”

7. Questionable assumption loophole — “the label says it’s healthy”

8. Concern for others loophole — “I can’t do this because it might make other people uncomfortable”

9. Fake self-actualization loophole – “You only live once! Embrace the moment!”

10. One-coin loophole“What difference does it make if I break my habit this one time?”

How about you? Do you like reading or making numbered lists? It gives an illusion of control — an illusion, perhaps, but a helpful illusion.

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