This month I’m implementing strategies from Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives to try to reboot my habits.
Carefully chosen habits can help us spend a greater percentage of our day (and lives) doing the things that fulfill us, restore us, and leave us healthier in mind, body, and spirit. By doing so, we’re able to take better care of those around us.
Last week’s post discussed Gretchen’s framework for figuring out your Tendency (personal wiring), an essential first step in developing better habits.
Personally, I’m an Upholder (motivated by internal and external expectations), lark (morning person), marathoner (likes to work at a slow and steady clip), underbuyer, simplicity lover, finisher (I like bringing a project to completion before starting something new), novelty lover (easily bored), and I like to take small steps rather than big steps.
Once you know your Tendency, you can design strategies to kick your desired habits into gear. Gretchen identifies four strategies as the “Pillars of Habits” — Monitoring, Foundation, Scheduling, and Accountability.
The strategy of monitoring is based on the premise of, “If we want something to count in our lives, we should figure out a way to count it.”
Anybody who has a Fitbit or other fitness-tracking wristband understands the power of monitoring. I don’t have a Fitbit, but my Garmin GPS watch pushes me to run farther when I remember to use it.
My meditation app, Headspace.com, does an awesome job showing you how many days of meditation you’ve completed, and even gives you a voucher for a free month’s worth of the program once you’ve meditated 15 days in a row. Because I love sharing the benefits of Headspace, the promise of a voucher to gift to a friend is an added incentive for me to not miss a day. (Let me know if you’d like to be added to my list of potential voucher recipients!)
But it’s my Zazen Suite timer app that I use the most for monitoring time spent on my healthy (mind/body/spirit-feeding) habits. Whether it’s writing, gardening, running (if I forget the Garmin), or de-cluttering, setting the timer on my phone keeps me focused and on task. If there’s something I really don’t feel like doing, I’ll set the timer for 10 or 15 minutes, knowing I can do most anything for that little bit of time.
Gretchen discusses a range of other monitoring options in Better than Before.
Where should we start when choosing a habit to tackle? Gretchen recommends beginning with those habits that strengthen our feelings of self-control — the so-called “Foundation” habits. Foundation habits are those that help us to:
- eat and drink right
Foundation habits reinforce one another. If I sleep better, I have more energy to pursue positive habits. If I eat and drink right along with exercising, I’ll see faster results in my physical well-being. If I unclutter, I feel more organized and create space for positive energy to flow into my life, all of which boosts my spirits and supports my wellness, creativity, and overall happiness.
Setting a specific and regular time for an activity — scheduling — is one of the most powerful strategies of habit formation, Gretchen explains.
She goes just a tad overboard with this, in my view, even writing down “kiss [her husband] Jamie” on her daily schedule. But I’m not too far behind her, sometimes writing “shower” on my schedule if I’m in desperate need to give myself credit for something.
I don’t know about you, but crossing off to-do items gives me a little shot of dopamine.
You need to find the type of scheduling that works for you. You can download a daily time log from Gretchen’s website, which has the whole day mapped out in half-hour increments. That’s a little too strict for me, since some of my soul-feeding habits (gardening and floral photography, in particular) are weather and light dependent.
But writing down each and every one of my objectives on my calendar (meditate, writing, fitness classes, runs with friends, photography, gardening) right along with the usual must do’s of the day greatly increases the chances that all, or at least most, of it will get done.
For me, an actual paper planner works best, since I can see the whole week laid out before me. The phone calendar doesn’t work for me — the screen is just too small and I can only see one day at a time. Plus I’m already too connected to my phone, so the thought of one more level of dependency on it stresses me out.
Knowing your personal rhythms — especially whether you’re a lark (morning person) or an owl (night person) will make or break your scheduling success. As a morning person, I have to be diligent about protecting my early hours for writing and meditating (before my head gets mucked up with other stuff) and exercise (which I need to get done before I talk myself out of it).
The final Habit Pillar in Gretchen’s framework is Accountability. Accountability is important for Upholders like me (who respond to both internal and external expectations), but it is absolutely essential for Obligers (who respond only to external expectations). Rebels reject the very idea of accountability and Questioners will only respond to accountability if they’ve convinced themselves that there’s a logical reason for it. Check out last week’s post or Better Than Before for more detailed explanations of those Tendencies.
A good example of Accountability in my life is that for the last couple of years, I have been the designated “color setter” in my cardio dance class. The color of my headband determines the following week’s color. The more people who wear that day’s color, the shorter amount of time we have to do a particular high intensity exercise. It’s a weird game that somehow evolved over time, but because I have this very important job of being the color setter, it gives me the extra nudge to get to class.
I’ve had fun devising other accountability games since reading Better Than Before. As a result, I’ve gotten back on track with my habits. More about those results next week!
In the meantime, take Gretchen’s test to find out your Tendency so that you can design your own habit strategies. Don’t forget to let me know your result!
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