How do I stick to things?
May 19, 2006 8:56 AM   Subscribe

How do you get yourself to stick with routines that will improve your life? I'm trying to get myself to stick with simple & easy routines surrounding issues like my finances, my health, and my work, but have trouble being consistent.

I'm great at developing routines - for example, I finally came up with a way to keep my finances in order by automating what I can, and paying the rest of the bills and balancing my checkbook twice a month (each payday) to determine what my "spending money" will be for the pay period. However, after a month, sometimes two, I get sick of bothering, or too depressed to worry about it, and just spend way too much money and neglect to pay some bills on time. When I put it off like that, I get so overwhelmed by the thought of slogging through what I didn't do, that it takes a lot to bring myself to balance everything and get back into the routine - which really is the simplest way I've found to manage things.

I'm the same way with diet and exercise. I've been trying to lose weight for months (well, years, but who's counting?). I come up with routines that take into account that I don't feel like cooking a big dinner every single night, and that I tend to burn out if I workout every single day. So I start out with moderate plans, stick to them for a week, but then get absorbed in something else (work, a vacation, a holiday, a grumpy mood) and put my routine aside for awhile.

I also do this when it comes to keeping my apartment clean, and probably a ton of other things I'm not thinking of.

The problem isn't that the routines are hard or unmanageable. I just fall into these slumps every few weeks where I stop caring about what was very important a week before, and something else takes top priority.

Friends have told me that my desire to get my shit together is unrealistic because everyone has these problems. But I can't stand being like this. I just want to stick to a few basic routines to keep my apartment together, my finances in check, and to gradually and healthfully lose weight (and yes, I know how to lose weight, and have been successful, I just don't stick with it for more than a couple weeks).

Do any of you have some suggestions?
posted by tastybrains to Grab Bag (23 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
So I start out with moderate plans, stick to them for a week, but then get absorbed in something else (work, a vacation, a holiday, a grumpy mood) and put my routine aside for awhile.

Maybe try tiny plans? Like starting to workout by doing 3-5 pushups every other day, or cleaning just one part of the bathroom at a time, like a sink or a mirror, or eating whatever you normally do but tossing the last few bites, and so on.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:08 AM on May 19, 2006

Best answer: apparently the part that doesn't work for you is when your routines fail, not THAT your routines fail. make a routine for when your routine fails. when I quit smoking, all I'd have to do is think about how nasty my mouth tasted and how disappointed in myself I was the last time I had "just one", and that the clean healthy feeling that made me want another "just one" would go away if I did.
posted by kcm at 9:16 AM on May 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

funny enough the answer lies in finding a siginificant other :P Just kidding.

Routines are crap. Many times in life I have found myself in similiar situations. PinkStainlessTail and kcm are both right. What you really need to do is combine approaches AND have some support when you really don't give a shit.

Friends are great for that. State your objectives and identify what brings you down. The next step is going about it and not being afraid to ask for help. Pride is such a bitch.

If you want someone to talk over with, give me an email and we'll see. Like I said been there before.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 9:23 AM on May 19, 2006

I was always very similar to you. I had so many interests that staying focused on one thing for any period of time never worked. Staying in a routine was difficult, simply because something else would end up on my plate and I would make room for it, pushing aside my other routines.

Now, on the other hand, I'm a lot more regimented.

I think getting into the health and workout routine would open a lot of doors in terms of tying down some of your other loose ends. If you can get control over that part of your life, the other pieces could fall into place and not seem so intimidating. Try not to look at the big picture, but focus on the smaller parts. If you want to develop your workout routine, don't think about the other things you're lacking. They'll come in time.

What worked for me, as far as sticking to my workout plan, was to remind myself that this routine was a job. I constantly reminded myself that those trips to the gym weren't simply a routine that I would perform mechanically for a month, or two, or until I was simply "thin" or "in shape."

Instead, I told myself that working out was something I would commit myself to like a job, and though it was OK to call in some days, or even take a week off occasionally, I would still have to show up every day like a job, no excuses. Thinking of it in that respect helped me develop a routine that I still follow.

