How to break bad behaviors
April 19, 2007 11:31 AM   Subscribe

How do I break behaviors that I've been doing for years?

I'm messy. I have trouble staying focused on task. I spend too much money. Each of these behaviors have been troubling me for years (I've been messy since I was very very young). What's the best way to break out of these habits?
posted by drezdn to Grab Bag (7 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Find a positive behavior you can focus your energy on. Instead of not doing something, you'll then be focused on doing something.

Also, don't plan changes that have to last forever... give yourself an end date and think of it as an experiment. If you get to the end and you see a tangible outcome, you'll likely want to repeat the behavior.

Example: Instead of setting the goal of spending less money, re-train your thinking towards "saving $400 in three months."
posted by RossWhite at 11:35 AM on April 19, 2007

Set boundaries. "The bedroom is allowed to be messy, because it is my private space. The living room/bathroom must remain clean at all costs, in order to make guests comfortable."

Once they're clean, invite people over so they can come marvel at what a good job you've done. That will keep you excited about cleaning. Once keeping a few rooms clean feels natural, you'll probably notice that you spend more times in the clean rooms because, well, you can actually DO things in them. Maybe it will inspire you to work on the others too!
posted by hermitosis at 11:52 AM on April 19, 2007

Tell your friends and coworkers not to take your shit anymore. Tell them you want to change then hopefully you will be motivated to live up to your words.

As for spending too much money, you need to reset your default reaction to shiny object to "NO" not "Me want". Your immediate, unthinking action needs to be to put it back on the shelf and walk away. If you later decide that you really need it, you know you can always come back to it. It will still be there, or else something else will be.
posted by bobobox at 12:38 PM on April 19, 2007

Generally, develop mindfulness. It might seem vague and kind of touchy-feely, but the three things you mention are familiar to me, and one solution (rather than workaround) is to cultivate attention.

I'm not aware of any good Web-based explanations that aren't either all over the place, so shallow to be useless, or deep enough in actual Buddhism to be a bit off-putting if that's not what you're after, but books I can recommend:

Wherever You Go, There You Are by John Hampel
Don't Just Do Something, Sit There! by Sylvia Boorstein
Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh

One advantage of a mindfulness approach is that it will also address similar problems that you didn't list; one disadvantage is that developing that sort of active awareness can be a lot of work. The potential rewards are visible from the very beginning, though, so it's not like it requires taking much on faith.
posted by mendel at 12:40 PM on April 19, 2007 [4 favorites]

Also, don't think you have to change everything about all of your behaviors all at once. Break them down into the smallest pallatable parts. For example, say to yourself "this week i will make sure my bathroom stays clean". don't worry about the rest of the house any more than you do now. Once that becomes habit, add a room.
posted by softlord at 1:13 PM on April 19, 2007

Changing the situation can help. It is usually drastic, but that's the point. Most of us don't change until we reach a crisis or some other epiphany point. While you can manufacture a crisis (spend yourself into bankruptcy, live in your own filth for a year) it's usually a last resort.

I was messy from birth. I had very good friends for years who had never seen the inside of my house.

Enough was enough. I threw out virtually everything I owned, keeping only clothes, business related stuff, important papers, and heirlooms, gifts, etc. and enough stuff to live basically (a plate, bowl, spoon, blanket...). Everything I owned fit into a cube about 4 feet on a side. Then I moved. Only four blocks, but into a new apartment. Eventually replaced all the crap I had before with stuff I really enjoy. Since then I've been accused of being too neat and have people who call me wanting to come over because they like my place better than theirs. Everywhere I look I see the results of my sacrifice and remember what a huge pain in the ass it was. The fact that I'm here reminds me to pick up my socks.

At least this is my first hand experience.

As for the money thing, I'd cut up my credit cards and change banks. When that bank sends you a debit card, cut that up. Make it so you have to go to the bank to withdraw cash or write a check to pay for everything. The huge pain in the ass it is to do all of these things will keep the question of "should I spend money on this?" much closer to the top of your mind.

Good luck.
posted by Ookseer at 1:16 PM on April 19, 2007

I second making accessing your important money difficult.

This is what I used to do when I got a regular paycheck:

I have 2 checking accounts and 1 savings account. Every paycheck I had a reccuring scheduled transfer that put a set amount into my "bills" checking account. The set amount was based upon my monthly bills, rent, etc. Then I put $25 into my savings account. Whatever was left over was put into my "spending" checking account.

My "bills" checking account and savings checking accounts are very difficult to withdraw money from. I refused check/debit cards for those two. I either have to write a check, set up an automatic bill payment, or transfer into my "spending" checking account to access that money.

It's a great system because you always have the money you need to pay your bills, and a little savings too. (The savings can be for emergencies or whatever you want, a big purchase like a car or something. I bought a computer with mine.)

The spending money you can do whatever you want with until it runs out.

Even though I can transfer money into my spending when I run out, it's a pain, takes a day or so- basically it prevents those impulse purchases. :)

Of course now I'm a freelancer and don't get regular paychecks anymore, so the whole system is screwed.... ;)
posted by thejrae at 4:54 PM on April 19, 2007

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