Good habits to habituate?
September 18, 2012 4:28 PM   Subscribe

Transform-my-life filter: looking for "good habits" to build into my life.

On the basis of this post at Remember the Milk's blog I thought it might be a good idea to try and practice certain activities on a daily basis for a month in the hope of improving my life. I realise that the 28 days thing is obviously not scientific but I do know from personal experience that forcing myself to do something I don't instinctively do for a month or so can make it comfortable and routine. As an example, forcing myself to write my emails only with my fingers in the standard touch typing position taught me to touch type instinctively within a month some years back.

I'm looking for any simple daily actions you have practiced which have positively impacted your life - I thought I would pick 12 and make them effectively monthly resolutions for the next year.

I'm not looking for vague life goals à la new year resolution but specific measurable actionable tasks (i.e. the opposite of the post on Zen habits referenced in the RTM article, which lists a whole 72 almost uniformly vague "inspiration" goals).
posted by inbetweener to Society & Culture (37 answers total) 155 users marked this as a favorite
Unload the dishwasher as soon as it's done. All household tidiness flows from this. (It sucks that it's true but it is.)
posted by DarlingBri at 4:34 PM on September 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

I've made a rule for myself that if something will take less than 3 minutes, I do it now. It's amazing how little time things actually take if you start paying attention. (Unloading the dishwasher, sweeping the kitchen, paying a bill, cleaning th cat box .. all less than 3 minutes.)
posted by dotgirl at 4:39 PM on September 18, 2012 [17 favorites]

I started turning off my computer before I go to bed (instead of just putting it to sleep). This means I'm far less likely to get sucked into mindless procrastinate-y surfing in the morning, or even at all the next day.
posted by Paper rabies at 4:41 PM on September 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

Also, these sort of lists really depend on what you enjoy or feel like you need more of in your life.

For example - when I was in undergrad, I stopped reading novels because I was "so busy" reading textbooks. But I go a bit stir-crazy if I don't have time to read fiction. So I started reading for 15 minutes before bed. I started sleeping better, was much happier and finished a book by the end of the first week.

So, you could do something like that depending on what you really enjoy.
posted by Paper rabies at 4:42 PM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Make the bed every morning.
posted by Kriesa at 4:42 PM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

To paraphrase the immortal words of barrett caulk: Return things to a state of maximum utility. The chore is not complete until it has achieved this state. Makes life so much easier when you don't have to fight something that's unfinished.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:44 PM on September 18, 2012 [8 favorites]

Are you female? Do you carry a purse?

I find that if my purse is de-used-kleenexed, de-random-receipted and nicely organized, I feel much more in control of my entire life.
posted by Gathering Rosebuds at 4:47 PM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you don't already, you might try flossing every night. I used to only floss when something weird was in my teeth, and I always hated it and found it uncomfortable. Then I made a goal of flossing daily and I started to love doing it and feel weird if I didn't.
posted by Slater Sheldahl at 4:49 PM on September 18, 2012

Take vitamins every morning.
Floss every night.
Pay every bill on the day you receive it.
Track each purchase you make, no matter how small.
Clean the kitchen sink every night.
posted by xingcat at 4:50 PM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

IMMEDIATELY fold your laundry and put it away when it's done drying. No putting it on the bed in a pile and then to your computer chair and then back to your bed.*

*As I am typing this I am leaning against the pillows from my bed that still need pillowcases on them. I washed the pillowcases last night.
posted by littlesq at 4:51 PM on September 18, 2012 [8 favorites]

Three things:

1. Drink more water. Like it's your job.
2. Go to bed earlier; get up earlier.
3. Don't send passive aggressive emails. If you aren't sure whether or not you're being passive aggressive, save the email as a draft, then read it again an hour later.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 5:05 PM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've made a rule for myself that if something will take less than 3 minutes, I do it now.

This is me too, though for me it's five minutes. It also helps me build other things into my life. Because I have this habit I can't rush out the door anymore because I have to fill the birdfeeder or something so I've learned to build more time into my day.

The chore is not complete until it has achieved this state.

My version of this is "Build cleaning-up time into every project; the project is not done until things are back to pre-project levels"

I also use a Time Out program on my computer that kicks me off for 15 seconds every 15 minutes and five minutes every 90 minutes which makes me stretch and not get gargoyle-y from too much typing/surfing/whatever.

