Thursday, October 17, 2013

Day 18: Habits and Cues

Yesterday, I delineated the actions I needed to take to use this paper system properly. I have to look at the papers in the top tier everyday, the second tier on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the bottom two tiers on Thursdays.

The question remained: how was I going to remember to do that?

That brings us to the fascinating topic of habit creation.

According to Charles' Duhigg who compiled the research on habits into an engaging narrative in The Power of Habit; Why We Do What We Do, a habit consists essentially of three parts: a cue, a routine, and a reward. (There are great resources, including a flow chart here.)

I'll let him explain. In this short three minute video Duhigg talks about how he changed one of his own habits:

To create a new habit, the first thing I need to do is to create a cue or trigger--in other words, the reminder.

I could
  • send myself a memo via my e-mail. I use Memo to Me to help me remember to do the budget on Thursdays.
  • set an alarm on my phone (I would if I had one of those!) A fellow at work uses one to tell him when his lunch time is over. It goes off about five to seven minutes before he has to return to work and it sounds like the warning for a nuclear meltdown.
  • perform the new routine or habit right after I'd finished another habit: finishing the previous habit becomes the cue for the next one.

Placing a new habit right after an existing one is, in fact, probably the easiest and the most natural way to create a new habit.

For example, to create a new habit in the morning, create a list of those things which always happen in the morning. Then, sandwich your new habit between events that happen all the time. A visual reminder of some kind wouldn't hurt either. Then, if you like, create a checklist with the new routine.

Scheduling the habit and then doing something, any small thing, really is almost more important to the development of the habit than anything else.

For example, take my paperwork. (Please!) I've decided that bringing in the mail will be my cue to look at the stacks. For now, my only "task" associated with the stacks is to deal with one piece of paper--from any of the slots. That's it. I want to make it as easy as possible. I want to take such a tiny bite that it would be ridiculous to refuse. Once I have the two actions paired: get mail, check paper slots, and that's automatic, then I can do a more thorough job on the slots.

Tomorrow, we'll talk about the reward.

ETA: You can catch all the posts in the series here.

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