Habit strategies for happiness, lower stress, and health

About a year ago I read a book that's changed my life. Well, actually, that's happened a few times. But one of the most important ones for me was Better Than Before, the newest book by Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project (another book that changed my life). Gretchen realized that happiness is so influenced by what we do every day - our habits. How we form good habits is a huge area of research and there are tips out there everywhere, but what really spoke to me about Better Than Before's theory is that different people respond differently to strategies for habit formation, and before you decide to change your habits, you have to know yourself.

She groups people into four categories (the Four Tendencies - you can take the quiz here), which are briefly summarized below in Gretchen's words. I love this stuff and have also summarized it for my mom, my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, and some friends already!

  1. Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations 
  2. Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense–essentially, they make all expectations into inner expectations 
  3. Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves 
  4. Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike

Depending on which Tendency you are (I'm a Questioner), some habit strategies may work better or worse for you. This really makes sense for me, since I've been trying to do the "right" thing for years and sometimes the advice I read about making good choices just makes me stressed and overwhelmed! I love recognizing that sometimes tips you hear for making and keeping good habits may not apply to you or help you much at all, and it's not your fault. (From the book--the Strategy of Monitoring, for example, does not always work well for me because I tend to resent apps and journals that tell me how much I slept or ate. But for some people, Monitoring is key to successful, happy habit change!)

Following the identification of the Four Tendencies and a handful of Distinctions (such as, are you a night owl or a lark?), Gretchen identifies and pairs down so many key "Strategies" for habit formation. I like a lot of them! Defining things like "First Steps," "Treats," "Abstaining," and "Accountability" as Strategies helps me think about how I use them in my life and how I could optimize my routines to build habits I want to have.

Here are three of the Strategies that work best for me in keeping habits that I aspire to!

My favorite habit strategies!


3) Convenience.


I think the Strategy of Convenience is pretty much human nature, but it's nice to formalize it and recognize when you can do it intentionally as well. Obviously if something is right next to you at your desk, bedside table, kitchen counter, whatever, it's easier to make a choice to use it. This one is so helpful for things like money and food choices. (Sometimes at the same time--example: packing a lunch so you're not tempted to go out to eat all the time!)

For me this one blends with routine and planning ahead. I know I do very well with routines, but I've worked to set myself up for success with daily food choices as long as I've lived on my own. I don't like to spend money eating out except for special treats (and I have a limited diet and like to know what I'm eating), so I almost always pack my lunch the night before. Then it's convenient to make the responsible choice of eating home-cooked food.

Similarly, I set up my breakfasts the night or Sunday before (check out my easy Paleo crustless quiche recipe here and my egg muffin cups here) so I always have a nutritious, filling breakfast and am not tempted to get fast food or grab whatever snack-ey food I can find in the kitchen as I run out the door. (Setting up coffee/add-ins the night before is also great for avoiding spending too much on coffees out.)

Convenience can also help with making home-cooked dinners easier. It's very convenient to heat up left-overs or come home to a finished slow cooker main course!

Another great example is keeping your gym clothes in the car so it's easy to go after work (although this isn't one I use anymore--see my favorite strategy below!).

There's also the strategy of Inconvenience - like keeping treats in a box within a box within a box in the basement if you're afraid you'll over do it, for example!


2) Pairing.


Pairing is one of the most practical Strategies to me. One of my favorite pairing habits is listening to specific podcasts for specific tasks. I listen to Pop Culture Happy Hour while sewing or crafting on the weekends; Happier while working out (unless I'm caught up with all of them; then I listen to various health/fitness podcasts that I don't listen to all the episodes of); The Birth Hour or Real Food Mamas while driving to work (I guess I feel particularly maternal then??); and Balanced Bites and other Paleo lifestyle podcasts while cooking. Saving these podcasts for specific tasks makes me look forward to the tasks and the podcasts!

I also use Pairing for simple habits like a reminder. Putting my supplements next to my toothbrush in the drawer, for example, so I always see them. I think Pairing is particularly helpful for adding a new habit--I didn't always take supplements, but I always brush my teeth every night so it doesn't feel as much like adding a task to the list or adding something to remember.



And the #1, favorite, most effective Strategy I've used is...

1) Scheduling. 


I've been using this strategy for years and years without knowing it. I remember in high school and college, when I used a paper planner, opening it up in class when I was bored and looking ahead at my day and week. I called it "playing with my planner" and it gave me a good feeling of control and lower stress when I knew I had a lot to do. Or when I was looking forward to something fun on the weekend!

Now, I use my digital calendar pretty much the same way and not only does it make me feel better, and also really helps me get all the things done that I need to do. I put things on my calendar at times when I may realistically be able to do them!

It works much better for me than it to-do list would because with a to-do list, there's pressure to do all of the things on the list and sometimes you just can't. Sometimes you can't do any of them, and a long to-do list can be totally overwhelming. Whereas with my system, I may only have one or two tasks on the calendar after work on a specific day because I know I'll only be able to get that one thing done. (But I actually get them done rather than staring guiltily at a to-do list.) And it's not inflexible; I can easily drag items around on the calendar when new things come up.

One huge success for me with formalizing my schedule is my regular workout schedule. I had years of back-and-forth being really regular with my exercise, like group classes or unfortunate pointless cardio at the gym, but I would do something for six months and then stop and not do anything for a while.

But in April 2014, I got tired of hearing inspirational stories about people who change their lives with CrossFit or heavy strength training and I decided that I could do it, too. I started training 3 to 4 days a week at a little rec center gym near my house on the way home from work. I put it on my calendar every day I was going to do it and then I did it (or rescheduled on days with conflicts).

In December of that year we bought ourselves a home gym setup so I now can work out in my living room (see above for part of the mobility station!) and/or garage, which makes working out even easier (and means I can start dinner before!), but I still put "work out "on my calendar about three days a week. Honestly, that means for the past 2+ years I have been working out about 3 days a week almost every single week, with only a few exceptions! That's incredible consistency and demonstration of motivation that I never would've thought I would be able to have. Scheduling makes it so easy.

What I do doesn't really matter, really, just the fact that I do it regularly makes me happy and stronger. I usually do M/W/F, but when I have a conflict like an appointment or work happy hour and I know I won't want to start my workout 1+ hours late and have dinner and everything else be later, too, I move my workout to another day. Recently I've been adding YouTube yoga classes into my routine so sometimes my workout is an at-home CrossFit style WOD (I often use/modify Juli Bauer's), sometimes it's barbell training, sometimes it's vinyasa yoga (I love this instructor).

That's just one example - but I know I'm the kind of person who works well with Scheduling!

What about you?


Obviously I'm pretty passionate about the habit strategies, and learning about myself as a Questioner. As I said I've explained the Four Tendencies framework to several others and I love hearing them work through what they think they might be. (And/or take the quiz!) I also highly recommend listening to Gretchen Rubin's podcast Happier, where she and her co-host and occasional guests (including Drew Barrymore and Rosanne Cash) talk about the Tendencies, Strategies, and happiness stumbling blocks.

And to get the full picture, pick up a copy Better Than Before (hardback or paperback) or others of one of Gretchen's books here!



No comments

Post a Comment

Leaving a comment is easy, and I love to read them! No annoying word verification required. =)

© Create / Enjoy • Theme by Maira G.