And I always send thank you notes.
posted by jessamyn at 5:05 PM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Wearing a pedometer has changed the way I think about doing little tasks I don't want to do. Extra trip to the barn? 9 p.m. and I just realized I need to walk out for the mail? No problem! It becomes more "add steps to the daily total, cool" and less "grar, I don't want to do that."
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:28 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Stretching exercises. Find a 10 minute routine that works for you and do it every morning.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:01 PM on September 18, 2012

Don't fight; it takes (at least) two, and it's really easy to just opt out. When you feel like you need to have a word with somebody, don't; sit on it for twenty-four hours. After that you'll either dismiss it as trivia, or be able to approach it calmly and productively. (Walk away if somebody tries to stir something up with you.)
posted by kmennie at 6:13 PM on September 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

This doesn't directly address your question, but I'm currently working on a similar project, and it seems cheesy, but I did much better with habits that had a catchy little slogan.

One was, "You're not done until it's put away," (which echoes several of the comments above). One was, "Arise and be seated," to remember to meditate first thing in the morning. Currently, it's "Focus with the timer," to remind me to use the Pomodoro method.

I remind myself of each slogan every morning. When it really comes in handy is when I feel reluctant to actually do the habit. Repeating the slogan often magically gets me over the hump of resistance.
posted by BrashTech at 6:54 PM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I started meditating daily in the style of Buddhist meditation 3 years ago. It completely changed everything in my life for the better.

It's incredible what sitting still for 15 minutes twice a day can do for you.
posted by jinkoh at 6:57 PM on September 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

Plan what your going to-do the night before instead of the day of..
Wash your face before bed always
Reflect once a week on your goals and how your progressing to them
posted by audio at 7:31 PM on September 18, 2012

Exercise often, with others.
posted by spbmp at 8:08 PM on September 18, 2012

If you drive, fill your tank when it gets to half full, rather than empty.
posted by kellyblah at 8:18 PM on September 18, 2012

Take vitamins every morning.
Eat meals that have a high and balanced nutrient content.
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:34 PM on September 18, 2012

Brush your teeth with your non dominant hand. It will increase your will power in other facets of your life. Seriously. (Sam Wang Princeton professor of neuro science suggests this when developing new habits.)
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:30 PM on September 18, 2012 [12 favorites]

Pick out what clothes you're going to wear for the day, the night before.
posted by pimli at 1:25 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Make a system only you know and can remember - and change all your passwords every 28 days.
posted by evil_esto at 2:38 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're on the introverted side, send or exchange a short but meaningful communication to/with someone you care about.
posted by drlith at 3:22 AM on September 19, 2012

For me, meditating daily and drinking more water have been the corner stones of all the other changes I've made over the last year or so.

The mefi health month team really helping me keep to my new habits. The October game will be starting shortly if you want to join us.
posted by Z303 at 3:27 AM on September 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

I write a to-do list every morning, making sure they are all SMART targets (e.g. not "learn french" but "go on xyz website and go through the first two units"). I put on even the most mundane tasks like do the laundry, make the bed etc - the process of being able to cross off something makes me feel productive and forces me out of the "if I didn't start off the day being productive what's the point of doing anything useful for the rest of the day" kind of mindset. If anything on that to-do list takes less than 5 minutes I do it straight away.

I always keep a 1L water jug on my desk and it's always refilled when empty. Having it there reminds me to keep drinking; otherwise, I'm too lazy to go down to the kitchen to get a glass even if I am thirsty. There's also a feeling of accomplishment when I manage to drink 2-3L in a day. (Hey, you have to take pride in the little things...)
posted by pikeandshield at 4:05 AM on September 19, 2012 [10 favorites]

Handle all your mail/bills once - when they come in. If it's junk mail, recycle it. if it's a bill, pay it immediately and file it. I used to be very good at this, but I've been lapsing a bit - I think I'll start remedying that today.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:55 AM on September 19, 2012

If you clean nothing else in your house, clean your kitchen and bathroom(s) every day.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 8:18 AM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Wash and moisturize your face morning and night. I think this goes well for boys and girls.
posted by sillymama at 8:59 AM on September 19, 2012

As Z303 notes above, Health Month is a great website for tracking these little habits, and the Mefi Health Month team helped me feel connected to the site right away. For each month, you select rules to follow, and then you check in daily. I am flossing more, walking more, and working on projects that are important to me.
posted by aabbbiee at 9:10 AM on September 19, 2012

> Unload the dishwasher as soon as it's done.