I also think that once you get into the routine, you will find that breaking it is much, much harder than sticking to it. If you can really, really, focus hard for a few weeks or months (long enough to get results) you'll be stuck in your routine (which can actually be annoying as hell!)
posted by dead_ at 9:24 AM on May 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've been impressed with the "30-day trial" idea...
posted by nitsuj at 9:36 AM on May 19, 2006

Best answer: Amen to the routine. I've always got lots of stuff swirling around in my head, but you have to pick one thing, or you get nothing. Choose one thing and figure out a way to do it on a daily basis.

For the example, one trick to losing weight is to make sure you eat your 9 servings of fruit and veggies. I put big tub in the fridge and fill it up with 9 servings - carrots, tomatos, an apple, etc. If you're hungry, eat from that box.

I find that any habits need to be done on a daily basis. If you can figure out a way to do something once a day, you're well on your way. You just need to get to the point that the rewards start to roll in for the new habit. Then you'll do it for life.

I've even made a checklist that I put in my wallet. As I accomplished the daily things, I'd check them off for the day. It's a bit of a game to get through them all, and you always know immediately if you've gone off track.
posted by fcain at 9:42 AM on May 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

I use Kana Reminder to schedule reminders on my computer for recurring bills and things that I can't schedule automatic payments for. I will also throw in a reminder for one-off sorts of things that need to be done on time but don't recur. It's a tiny little program that runs in the taskbar and doesn't clog up your system, so it's always there, bugging you until you finish the task.
posted by MrZero at 9:58 AM on May 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

The key is to act as if missing one day will result in forever abandoning your routine. For example, if you are putting off exercise say to yourself "I can watch TV for an hour and be fat for the rest of my life, or I can go exercise", or "I can eat the greasy steak and die of heart disease in 5 years, or eat the salad and live a healthy life." Also, as fcain said, doing it everyday is vital for avoiding "I'll do it tomorrow."
posted by hamhed at 10:04 AM on May 19, 2006 [3 favorites]

hamhead is right, though the side effect of that attitude is overtraining, and on off days you feel like complete trash.
posted by dead_ at 10:06 AM on May 19, 2006

For goals and routines related to exercise, I try to incorporate activities that I enjoy or am curious about and I try to add a social aspect to it. I also keep track of my goals and integrate reinforcement.

For example,for biking and walking, I have a few friends who also enjoy the same activity or have stated that they want to walk or bike so many miles per week. Then I set an appointment to meet with some of these individuals at such and such time. Having another person that expects me to show up really helps - and I also enjoy the activity and visiting with friends. If you do not have friends that enjoy the same activity, there are also clubs for certain types of exercise.

If I need to increase the distance and have difficulty motivating myself, I set a goal of # miles per week and to increase that every week. IF I meet that goal, then I give myself permission to buy a certain small item as reinforcement.

If you find yourself getting bored with certain activities, you can find new ones. Climbing? Kayak? As long as you incorporate physical activity into your daily life, it may not really matter.
posted by Wolfster at 10:13 AM on May 19, 2006

It sounds to me like you're talking about losing motivation, and for me at least, sticking to things has nothing to do with motivation. If I had to rely on being motivated to get my ass out of bed every morning, I'd get up around 11 or so. Then if I relied on motivation to get the things done I needed to do, I'd probably spend the rest of the day looking at pr0n.

So my advice would be to act as if motivation doesn't exist. I can hear Yoda saying, "Do or do not, there is no "feel like it."
posted by Mr. Gunn at 10:37 AM on May 19, 2006 [3 favorites]

I heartily agree with Mr. Gunn's advice, it's the way I handle things too, the only way I get most things done.

funny enough the answer lies in finding a siginificant other :P Just kidding.

She's got one of those already!
posted by zarah at 11:34 AM on May 19, 2006

I could have easily been the one that asked this. Sounds exactly like me. Please keep answering, I need to know too!
posted by tadellin at 12:34 PM on May 19, 2006

Best answer: I've found that having a small and easy task associated with the real new habit makes it way easier to pick back up after getting off track.

I'm terrible about doing dishes, but if I wash the sink (borrowed from, suddenly I'm filling it up with water and soap and starting in on them. I don't start with the intent of washing dishes down to the point of a clean sink, I just start with the intent to clean the sink. Some days I don't really get further than washing the sink, but at least it's clean and a barrier to actually washing the dishes is gone.

