Learning New Habits

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[edit] The Post-It Method

Write the habit you want to develop on the top of a standard post-it note, stuck to your monitor. Each day you successfully do that new habit, put a tally mark on the post-it note. After 30 tally marks, you're done. Toss the post-it note and go on to the next habit. Here's the trick: if you miss a day, you start over with a new post-it note and lose all of your prior tally marks.

[edit] The Stick

Make a contract with a friend of yours describing the behavior you want to do. Give that friend a stamped addressed envelope with a check made out to a non-profit of your choice for an amount that is affordable but will hurt. (I typically do $500). Instruct them that if you miss a single day, they are to mail the check. They have to trust you to self report but I find that its very easy to do what has to be done when there is $500 on the line. This technique has risk though, you have to be careful that you enjoy the new habit for its own benefit and that you aren't just doing it to avoid "the punishment". See http://alfiekohn.org/ for research on the risks of rewards and punishments.

  • I made a "contract" with my children: if you catch me performing a (specific) bad habit, I pay $1. I'm still working on it, but it does work. Perhaps if it was $5 it would work better.....?
  • Or, if that's not working, give your children the money if you do what you're supposed to do. That way, they'll be invested in your success.

[edit] Association

Associate a new habit with an old one. Pick something you have to do every day, like brushing your teeth or getting dressed and associate your new habit with it. This works best for small habits, but has been effective for me. I take my daily pills when I brush my teeth. I make the bed while I get dressed. I load the dishwasher right after I eat supper. I pick out the next day's clothes while I put on pajamas. Don't overload yourself. If you find you're still forgetting, a Post-It in the right place helps. Don't put a Post-It on the bathroom mirror for something you have to do at 5:00pm; put it on something you always look at when leaving work.

[edit] Take It To The Max

(A phrase Elvis used that can help you in everyday life.) Instead of introducing a worthwhile habit gradually, introduce it as dramatically and completely as possible. This way you'll notice the benefits right away and feel rewarded. I find this much more motivating than guilt, punishment, or an unrelated reward. --Ookpik 22:41, 12 Sep 2005 (EDT)

For example:

  • Start exercising by going to the gym every day for an hour. Your body will start changing after just a few days-- watch for it.
  • Learn a language by going to class or conversation practice every day. You'll get through the boring initial memorization faster.
  • Get up earlier by setting your alarm 2 or 3 hours earlier and rearranging your whole morning routine to include coffee, cold showers, bright lights, exercise or whatever you need to perk up. You'll notice the extra time right away.

I find its nearly impossible to learn more than one or two habits at a time, since each habit typically involves a bunch of small changes all over your life. I did a successful application of The Stick to show up at work everyday before 8:30 am and I had to make lots of little changes to ensure that I could in-fact reliably do it. I also used it to give myself reliable uninterrupted time between 9am and noon. I had a slightly harder time with the Post-it Method, in part because using it is a habit unto itself, but a friend of mine has used it to great success.

The research supposedly says it takes ~20 days to establish a new habit, I typically allow 4-5 weeks, which is 20-25 weekdays just to be on the safe side.

--Carl C-M 20:30, 29 Apr 2005 (EDT)

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