How can I automate my new year's resolutions?
December 29, 2013 9:34 AM   Subscribe

I have a number of goals, not quite new year's resolutions exactly, but the new year is getting me going on implementing them. They include reading more, running more, staying on top of current events, continuing to study French, listening to more new-to-me music, things like that. None of these are measurable or "SMART" goals, and that's the way I want it--I want this stuff to become a habit, not a chore. How can I automate these goals so that they are more likely to just happen?

I'm really looking for little lifehacks that make my goals more accessible, and make it more likely that I just do them. For example, I look at my Android phone a thousand times a day, so one idea would be to use a news widget to put headlines on my homescreen, or set my browser's home page to Le Monde. Another way to achieve my goals may be by subtraction--for example, temporarily deleting music that's familiar to me so that if I want to listen to music, it's going to have to be something new.

What are your best techniques, tools, tips, apps, etc. for hacking your environment to steer you in the direction you want to go? It could be as simple and low-tech as putting running shoes on first thing in the morning so that you naturally become more active throughout the day, or as specific as installing LeechBlock to save you from yourself.
posted by payoto to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Have you joined a running group? I belong to three in my area and all three are on When I RSVP through, not only do I feel accountable, I receive reminders on my phone calendar and email. Running was definitely a habit for me in 2013 because I was part of these groups.

Current events: Not necessarily probing deep or anything, but my Twitter subscriptions are mostly all news sites: BBC News World, CNN Breaking News, New York Times, NPR News, Al Jazeera America, Washington Post, etc. I check my twitter feed from my phone several times a day. I read a handful of articles a day and am up on the headlines.
posted by Fairchild at 9:49 AM on December 29, 2013

To encourage myself to go to the gym right after work, I put my gym towel, mp3 player, and water bottle on the counter that I plop my purse and work bag on when I get home. Seeing them there is all it takes, usually. On days when my gym stuff is hidden from view (I tidied the kitchen or whatever), I end up sitting down for "just a minute" and then I talk myself out of going to the gym. (This might work for you if you're a visual person.)

My French learning took a huge turn for the better once I'd installed the DuoLingo app on my phone. It's a really fun way to learn and it's something you can do a little bit at a time (practice old units or start tackling a new one). The app can send you a daily reminder that you need to practice, and it keeps a running tally of your streak. I am highly motivated by breaking records so being on a 25-day streak pushes me to make time for a unit so I don't lose the streak. (My partner is also using DuoLingo to learn French and whenever he gets ahead of me points-wise, I get a "taunting" update from DuoLingo. It gets me studying!)

Good luck!
posted by gursky at 9:50 AM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

It may help if you explicitly list your goals here, so that if someone has come up with a way to automate that particular thing they can share it.

Perhaps a tool such as If This Then That can help with some of the goals.
posted by dfriedman at 9:50 AM on December 29, 2013

Making goals measurable doesn't necessarily turn them into chores in the long term - if you want to build a habit, you need to force yourself to do them, which does sometimes require a bit more of a nudge in the short-term. For example, I once needed to build a better set of housecleaning habits, so I set a recurring to-do item in my to-do list app to remind me every week to vacuum, dust, etc. I haven't needed it for a couple of years, because I now just clean automatically, but building that automatic habit required making it a chore for a little while. I have trouble forcing myself to go to the gym during the dreary winter months, so I have a recurring appointment on my calendar for every Monday to go, whether I "want to" or not.

So why not set a daily reminder to check the news, or scheduling a daily/weekly French study session No Matter What?
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:51 AM on December 29, 2013

One thing I've done successfully is to only allow myself to read/browse fun, time-sucky things (certain web sites, light reading like trashy mystery novels) while walking on a treadmill.

This accomplishes two goals at once: I increase how much I walk on my treadmill, and decrease how much time I spend on time-sucky Internet browsing.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:52 AM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sounds like Beeminder might be right up your alley, as people can use it to track all kinds of goals.

I currently use it to track both the number of steps I take (auto-synchronized with my Fitbit) and dealing with the massive piles of books I have to read. Basically, if you meet your goals, the service is free. If you lose your way, there's a financial penalty. Funny how the spectre of a looming fine will make me crack open that book after all...
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:02 AM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

If I understand this correctly OP, integrating technology things would be a way to help you with these goals? These are things that I do to achieve some of the things on your list, although these are things that I do for fun and may or may not be useful to you. I am just listing them and you can try and see if these things will work for you.

...continuing to study French, listening to more new-to-me music....

You may find that subscribing to a few YouTube channels and perusing them in your downtime is useful for these two goals. In particular to hear new to you music, I would recommend subscribing to Universal Music France, which includes some singers from other parts of the world. Stromae is pretty popular right now and is someone that I found via Universal Music France, for example, and you can use his music as a gateway to learn more French if that appeals to you. NPR music is also pretty helpful in that they have frequent Tiny Desk concerts that feature 3 to 4 songs by musicians (some are already popular/some have not yet reached the masses). But if you like a few new songs from a new to you musician, it also opens the gates to motivating a search for more new music.

...staying on top of current events...

An easy way to fit more news into my life that is computer based was plugging in and using a BBC radio extension into google chrome.It was helpful for me because you just click a button and you can pick from 10 stations to stream (mainly world news).

You can also subscribe to news channels or news source of choice on youtube.

...reading more....

