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

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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?

Video: For Habits, Try the Strategy of Monitoring.

This week’s video: I’m starting a 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 book describes the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits. To hear when the book goes on sale, sign up here.

Last week was the Strategy of Self-Knowledge. This is the first, crucial strategy.

This week — the Strategy of Monitoring. (Which is one of the four “Pillars of Habits, ” along with the Strategies of Foundation, Scheduling, and Accountability.)

Please excuse the typo in the video. I see it, but I can’t easily fix it. (Secret of Adulthood: Flawed can be more perfect than perfection. Right?)

 

Monitoring is an observational strategy. It doesn’t require that I change what I’m doing, only that I know what I’m doing. This is crucial to habit formation, because once I recognize what I’m doing, I may choose to behave differently.

Monitoring has an almost uncanny power. It doesn’t require change, but it often leads to change, because people who keep close track of just about anything tend to do a better job of managing it. Tracking boosts self-control in key categories such as eating, drinking, exercising, working, TV- and internet-use, spending—and just about anything else.

It’s a Secret of Adulthood for habits: “We manage what we monitor.” Self-measurement brings self-awareness, and self-awareness strengthens our self-control. And on the flip side, anything that makes us lose self-awareness weakens our self-mastery. Alcohol makes it all too easy to place giant bets at a casino; a long, stressful day can lead to a night of online binge-shopping; vacationing with a group of friends can make it easy to blow through a personal budget.

Actual measurement is crucial, because when we guess what we’re doing, we’re often wildly inaccurate. Unsurprisingly, we tend to under-estimate how much we eat and over-estimate how much we exercise.

Have you found ways to monitor yourself — and did you find that it changed your habits?

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Story: The Fact Is, It’s Nice to Be Appreciated.

This week’s video story: It’s nice to be appreciated. Even if you don’t do something for the recognition — the recognition is nice.

How I love stories when virtue is rewarded! Here’s the one that I mention in the video, that I already posted, and here’s one for today:

Note that my friend’s acts of kindness weren’t “random acts of kindness “; they were very specific. But they were very kind.

How about you? Have you ever recognized — or been recognized — in this way?

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Story: I Only Have to Worry about Doing My Best.

This week’s video story: I only have to worry about doing my best.

It was a big relief to me to think — well, my friend is right, I don’t have to worry about being qualified. That’s the Justice‘s problem! It’s hard to explain why that made such a difference to me. All we can do is our best, and I’ve found that when I focus on that, I’m much less anxious, and also more productive.

Has anyone managed to say the perfect thing to you — the thing that really helped you? I think about my husband saying, to a colleague who sent out a very unfortunate “Reply all” email,  “We’ve all done it.” Or my mother telling me, when I was in a frenzy of last-minute wedding plans, “The things that go wrong often make the best memories.”

Or better yet, have you ever found the perfect words to say?

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Story: Sometimes, We Can Be Generous By Taking.

This week’s video story: Sometimes, we can be generous by taking.

 

This is a very sad but beautiful story. I’m haunted by it.

I realize that many of my favorite stories feature this theme, though in more ordinary situations: my friend who wished her husband would ask her to cook his favorite foods, or my friend who wished he’d accepted a newspaper from a stranger.

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Find the archives of videos here.  Almost 1.9 MILLION views. Don’t forget to subscribe.

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