Sneaky habits

Today I thought about habits. Why? Because I like to self-improve. Or find fault with myself, depending on your perspective. I certainly always have a to-do list with some potential self-improvement items at hand. I say potential, because most of the time they don’t materialize. At least not sustainably. This time will be different, though!

I don’t quite remember how I came up with it. I think it’s a mix of having read a lot about how to build habits. And a lot of experience trying it, managing it for a while, and then falling off the wagon again. And since I’m a keen observer of my own little charming idiocies I couldn’t help but notice that there is a system to the madness:

I usually start out with huge enthusiasm about a new self-improvement project of mine. But I also always put too much on my plate at once. And end up killing my enthusiasm by quickly turning my passion into a chore. You can read about my various attempts here or here.

So this time around I am trying a different approach, one that is in tune with the micro-step system I have recently established for my life goals, too. Did I mention I also like systems? Anyhow, the idea is as simple as it is intriguing:

I once read that we procrastinate or end up not doing things at all because our mind and body are inherently lazy. Whenever we try to change what they are used to, they tend to detect this straight away, join forces, and sabotage the change by making it feel totally undoable. Or, alternatively, offering lots of hard-to-resist distractions, like the comfort of the sofa in exchange for a run around the block.

The trick to work around this resistance is to create a task that is so minuscule, so ridiculously small that even good old mind and body can’t be bothered to object. Because in this case it’s actually easier for them to just get this little annoyance done and over with than to put together an elaborate counter-strategy.

Say, I want to take up my juicing habit again. It’s cold, and wet and I feel my body could benefit from some vitamins. I do have a perfectly good slow juicer in my kitchen. Only, it’s a pain to cut the fresh fruit and vegetable in the morning and it’s even more of a pain to clean the machine after juicing.

So the deal I made with myself is: I will juice every morning. And with “juicing” I don’t exactly mean juicing in the strict sense. (Did you just also hear that sigh of relief?) I don’t have to cut fruit or vegetable, if I don’t want to (Another sigh).

But I might want to throw some frozen fruit in the smoothie maker, add some water, and just drink this instead of a freshly squeezed juice. In fact, I might not even feel like doing that. So maybe I just want to cut some ginger and pour hot water over it and have this instead of a juice (Aaaah).

And wait up, I’m not done yet. Since habits are said to need about 30 days of uninterrupted practice I will do the habit of my choice, “juicing” for now, for 30 days in a row. I downloaded an app that doesn’t only look beautiful. It also happens to gently remind me of my “juicing” habit just at the time of the day when I tend to reach for my little coffee maker (never too lazy to do that).

Just in case I forget I also put a little sticker on my coffee maker. It reads something along the lines of: C’mon, you can do it! Followed by three mock check boxes of (1) juice, (2) smoothie, or (3) ginger tea. And a smiley. Just in case I start taking myself and my habit building attempts too seriously. As if I ever would…

The app also allows me to log my daily “done” and see a beautiful string of good habits build up over time. Did I mention that I’m also a sucker for challenges?

Wait up, there is still another layer: I have resolved to only do one habit at a time. Given that I always have a whole queue of new potential habits waiting for me. You remember. So no habit other than “juicing” for 3o days. And only if and when I have managed to do 30 in a row will I even think about allowing myself to add another habit.

You might think that I’m a little bit gaga and this all sounds a bit lunatic. But you know what? It actually works. Today I logged my seventh day of “juicing” in a row, including three actual juices. And that’s many more than I achieved in a long time of trying to re-start my juicing habit proper.

You see, I really have thought this through. Because the clue, as I recently learned by listening to James Clear, is to put as many steps as possible between yourself and your old bad habits. And as few steps as possible between yourself and your new good habit.

Isn’t it funny how our mind and body work? It’s so hard to do something against their will. And actually not that difficult to do it with them. They’re actually pretty nice fellas and cooperative once you accept they are just as lazy as you are. And you simply sneak in a half-habit which somehow, over time, might wind up becoming the actual thing.

Just don’t ask if I don’t mention juicing again.


