techniques for creating new habits needed
September 26, 2006 3:05 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone know any techniques for creating new habits. I find it fraustrating that the habits I do have and don't want, are hard to break, and the habits I want are hard to establish. Thanks

Even something simple like : "Drink a glass of water everytime I put the kettle on" or "go to bed at a reasonable hour" seems to start out well but then some time later, I realise I'm not doing it any more.
I usually don't remember the point I stopped doing something.

Perhaps identifying an approaching failure state is the trick.
posted by matholio to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe Steve Pavlina's blog (Personal Development for smart people) might help?
posted by oh pollo! at 3:24 AM on September 26, 2006

Try changing people, places, and methods. The new circumstances will nag you into staying the course.

To quit smoking or drinking (the two big bad habits), you have to quit hanging around people and places that encourage the habits. Find a non-smoking bar, a non-smoking and non-drinking cafe. By dumping the corner bar, you dump the acquaintances who are really only co-drinkers, the talking bar stools, living excuses to sit and drink and smoke.

At home, try adjusting the environment to encourage some things and discourage others.

If you watch too much TV, put it somewhere far away from the comfortable couches and chairs, maybe in the kitchen, where you'd have to sit upright on a wooden chair at the kitchen table to watch television. If you have more than one television, disconnect and put away (or dump) all but one of them.

If you eat too much, force yourself to only eat when you are eating -- that is, if you must eat between meals, then you must sit and eat at the kitchen table, with nothing to read, watch, or listen to. Just sit there and eat. Be aware of your eating -- don't allow yourself to inhale sandwiches while you stare at the television. (Of course, if you do the TV-in-the-kitchen trick, you'll have to be careful not to combine the two and turn yourself into a TV-watching pig.)

If you eat the wrong things, start making shopping lists of the right things and buying only those things -- determine not to buy anything on in-store impulse. Then you'll have lots of good stuff and no bad stuff at home.

If you aren't drinking enough water, put the day's water out in bottles that you have to drink before you can do certain things (go to work, eat dinner, go to bed, etc.).

If you need more exercise, find places you would like to go to that are a certain walk or bicycle ride away, then start going to them regularly. It could be a lazy destination like the cinema, but it's a half-hour walk each way and you do it every Monday. It could be a certain cafe you love that's a mile away. Now you've got exercise plus maybe a new and interesting hangout. If you arrange for friends to meet you at these places (somewhere between your home and theirs?), it'll make sure you show up.

If it's a certain activity you'd like to cultivate, it's always useful to find other people who do it (maybe in a club) and hope they encourage you to keep at it.
posted by pracowity at 4:40 AM on September 26, 2006 [2 favorites]

Alot of Steve's advice is good, but he's been delving in to mystical nonsense lately.
posted by bigmusic at 4:41 AM on September 26, 2006

If you really want it to work, I would suggest combining multiple techniques:
  • Modification of your physical environment, e.g. keeping a glass next to the kettle, sticking a picture of Brad Pitt on the fridge, or setting alarms to remind you to do certain things at certain times.
  • Mental rehearsal (not just for weight loss).
  • Increasing your level of basic awakeness through mindfulness meditation so that you have less of a tendency to do things on autopilot.
You need to be obsessive about any change in order to stick with it through the 6-8 weeks needed for it to become a habit that you will carry out mindlessly. This is easier with bigger, more absolute changes - e.g. I had limited success trying to reduce my meat consumption, but when I went vegetarian it was easy to remember not to eat meat because I was completely preoccupied with my new lifestyle.
posted by teleskiving at 5:34 AM on September 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

Habits are typically reinforced by some sort of reward that you crave. It depends on your personality what that reward may be. Cigarette smoking has a reward of a light-headed buzz, coffee rewards you with a mental kick, running can give you a zen feeling of exhaustion. But the biggest thing is making the habit severely ritualized if you want it to stick.

What ritual can you perform to go to bed at a reasonable hour? First change into bedclothes at a certain time every day. Turn off the tv at the same time and crack opoen some reading material. Sit on the couch and read for an hour then go to bed. Follow the same steps nightly.
posted by JJ86 at 5:45 AM on September 26, 2006

I've read that a new habit takes approximately 21 days to form. Grab a calendar and X-out every day once you've completed (or managed not to complete, as the case may be), whatever habit you're looking to form (break)?
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:09 AM on September 26, 2006

I've read that a new habit takes approximately 21 days to form. Grab a calendar and X-out every day once you've completed (or managed not to complete, as the case may be), whatever habit you're looking to form (break)?

Man, I wish this were true. I've been working a job that requires me to get up at 4:30 in the morning for three years now. It is still not a "habit" of mine to be a morning person - it's like fighting a damn bear every morning. And all of the subservient "habits" (going to bed early enough, proper exercise/diet, etc.) are there. But it is still not second nature.

Call me pessimistic, but I'm not 100% convinced that we are in control of what habits we have/don't have. There are certainly some that we can effect, but others ... I'm not so sure.
posted by jbickers at 6:49 AM on September 26, 2006

Set a goal. Write it down. Create a log. Log your progress. If you forget, just start over again when you remember and don't beat yourself up about it.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:11 AM on September 26, 2006

I got into the habit of being an early riser by setting an alarm for when I need to start getting ready for bed, then another for when I need to hit the bed. since the reason I was staying up late all the time was because of my computer, I set up the schedules (and the incessant beeping) on the puter. But if you use an alarm clock it'd probably be fine.

I agree with croutonsupafreak. Really, don't beat yourself up about it. It took me a while to do things like quitting coffee completely and waking up early in the morning with enough sleep, and it was nowhere near the 21 day mark. But I did do them...eventually.
posted by Sallysings at 7:42 AM on September 26, 2006

Repeat Repeat Repeat and then repeat again.

I need to drink more water to keep my weight in check. One thing I do at work: I have four recurring 0 minute appointments (reminders) that just say "WATER!" on them. One is in the morning, one just before lunch, and one is just after lunch, and one is a couple hours before I drive home (don't want to drive home with a full bladder, that is not fun).

No matter WHAT I am doing (unless I am talking to someone), I get my butt up and go get a 32 oz glass of water and down it.

I have been doing that for a couple of weeks, and now I just get thirsty just before the reminder pops up. And I always have to pee when the next reminder comes up. So, when I gotta pee, I go get more water then pee.

So, by doing that:

I have established a schedule that my body knows, and I just get water without thinking about it, even on weekends when there are no reminders. Now, whenever I pee, I also go drink 32 oz water, which makes me want to pee, which makes me get more water.

I am thinking about taking the appointments away to see if I still do it without the appointments. We shall see I guess…

Repeat Repeat Repeat and then repeat again.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 8:14 AM on September 26, 2006

Repeat Repeat Repeat and then repeat again.
posted by Monkey0nCrack

I just love this place.

posted by chrismear at 8:27 AM on September 26, 2006

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