Let's examine this idea of doing things repeatedly. How many times have you tried to start a habit: flossing daily, meditating, exercising, journaling, drinking more water, reading, saving money, etc.? So many of us have tried to instill a daily habit only to fail, despite our best intentions. I'm going to suggest a new strategy--set a goal for more than once a day with your desired behavior. Now, I know exactly what you are thinking. If I can't manage to do something once a day, why would I try for more than that? Hear me out.
Last month I was reading Sara Gottried's Younger, a book about genetics and aging, and she had a section on flossing. The advice was to floss several times a day. I immediately thought, "Ha--I can't even remember to do it once, are you kidding me?" Then I decided to challenge myself by setting the goal of flossing twice a day (anything more seems excessive to me). Forget all the recent debate on flossing's efficacy (the recent study that has all floss haters loving life simply stated that not enought proof of flossing's benefits had yet been amassed, which is not the same as it not being worth anything). Anyways, I decided to go for twice a day and bought myself more Peppermint "Glide" a smooth tape style floss (worth the extra money, I swear, trust me on this).
How did I do? I don't floss twice a day everyday, but now I DO floss at least once. See what happened? By setting a higher goal, I've assured myself that I'll hit a minimum of a daily habit. I'm now mildly disappointed with myself when I ONLY floss once, and as a result, I floss at least once, and often twice, daily. Once I framed it in this context of multiples, I was able to incorporate the habit into my life. Had I not recontextualized the issue, I'd have remained an occasional flosser at best.
Now I'm thinking about how I can use this strategy to accomplish other goals that have eluded me. For example, if I challenge myself to a brief morning AND evening meditation, will that work? What if I scheduled two forms of exercise a day? What if I made two deposits a month to my savings account? You see where I'm going with this? Instead of asking ourselves to do the minimum, ASK MORE OF OURSELVES. I know, this method is not a guarantee of habitual success--after all, if you're willing to blow off one exercise session, why not two? However, I think there's real potential here because we think differently about a commitment that seems more pervasive, constant and therefore important. Think about the things you already do repeatedly that you never have to remind yourself about (checking email, Instagram, Facebook, eating several meals a day, changing clothes, brushing your teeth, saying "I love you" to your partner, family and friends--I hope that one is in there, if not, there's your first target!). We have the blueprint for success already built into our lives, we just need to figure out how to extend it to areas where we'd like to improve.
I hope you'll take me up on the multiple challenge. Below are some ideas for how to achieve your goal:
- If you want to become a flosser, buy more floss and put it all over the place (one for your purse, one for at work, one in each bathroom--you get the idea).
- Set daily alarms/reminders like "time to meditate" on your phone, or your electronic calendar.
- Stick post-it notes in visible places (like your bathroom mirror)
- Make your "equipment" accessible. For example, I might start using my mini-trampoline every morning, which means I'm going to pull it out into view to try to establish the habit.
- If you're looking to save money--set up two auto-transfers per month, or auto deposits to your retirement and investments. Mine comes out of my paycheck before I even see my paycheck in my account! Maybe increase the amount, see if you can work with less so as to have more later on!
- If you're looking to pay down debt--pay the most you can (or even the monthly minimum) TWICE a month, not once. You'll owe less in interest and pay down more quickly. I used this one many years ago.