I focus on developing little triggers like that ("Go outside and pull one dandelion" ends up with my pulling out the lawnmower. "Throw out one thing from one of the boxes in the basement" quickly becomes a bag of garbage and a box of garage sale goods.) They don't always work, and I still have a bunch of dirty dishes on my sink, my garden isn't planted and my basement is still more boxes than space, but I've been able to make noticeable dents in the various areas I want to change.

It's the basic stop-procrastinating method of "set a stopwatch for 15 minutes", but slightly modified so that picking the habit back up after slumping back into standard laziness is easier. You're not going to wash the dishes, you're going to wash the sink. It's a bit easier to fit inside your head as a quick and easy thing to do.
posted by cCranium at 1:06 PM on May 19, 2006 [6 favorites]

I found this article about habit mastery (first in a five-part series) to be very intriguing. via Lifehacker

Think of your mind like a computer. Your computer does millions of calculations without input from the user. Some programs often require little or no input at all to function properly. Just like habits, these programs will often run completely without your awareness. Some of these programs are malicious and destructive, such as viruses and spyware. Like these nasty programs, destructive habits often run without our awareness of them.

And to think, the kid who wrote this isn't even out of high school yet;-)
posted by invisible ink at 1:30 PM on May 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Ok. You must think of things you really want to make routine like hygiene.

Think of it like this: How long would you go without wiping your ass?

Make things like exercise like brushing your teeth. Things you simply do. Now missing one or two workouts is no big deal. Do what you can when you can. But you should work out precisely when you feel like you don't want to. It's a self discipline thing and it will build.

Like other people say tackle things in small pieces. Add them little by little to open spots in the daily routine. By nature, and over time, you will want to expand and challenge yourself.
posted by tkchrist at 1:45 PM on May 19, 2006

Honestly, if you have a somewhat odious task, yet still needs to be completed daily - keep a journal. Document everyday. Keep a list of what you did, how you did it, how long, etc. It's best for the guilt trip, because you should write down which days you didn't do it, and then a reason why not.

I force myself to read a set number of pages of a technical book (or journal) in my field (pathology) every single day. I document when I didn't do it. It makes me feel guilty when I miss days.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 2:23 PM on May 19, 2006

I do the journaling thing too. I actually use the Journal in MS Office, which includes a timer, so I can start a journal entry, and, using a simple script I'd be happy to provide, the timer automatically starts running and is populated with the proper start time and so on. So I start an entry whenever I start to do something, close it and start another for whatever I'm going to do next. If you keep it running 24/7, not only do you know where all your time goes(how much sleep you're getting, when you last cleaned the floors, etc), but you can export the file and make monthly reports in excel. It's really embarassing when you have things on your to-do list for weeks yet you realize you still found time to surf the web for 50 hours that month.

Hey Jedi, do you know any good resources on bone marrow histology/pathology? I'm looking for pictures of and normal ranges for immune and blood components in healthy people and various cancers. Diagnostic criteria...
posted by Mr. Gunn at 4:14 PM on May 19, 2006

Most of the resources that I have are specialty books. There are a few resources online that may be of interest:

Webpath :: Hematopathology

Pathology Outlines

Pathology Atlas

If you need anymore, my email is in my profile.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 5:19 PM on May 19, 2006

Best answer: Step 1 - Go to Trackslife and get a free account. Make a track of your daily routine things like, exercise and such. Put a Yes if you did exercise that day, for example.

Step 2 - Go to Bellygraph and get an account. Make a graph of your goals. Be realistic.

Step 3 - Get your calendar (i.e. iCal) to remind you to check these sites everyday. What will keep you going is the AWARENESS of how you are doing. Checking your progress everyday is essential.

This has worked for me for months and months now.
posted by theholotrope at 7:20 PM on May 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if you get tired of the routine... Change it! Just do it differently than you did. Doing the same thing for months can be tiring. Instead of running on the treadmill, you can do sprints, etc.
posted by theholotrope at 7:22 PM on May 19, 2006

I can't believe nobody's mentioned Flylady yet. Her web site may seem too cutesy, but she is a genius at helping you develop exactly the kinds of routines you are looking for.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:54 PM on May 19, 2006

Sorry - Flylady -
posted by selfmedicating at 7:55 PM on May 19, 2006

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