My personal variation on this rule is that you cannot take a single item from the dishwasher to use it. All the clean forks are in the dishwasher? Unload the whole thing. No clean bowls in the cupboard? Time to unload the dishwasher.
posted by aganders3 at 10:55 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

People always remark at how neat & tidy and organized I am, but it really comes down to something I do every day, based on the following mantra(s):

A place for everything and everything in its place.


Everything has a "home."

So, when you get home from work, put your keys, wallet, phone, etc. in their "homes" AS SOON AS you get home. That way, you know where they are when you leave in the morning or if you need to look up your drivers license number, for example.

Or, when you get home from a trip, unpack IMMEDIATELY: throw dirty clothes in the hamper (or start a load of laundry), put away clean clothes, and place all your traveling doo-dads (like pens, notebooks, books, etc.) where they normally stay when you're not traveling. And then store away your suitcase.

Or, after dinner, stash all of your spices & ingredients back in the cupboards, stick the leftovers in plastic containers in the fridge, and do the dishes (like many MeFites recommend above me).

Or, after doing the laundry, fold and/or iron clothes as soon as they are dry (obviously line/air-drying can take a day or so, but still).

Or, once you are done reading a book, put it back on the bookshelf so you know where to find it again.

Or, once you've finished listening to a CD or watching a DVD, take them out of the car/stereo/DVD player, put them back in their cases, and stash them in their stands or bookcases. Of course, digital media is removing the need for this sort of thing.

Or, when you take off your clothes to get ready for bed, put the dirty clothes in the hamper/basket, hang up the clean/half-worn clothes like jeans or hoodies, and set out your clothes for the next day.

Being persistent about doing these little things throughout the day make a huge difference in peace of mind and being able to find your stuff when you need it.
posted by huxham at 11:35 AM on September 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Brush your teeth with your non dominant hand. It will increase your will power in other facets of your life. Seriously.

In The First 20 Minutes, Gretchen Reynolds mentions that she stands on one foot while brushing her teeth every night to improve her balance. I try to remember to do this, except on the nights I am pacing around to bump up the number on my pedometer.

Yesterday Unfuck Your Habitat (an excellent tumblr feed) posted:
Never leave a room without having done at least one thing, no matter how small, to improve it.
posted by ambrosia at 1:20 PM on September 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you hang up /fold your clothes immediately when the dryer is done, it usually means you won't have to iron them later. Also, agreeing with those above about Health Month Team Metafilter. The checking in everyday is really powerful, plus the community aspect is very supportive, but you also feel accountable.
posted by mkim at 6:18 PM on September 19, 2012

Open and sort your mail as soon as you bring it in the house. Be ruthless with sending the junk to the recycle bin.
posted by Kriesa at 11:16 AM on September 20, 2012

I recently answered something similar. The gist of that comment is take care of future you.

Other things along that vein:

Have a least a vague idea of what you want/will be doing for meals over the coming days. For some people this means they plan every meal out for an entire month, cook and freeze and and and. The lower key end of that spectrum is wanting to be home for dinner twice a week and take out/restaurants for the other five nights. Some people have the same thing for breakfast every morning, some keep a variety. For lunch, packing is usually less expensive, and more healthful, than eating out. Stop at the grocery store for ingredients on your way home, rather than expecting to make another trip later. Saves you gas, saves you from ordering delivery. Fewer trips to the grocery means less impulse buying. While impulse buys add up, the grocery store is cheaper than the restaurant.

Have a hobby of some sort. A hobby that teaches you something, or that gives you a product. For me, it's a few. Knitting and gardening are constantly teaching me things. Most recently, don't transplant squash, they'll die.

See a doctor for baseline yearly testing, including for things that run in your family. (In my case that's Hashimoto's thyroiditis, and not having a baseline for that slowed down a bigger scarier diagnosis.) Keep your health information together, and make sure that the person designated as your emergency contact has at least a vague idea of what your ongoing concerns are. Diabetic, seizures, whatever.

Read (more) or do word puzzles every day. Drive a different route sometimes. Write longer/more complex sentences These things have been shown to increase the brain's resilience and malleability.

Meet people from all walks of life. If you have a college degree and work in banking, make it a point to visit a nursing home and talk, not just to your relative, but also to the 99 year old war vet, or the retired nun. Meet young kids, tutor a high school student, or go read to the kindergarten class. Sure, you have to have your background check completed for these things, but it's also good to assure yourself that an axe murderer hasn't stolen your identity :)
posted by bilabial at 11:25 AM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

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