Goals - March 2016
Committing to daily sunscreen

My habit of habits superpower


I believe we all have a superpower or two. Mine include hula-hooping indefinitely and starting and maintaining habits. You might not have guessed the hula-hooping superpower but you probably guessed the habits superpower.

Habits have been on my mind a lot lately. I stumbled onto Better Than Before and Gretchen Rubin's four habit tendencies and have been making most people I know take the tendency quiz. Just ask Chris, my entire book club or my office mate Troy, who was so sweet to give me a ride home one day and to repay him I made him take the tendency quiz as we drove.

My tendency is Upholder, which Gretchen Rubin defines as someone who is equally motivated internally and externally to maintain a habit. In other words, upholders love habits and find it fairly easy to keep habits. I think this personality trait is part of why I love habits but also, above all else perhaps, I prize efficiency. The habits I maintain are not for the sake of a habit alone, they support the way I want to live in our ideal life. Living efficiently means that I maximize the time I have to do what I love the most: spending time with my family and friends, eating good food, reading good books and writing for myself. A few examples include:

+ Keeping a habit of getting rid of things we don't use or love means we don't spend as much time cleaning the house. Spaces throughout our home are ready to be used because they are not cluttered. We also have a cleaning service once a month that we feel is an efficient use of money that allows us to have more free time. 

+ By exercising consistently two to three times per week, by taking hearty salads to work for lunch and eating a wholesome vegetarian diet I stay healthy and feel fit and energized. I can also occasionally indulge in unhealthy foods (like this cake) without feeling regret or guilt. 

+ Maintaining a schedule of recording and producing podcasts ahead of time and scheduling blog posts means I am relaxed during my creative work time instead of rushing to meet a deadline. Working ahead also means I have more time to brainstorm and explore new ideas, which fuels my creativity.

Often there are little habits that support a lifestyle habit. For example, every Sunday night I set out my workout clothes and running shoes so that getting up at 4:30 AM and going to an Orange Theory class is as easy as possible. On the weekends we prep salad greens for lunch all week and usually cook a big batch of beans for healthy weeknight dinners. We are in the habit of not buying snacky foods like chips and ice cream, which supports the habit of eating healthy. By automating transfers to our savings account we are able to maintain the habit of sticking to our spending and saving budgets. (To be explicit: these are habits that work well for me and for us. I am definitely not suggesting that any of these habits are "right" in any way except they are right for me and for us right now.)

When I start thinking of habits in my life it seems like I essentially live a life of habits! I thought about the process I go through to start and maintain a new habit and here's what I've come up with:

+ Identify the motivating lifestyle value.

Before I started my habit of Tuesday 4 AM work sessions I thought about what I wanted to achieve, which was more time for my creative work. I really love having time to write for myself and connecting my 4 AM work time to achieving that keeps me motivated. Similarly, I know that I feel significantly better, energized and confident when I exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet. By first identifying the lifestyle value that is important to me a habit takes on greater meaning which lends motivation.

+ Be specific about the steps involved and honest about the energy required.

I've been really happy with my habit of downloading photos off my phone and immediately sorting them into albums so that I can make a family photo album once a year. But this habit started with the more vague notion of "I want to be better about dealing with my photos." Being specific about what I would do (use Google photos to backup photos and create albums; use Blurb to make photo books) and when I would do it (download photos at least once per month; make photo book once per year) has helped me create and maintain the habit. 

+ Envision myself doing that habit and the satisfaction it will bring

If I had to make up a fact about habits on the spot I would say habits are 85% mental and 15% physical. Usually the effort required for a habit is so much less than the mental resistance against a habit. By envisioning myself doing a habit I can lower my mental resistance. For example, on days when I go to Orange Theory after bedtime I envision myself putting the boys to bed, changing into my workout clothes and driving to Orange Theory. I also envision how great it will feel to finish the workout. I think of this entire scenario several times throughout the day. I push my thoughts of, "Ugh, am I really going to do that tonight? I'm going to be so tired," away with the mental image of me following through on what I want to do. I find it really helps! It certainly doesn't hurt.

+ Start right now!

I've found there is nearly always something that I can do right now to start a habit I want to do. If I want to call my mom more I can call her right now. If I want to keep the car cleaner I can clean it right now. If I really really can't start my new habit in the moment then I can write something down in my planner. I can tell Chris or my mom or a friend what I've decided to do. I can decide with determination that I am now the kind of person who ____. I can mentally see myself following through and then I've already started. Every habit starts with a first time.

I'd love to know what tendency you are and what habits you maintain!

P.S. Temptation bundling is one of my habit-maintaining tricks.