Friday, September 23, 2011

How to use Habits for Good.

People are creatures of Habit.

We like to do things regularly and can fall into familiar grooves and patterns.
This can be a bad thing if the habit is self destructive.

However, new habits constructive habits can also be formed. Fore example, this is the idea behind practicing -well- anything. You repeat a task to make it more familiar and regular and build skills and the willingness to do it. It becomes normal, expected.

I had this in mind when I formalized my exercise regime. Three or four times a week I do sledgehammer exercises and go running with my dog.

I really, really don't like running. But I formed a habit, a procedure, that (and this is the key) once started I *will* complete. The key to building a new habit is to make it an If-then. "If X then Y." If I leave the house then I *will* do a pocket check. If I am holding a gun then I *will* obey the four rules. If I put on my exercise clothes then I *will* do my routine.

Again the most important thing is to build the if-then relation. The more you do it the stronger it gets, and the less inclined you are to deviate from the habit.
I came up with a few tricks to make the procedure stronger.
0) The Trigger that gets you in the "slot"
1) Something unique to the routine but easy to start
2) Something that is a daily duty that must be done.
3) The disliked task that you want to do (IE the Running).

For my example the components are as follows.
0) Put on exercise clothes
1) Sledgehammer exercises (After stretching do an upper body routine using an ordinary sledgehammer)
2) Take the dog out back for his business.
3) Go running (with the dog).

Each factor builds on the other.
Step 1 gives an immediate, relatively easy, and unique response to the trigger.
Step 2 builds on the routine, and is something unavoidable.
This serves to make step 3 feel inevitable. It will become something that you have to do.
And I'll stress it again, the key is follow-through. If you start then you *must* complete the routine. It's better to not bother with Step 0 at all, than it is to go to Step 2 and skip Step 3.

The former actually builds to the If-Then structure, while the latter gives you an escape hatch. And that undermines the whole idea of building a habitual behavior. The whole point is through practice to make it so that once you start you *will* finish.

Another factor is the use of the dog. If you have a dog and want to exercise more, take him with you. He'll enjoy and want the exercise and thus will want you to do it, and will get happy seeing you start the routine. Dogs are creatures of habit too. It'll be better for him and you.

Also much like my suggestion of daily practice (be it writing, art, or music) you should track the days you exercise. I found a simple red plus on a year calendar is a helpful way to show the days I exercised versus the days I did not.

Finally, a word on improvement. Doing the exact same routine does reinforce things, but gets stale. I found that edging my limits helps. I have a set amount that I run: From my house, around the block, and stopping at a corner. I found that simply pushing to the next corner every week or so does nicely. Again consistency is key. Once you set out to do it, do everything in your power to complete it.


Cond0010 said...

I think the hardest part of ANY habit is... showing up.

Once you get there, whether its to the Swimming Pool, or Kitchen Counter (non-Bachelor Cooking), or even the Weight Room, things get easier after that.

Showing up... yep. :)

The Jack said...

Oh yah, don't get me wrong, taking that first step the *trigger* is a hard part.

That's why I made it so I start running right when I get to the sidewalk.

And I do the exercise right when I get home from work, otherwise it's too easy to put off.