15 thoughts on “Sneaky habits

  1. Really like the environmental changes suggested in the podcast. Like taking the TV and putting it in a closet. 🙂 hahahaha I so enjoy a good Netflix binge! On the flipside, I do get out and walk 5 – 6 times a day for 15 to 30 minutes. As far as juicing… does having the machine on the kitchen counter count? (grins)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow, you watched the whole thing?! I’m glad you enjoyed it just as much as I did. James Clear has a very well researched, yet very approachable take on habits, I find. Not the usual clickbait version.
      Hm, about the machine on the kitchen counter…. You might make me count it on the very worst of my habit days now. 😀
      How on earth, however, do you manage to get out and walk 5-6 times a day AND binge watch Netflix?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hahahaha… I walk the neighborhood first thing in the morning, like 7 am, then again around 10:30, then 3:30, 6 pm and 8 pm. I try to get just over 10,000 steps. In bewtween I will binge watch something. Offspring is hilarious (Netflix)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh, I see. I just looked for Offspring on Netflix but it turns out that I can’t watch it in my country. It may be better this way, though, as I tend to limit myself to movies because they are not as addictive as whole Seasons…. 😉


  2. I love James Clear, I’m just somewhere in the middle of Atomic Habits.
    I don’t think I can wait 30 days before starting a new habit though, I’m trying the habit stacking…
    Carrying my plate from the table to the kitchen because I have to walk that way anyway, & while I’m in the kitchen I may as well put it in the dishwasher…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I like the idea of habit stacking, too. It’s just that I know about myself (now) that I tend to stack too much once I start stacking. 😉 So that’s just my way of restraining myself to self-protect. I’m glad to hear that it works for you, though! Good luck with any other habits you might decide to add!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We’ll see how it goes, most of my habits don’t last either. Sometimes I forget, sometimes they’re just not important enough. I’m off to watch the video you posted…

        Liked by 1 person

  3. You’ve written about taking small, but very deliberate steps to make some big changes in your life. It makes a lot of sense to do it that way, and it sounds like you have almost achieved your first victory! I ran across this article yesterday that I found interesting regarding willpower, and I thought I’d share a couple of things. The article is called “Why Willpower Is Overrated”, by Brian Resnick. It made me start to question how and why I do certain things as well.
    I’ve always thought that willpower was paramount in maintaining a disciplined life, but after reading it, I realized that maybe it’s more about planning. The article left a lot of open questions, but what interested me was the possibility that self-control may not actually come from willpower at all; it may be more about structuring a lifestyle that encourages desired behavior. I liked the article and immediately thought about your last few blog posts when I started reading it.
    It was interesting timing to read both your blog posts and this article. I’m no expert, but it sounds to me that you are doing exactly what someone should do if they are trying to reinforce good habits in their life. I still like your “small step” approach and agree that your juicing plan is an important first step in structuring your life the way you want it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Des, I just read the article you recommended while drinking my daily juice. 🙂

      It’s a very worthwhile read and ties in very closely with the Atomic Habits book I recently read by James Clear. In fact, Clear makes that precise same claim, that willpower is overrated, and if memory serves he even cites Brian Resnick.

      He also in his book answers a lot of the questions that Resnick leaves unanswered. That’s one of the big achievements of Atomic Habits, I find. By climbing right down into the machine room of habit change (human psychology and body functions) he draws up very practical guidelines. You still have to do the work yourself, of course, but you know what to do, and why.

      In his words: “You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems”. I love that. I think you might enjoy the book, too.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks for reading Resnick’s article during your daily juice! I can see why you like Clear’s quote; it makes a lot of sense. I also like “The machine room of habit change”. That is a wonderful metaphor. It actually sounds a little intimidating. Maybe I will read the book. The whole concept is quite a bit different from what I’ve always believed.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Oh, wow, the machine room was my own creation. Feel free to quote me 😀

        It’s not actually that intimidating. In fact, it’s pretty fascinating once you’re in there. It’s like watching yourself from the inside out. A funny perspective.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I wondered if that was yours! That’s really a good one. Just to let you know, any time I climb down into a machine room, I’m intimidated. That doesn’t mean I won’t push any buttons, but the heart is still pounding. Have a great weekend!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s hard to admit laziness from tiredness. Great post! Ageed, will attack the small tasks first to not get my mind resisting. Interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

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