Sunday, May 19, 2013

Habit-forming: Get Stuff Done

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I know I’m most successful when I don’t procrastinate.  When I eat well.  When I stick to a schedule.  When I make time to plan for the week in all areas (food, exercise, even work outfits).  And yet sometimes, like this past week, it just doesn’t happen.

Almost every day this week I found myself waking up too late for a morning workout, having to buy lunch because I didn’t prep it beforehand, and procrastinating for sometimes hours at night before I would finally work out.  I can’t say that I have much to show for it.  I got all my training runs in, yes – and that’s something I am definitely proud of – but not a whole lot else.  And if this training thing is going to be sustainable for six months, then I’ve got to find a way to both run and live my life.

Googling (as I often do for life’s littlest struggles) the phrase habit-breaking, I was compelled by the simplicity of the habit-breaking recipe: Replace the habit with a new routine.  Wow.  That’s simple enough. 

Habits come in a pretty simple cycle: Cue, routine, reward, repeat.  So interrupting one part of the chain will interrupt the habit.  For example, I’ve lately had a really bad habit of coming home from work, dropping down onto the couch for “just 15 minutes” while I read through personal emails, catch up on blogs, read Facebook, etc., and then let that 15 minutes stretch until I find, over an hour later, that it’s 8 p.m., I haven’t made dinner and I’ve not yet gone for a run.  At this point my night is shot, and too often I don’t have the energy to prep for the next day (breakfast, lunch, clothes, etc.), so my morning is shot, too.  Bad habit!

In this situation, the getting home from work is the cue (“I’m soooo tired, I just need to relax for a bit…”), the Internet surfing is the routine, and the relaxation/unwinding is the reward.  To interrupt this habit, I need to alter/abolish the cue, or replace the routine with a new one.  In this case, the cue (work being over) is not going to change, so I need to replace the routine.

And that brings me to this week, a recommitment to a healthier, less stressed, smooth-sailing Abby.  Here are the small habits I'd like to insert in place of my older, less productive ones.  I wanna get some stuff done, you know?

Habit #1: Take the first 20 minutes after work to tidy up.  This should get me moving, get the house cleaner, and actually relax me, the way cleaning tends to do.  It will also keep me from disappearing into the couch.

Habit #2: If there isn't enough time in the day, chip away at the to-do list in 20-minute chunks.  Lately I've found that there really isn't enough time to get everything done.  Between out-of-town weekends, planning for the gazillion weddings ahead, and trying to maintain healthy food/workout habits, I often literally don't have enough time to get everything done the way I want it.  The worst part about this is that, when I feel this way, I get so overwhelmed I wind up getting nothing done.  

In order to curb that overwhelmed feeling and still knock things off the list, I've found that working in 20-minute chunks (and limiting it to that) is helpful.  For example, last week I had to decide whether or not a group of my friends would rent an RV for an upcoming camping trip.  We had already booked it but were thinking about backing out, and everyone wanted to give it one last shot: Could we find an RV that was less expensive than the one we had booked?  It was a nagging task, and I knew it would be a time suck -- I could research RV prices for hours!  So I followed this rule.  I set a timer, I did my due diligence for 20 minutes, and then I was done.  Made a decision.  Felt better, and was only 20 minutes down.

Habit #3: If it takes less than a minute, do it now.  I stole this one from The Happiness Project, and I've found that it's fantastic.  Why be afraid of a one-minute task?  Sweep up what you just spilled.  Hang the shirt back up.  Close the cabinet.  Take out the trash.  It's no big deal, and my future self always appreciates it.

Habit #4: Commit.  I have the bad habit of thinking, just before I go to sleep, that it would be nice to go for a morning run, but that it's not necessary.  Which of course means that Morning Abby has free reign to snooze through the workout.  No.  This week -- and this is the real test -- I start shifting to morning workouts.  I am from this point forward considering them non-negotiable.  So there.

Here's to a centered, productive week!

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