For reading more, I have found the audible app useful, although it requires you to purchase audible books and/or a subscription. However, for me it helps to be able to listen to the stories as well as read them in text form. You can listen the audio of a story when you are doing other activities. YMMV.

For non-technology support for this, book clubs (you can find a billion through Meetup) are helpful to integrate a social aspect to this.

...running more....

You don't mention what level you are at, but if you are a beginner, the couch to 5 K running app is free and was helpful for me to get started. You plop headphones on your head, and listen to the voice and run or walk when the voice tells you to do so. It was an easy way for me to start running and in a few weeks, you are up to 5 K.

To motivate me more, sometimes I signed up for a race with friends at the end of the training period.

A more advanced version that I have enjoyed and has encouraged me to run is the Run, Zombie, Run app.It helps me because there is a story aspect to it and I am motivated to run when I hear the zombie sounds and growls, I run because who wants to lose points and trinkets?

If you want a social, nontech way to encourage running, I have heard great things about Hash House Harriers because it is social and has a game aspect.
posted by Wolfster at 10:56 AM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can't remember who I heard it from (Jerry Seinfeld maybe?) but he said something about not breaking the chain. What that means is you want to get as many days in a row as you can doing whatever it is - making a chain. Repetition builds habit, and the longer that chain gets, the more automatic the behavior becomes.

Last spring I decided there were a couple of things I wanted to be more consistent with (exercise and language learning) so I found quick, 10 minute ways to integrate it into my day. So for example, at minimum, I do at least two language lessons (maybe 5 minutes each) and a set of pullups and pushups every single day. No matter what. Every day. If I'm feeling up to more I definitely do it, but I do a minimum every single day.

After doing something every day for weeks on end, it bugs the crap out of me if I can't keep the chain unbroken. If I do break the chain for some reason, like being incredibly sick or out of town or whatever, I feel like I have to restart it as soon as possible and get it built back up.

Simple concept and imagery, but it has really helped me be more consistent.
posted by _DB_ at 12:10 PM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Depending what level your French is (or maybe regardless), you could kill two birds with one stone by listening to (new-to-you) music with lyrics in French. I found that listening to Spanish-language songs was a great way to keep my Spanish relatively front-of-mind long after I stopped living in a Spanish-speaking country. This might work better if your French is good enough to understand the songs already, but with a slow song it might not matter. If you can't quite make out the words, look up the French lyrics online and work out the translation yourself! (I used that trick to learn a number of songs in Spanish - though the internet wasn't really a Thing at that point, so it was more about making friends write the Spanish lyrics down for me...)
posted by nickmark at 2:46 PM on December 29, 2013

I used to be obsessed with optimising all of my routine tasks/goals. But eventually I realised that making everything easy/mindless meant it was very difficult to add new habits, as the new things seemed much harder. So embrace the inefficient parts of your routine - you're using important muscles!
posted by cogat at 5:34 PM on December 29, 2013

Read the book The Willpower Instinct. My biggest take-away was, set the bar low for yourself and you are more likely to meet your goals. Chop your goals up into very small bits that you are going to be willing to do consistently. e.g. Commit to read Le Monde every day for five minutes. This goal is easy to achieve and not worth procrastinating on, and it's likely that after five minutes you'll be engaged enough to stick with it another moment or two.

I wanted to start a habit of meditating 3 times a week, exercising 3 times a week and practicing piano 4 times a week. I started by committing to meditate 5 minutes a day on three days of the week. Over time I built up to 50 minutes because I did it on a consistent basis and it wasn't hard to just add a couple more minutes each week. It wasn't daunting to follow through because I started at square one and worked up with my stamina. There really is a snowball effect. A year later I've made it a habit to do all of these things and I rarely miss days because it's part of my routine. My big secret is starting very small and aim for consistency. It also makes it easier to get back into your groove if you should fall off the wagon.
posted by mermily at 5:47 PM on December 29, 2013

What are your current habits? I personally find it easier to chain new habits onto old ones. For instance, I turn NPR on in the morning when I start my toast.
posted by yarntheory at 6:30 PM on December 29, 2013

Runkeeper helped me so much with achieving my running goal for this year. I plugged it in on January 1st and took off. The goal was high enough (600 miles) to feel like an actual task, but also achievable (it's only fifty miles a month.) Runkeeper can give you workout reminders and it tracks your cumulative progress, which is ultra satisfying. And you can have friends on it, which for me translates to passive bragging and competition.

Overall, though, the idea of having a huge goal over the course of a year meant that every run counter, and even if I didn't feel like it, those semi-daily runs mattered a whole bunch. So, skipping a day wasn't the end of the world, and it encouraged me to stay on track.

The original Habit Judo post doesn't have valid links anymore, but I have the spreadsheet around somewhere. I found that really effective for cultivating a bunch of habits last year: flossing, not using a computer in bed, practicing violin for a half hour...I recommend it. Memail if you want a copy of the spreadsheet.
posted by punchtothehead at 9:44 AM on December 30, 2013

Also: bribery. I bribe myself: a fancy new beer if I hit my running goal for the week, new makeup if I'm good about flossing, etc. I try to keep the rewards semi-related to the habit, but sometimes it's just things I want.
posted by punchtothehead at 9:46 AM on December 30, 2013

I can't remember who I heard it from (Jerry Seinfeld maybe?) but he said something about not breaking the chain.

Yeah, that's Seinfeld. And there's an app for it. More than one, actually.
posted by dobbs at 1:52 PM on December 30, 2013

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