By Dr. Emilie (Adapted parts from “Better Than Before” by Gretchen Rubin – pictured)
Last week we talked about the different tendencies we have for habit formation (ask for the article if you didn’t read it). To avoid wasting precious habit-formation energy on dead ends, we need to shape habits to suit us. This list of questions will help highlight your nature relevant to habit formation. I haven’t included all from the book, but a good start.
1- Am I a lark or an owl? Research shows the morning people (larks) really do differ from night people (owls). The two types are more productive and energetic at different point in the day. I’m an owl. I go to sleep and prefer to wake up later (even though I often still get up early…life with kids!). You may notice on email or social media, I always comment and post late in the night…I used to believe I could become a lark if I made an effort to go to sleep earlier, but research suggests that this attribute is hardwired. Genes and age tend to play a role in this too. How do you apply this? An owl shouldn’t bother trying to form the habit of getting up early to study, and a lark shouldn’t try to fit in 2 hours of writing after dinner.
2 – Am I a marathoner, a sprinter, or a procrastinator? Especially for work habits, it’s key to distinguish the pace at which you work. I’m a sprinter – I prefer to work in quick bursts of intense effort and often a deadline will help me push harder. A marathoner likes to work in slow, steady chunks and dislikes deadlines. They may actually finish their work way ahead of time to avoid them. Sprinters and marathoners usually feel good about their work style, but procrastinators don’t. Sprinters choose to work at the last minute because the pressure helps clarify their thoughts; procrastinators hate last-minute pressure and wish they could force themselves to work before deadlines loom. If they can, procrastinators are happier when they change their work habits to work more steadily.
3 – Am I a simplicity lover or an abundance lover? Simplicity lovers are attracted by the idea of less, of emptiness, bare surfaces and shelves, few choices, roomy closets. They get more pleasure in shredding things than acquiring them. Abundance lovers are attracted by the idea of more, overflow, a full pantry…they always want to have more than enough. Simplicity lovers and abundance lovers thrive in different environments. When changing habits, a simplicity lover may be attracted to elimination and simplification – saving money by cutting cable or quitting online shopping. An abundance lover may be attracted to addition and variety – to making money by starting freelance work or learning how to invest.
4 – Am I a finisher or an opener? Here is somewhere Martin and I differ. I like to remind him of all the things he’s started and not finished, lol…but then if I think about it, I have my own of those…. Finishers love the feeling of bringing a project to completion, and they’re determined to use the last drop of shampoo (that’s me, oh what a feeling!). The author describes a weird satisfaction when something breaks or wears out – I get it. Openers thrill to the excitement of launching a new project, and find pleasure in opening a fresh tube of toothpaste. Knowing which we are, we can shape our habits to suit our preference. I like my gym: I go do my circuit or class and I’m finished. Martin (an opener) will work out ongoing through the night while we watch TV (really makes me feel good while I sit on the couch, haha….). Openers may prefer a gym where they can rotate through many types of exercises. Be aware: finishers focus on their ability to complete and may be overly cautious about trying to form new habits. Openers may be overly optimistic about their ability to take on additional habits.
5 – Am I a familiarity lover or a novelty lover? Some people love familiarity; some love novelty. A familiarity person will often love to re-read books, re-watch movies, eat the same foods, return to places they’ve visited. I’m always slightly annoyed that Martin always buys the same food at a restaurant. He says if he likes it, he’s happy to eat it again. (I like to try new things all the time.) For them, habits become easier as they become familiar. If the gym scares you, go there and walk around several times to feel more familiar before starting to work out. Novelty lovers may embrace habits when they feel less like habits – otherwise it can get stale. Ex: it might help to work from home or another satellite office once a week or it’s too much of the same. Novelty lovers do great with short challenges – like 30 day challenges.
6 – Am I promotion-focused or prevention-focused? Our wording in habit formation can make a difference. A good habit and a bad habit are the mirror images of each other; a person might want to “quit eating junk food” or “eat better” or to “get more sleep” or “stop staying up too late”. A promotions-focused person recycles in order to make the environment cleaner; a prevention-focused person recycles in order to avoid getting a fine.
7 – Do I like to take small steps or big steps? Many people have better success adopting habits when they start with modest, manageable steps. A series of minor but real accomplishments gives people the confidence to continue. We also become accustomed to including a new habit in the pattern of our days. On the opposite spectrum, it’s also true that people do better when they’re very ambitious. Sometimes, it’s easier to make a major change than a minor change. A big transformation generates an energy and excitement that helps to foster habits.
There’s no magic formula – not for ourselves, and not for people around us. We won’t make ourselves more creative and productive by copying other peoples’ habits, even the habits of geniuses; we must know our own nature, and what habits serve us best. What will you change?
*Our Oaktree Body program can be a great start to changing some habits – and can work well whether you need accountability or not. Our goal with Oaktree Body is to retrain the body on how we are meant to live through education, support and accountability. A big focus is nutrition, but we know you need more than that to be balanced and well. We also believe physical training and spiritual training (rest, relaxation, meditation etc) and just as important.*