In our constant quest to a better ourselves, we look to adopt new behaviors and habits. But new habits are hard to adopt especially when those new behaviors don’t feel all that rewarding for the amount of effort we’re putting into it. Take for example my goal to declutter my office by going to a paperless filing system. This was a habit I tried to adopt last year and it involved changing completely how I processed bills and accounts. The new habit involved different steps of scanning, shredding and saving vs. slipping the bill into a folder and filing by year and month – something I had done all my life. So, sticking to this habit was harder because it actually felt less satisfying and the reward for my new behavior was not immediately apparent. I still have folders filled with old files (my purging process is going slowly) so I wasn’t seeing a less cluttered filing cabinet – I just wasn’t adding to it. I am happy that I was able make this habit stick. I attribute my success in adopting this new habit to having created barriers to the old system. Basically, I made it almost impossible for me to revert to old ways by not setting up new folders. The only thing to do when a bill came it was to follow the new paperless procedures. I can see the reward now and it’s great to see that my files are not growing and bulging with paper!
Another new habit that was a bit easier to stick to was to have a clear and clean kitchen at all times. This meant that dishes were to be washed, dried, and put away – as soon as they were dirtied. This differed from my current habit of letting things pile up during the day and cleaning up at once, either in the evening or the next morning. This new habit required carving time every morning to clear breakfast dishes before heading off to work, and cleaning up right after dinner instead of watching television. But it wasn’t only dishes that cluttered the kitchen. The island had become the repository of the daily mail. By week’s end, half of the island surface was littered with mail. Sticking to my goal of a clear kitchen became especially challenging on long work days when all I wanted to do was to go to bed early and leave the dishes until morning and deal with the mail on the weekend. But, I would make myself stick to my new habit even when I had no desire to do it. Fortunately, for this new habit, the reward was pretty immediate – a clean uncluttered kitchen – aaah! An unexpected plus was that my husband began adopting the same behavior and is pitching in to keep the kitchen spotless.
So I learned that to stick to our new behaviors and create new habits two things will definitely help: 1) eliminate access or create barriers to old behaviors and 2) focus on the rewards of the new behaviors. If the rewards are not immediately apparent, then create rewards! I want to gain muscle tone and maintain my cardiovascular fitness this year. I know it will take several months before I see results so I have created rewards for myself. For example, I listen to my favorite mystery books on my iPod when I go out for a run, and only when I got out for a run. My love for mysteries is a great motivator and reward that will get me closer to the real reward of working out.
Adopting a new habit is hard work and it takes time. If you slipped up, don’t sweat it. Just keep at it and hang in there!