November 14, 2011

Maintaining Habits

Once you commit to starting a new habit, the hard part is maintaining it.  Reminding yourself to repeat the new behavior may be the best way to keep it up.  In the past, I have written notes to myself and posted them in places where I would be likely to relate them to the new habit.  Unfortunately, they turn into wallpaper after a while and I would ignore them.

In The Clutter Book: When You Can’t Let Go, I refer to “hooking” a new behavior to one you already have.   My challenge is flossing my teeth.  I can’t explain why I don't do it; I have the tools, I have the skills, I just never committed to it.  Sure, the week before my dentist appointment I’d floss like a maniac, but I didn’t keep it up afterward.

Last week I decided that it’s time to start flossing daily.  My goal is to do it once a day, when I brush my teeth before bed.  If I don’t do it, I have to make a deliberate choice and not just shrug it off because I don’t feel like it.  One night I got back out of bed because I forget and two nights I put the toothbrush down and got the floss because I overlooked a step. 

This may not seem to be a big commitment, but for someone who despised flossing, it’s a huge change.  Most research shows that it takes a minimum of 21 days of repeated behavior for a habit to take hold.  A little more than a week in and it’s starting to become routine.  Before I pick up the toothpaste, I pick up the dental floss; if I don’t, it feels wrong.
In fact, I’m so proud of myself, I want to start another habit.  I know, however, that you need to work on one new behavior at a time.  It makes sense to take on a new challenge only after you’ve fully integrated the previous one.

What do you do to help yourself stick to a new habit? Are you working on changing something now?  Click on Post a Comment, below, and tell us.
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