By Dr. Emilie (Adapted parts from “Better Than Before” by Gretchen Rubin)
For the last 2 weeks I’ve been discussing habit formation and how knowing ourselves and our tendencies will give us a better shot at making changes. If we want to improve our habits, where should we begin? First things first – start with the obvious problems. Surprisingly though, people often start with a habit that doesn’t deliver much payoff in return for the energy required. Have you ever seen someone who is chronically sleep-deprived, always late for work, never has time to do activities they love, chews gum constantly….and decides to give up gum?
Habits in four areas tend to boost feelings of self-control: sleep, moving, eating and drinking right and uncluttering.
Sleep I struggle with this one because I always want to get more things done. One issue is that I am an owl (see last week’s article), so I am productive later so I often want to finally check my email and work on projects after kids are in bed, after I spend time with my husband for a bit or watched a show. I am writing this at 11h15pm, for example. But I still have to get up to work out and to see the kids before school in the morning. I wish I could tell you I’ve got this one figured out – I don’t.
If you need help to sleep more, figure out what works best for you – get an accountability partner, get a fitbit, put alarms on, you can even get a timer that turns off your wi-fi at certain times!
Move Physical activity is important– we know this. Often people who start with a workout routine, will stop within a month of two, like the January boost that fizzles by February at the gym. We’re far more likely to stick with an exercise routine that suits our temperament and schedule. Work out at night if you’re a night person, if you don’t like to push yourself too hard, only do one short thing a week that really pushes you, but do other forms of movement through the week like walks, lighter yoga, cardio machines etc. Some people prefer competition or sports so will stick with that in the long run. Find what works for you – don’t force it.
Eat and drink right Many people are out of control with food – it is hard. I noticed that if I eat sweets and/or chips/junk, it was always at night, after 9pm. My new rule and I’ve done it for a while now is not to eat after 9pm. It’s easy, and always avoids junk. It’s not like I was eating kale and brussel sprouts at 10pm, you know what I mean? But it allows me to still have dessert, or if I really want something, I have it before 9 and don’t feel guilty.
For some it may be an alcohol rule, like none Monday to Thursday, or I’ve done only one desert during the week, one on the weekend. It depends on your tendency for habit formation, but pick something that will work and get accountability if that’s what you need.
Unclutter People get a real lift when they put things in their place, tackle nagging tasks, clear surfaces and get rid of things. This surge of energy makes it easier to ask more of ourselves, to use our self-control and to stick to a challenging habit. I tried to convince my husband to make the bed (like the soldier in the YouTube video who says if you do that daily, you can do anything). It didn’t work. It may seem futile to him because we’ll just reopen it each night!
One of my pet-peeves about my husband relates to clutter, he knows this. We have a chest at the end of our bed. It is supposed to be for the pillows on our bed (his pet peeve of mine is I have too many decorative pillows, but that’s besides the point). It is instead a pile of his clothes – a mix of the pile of folded laundry, towels and his dirty clothes. We’ve been married 14 years and I’ve tried different strategies to get his clothes put away, without doing it myself, but I have come to terms that at least twice a month it gets cleared out and it’s clear for half a day. I have learned for myself that I’d much rather take the 30 seconds it takes daily to put my clothes away or in the hamper. I feel more in control of my life when my clothes is put away. It is ironic that in so many other places he is pristine and uncluttered. (+ don’t ask him about my desk, lol, I’m not writing this saying I’m perfect!)
We manage what we monitor. The strategy of monitoring has power and often leads to change. Keeping close track of our actions means we do better in categories such as eating, drinking, exercising, working, TV and internet use, spending etc. Self-measurement brings self-awareness, and this strengthens our self-control.
The strategy of monitoring works well because we are no longer fooling ourselves. You may think you eat well, but when you actually write it all down, it can be shocking. Sometimes we give ourselves more credit for good habits than we deserve. We think we get more sleep than we do too. Fitbits have brought lots of awareness here. There are lots of ways to monitor ourselves from food diaries to fitbits to challenge groups to accountability partners. I know some people that once in a while just put on their wedding dress to see if they have gained weight or not – that’s one way to monitor weight!
We all know the areas in which we need to improve. I urge you to choose one and move forward with the first step. This will create momentum and you’ll keep going forward. Please share with us – we love to know what you’re up to. Many patients use us for accountability too – it helps that we see you regularly:)
You can keep me accountable to go to bed before midnight!