New habits and the good-habit kid

While driving home from visiting family on Sunday, I finally finished a book I’ve been reading on and off for a while called, “The Power of Habit.” I heard the author of the book speak at the Catalyst conference, and I’ve been intrigued with it ever since. It is jammed full of stories and research about how we create habits, how to replace bad habits with good habits and how much of the routines that guide our daily lives are really habits.

I’ve been working hard this year on creating better habits in my life. For the first six months of the year, I quit drinking all forms of caffeinated beverages. I made it six weeks this spring without eating any sugar or sweeteners of any kind, including artificial sweetener. This fall, I went 45 days without checking Facebook (except posting updates for my job).

The annoying thing is that even after quitting these bad habits for what was a substantial amount of time, I am now back to enjoying all of my vices. It’s not even like I added just a small amount of caffeine or a tiny serving of sugar to my diet. I am back to pretty much the exact same habits that I had before I went through the painful process of conquering my bad habits.

As I finished reading the book, I came across some info that I thought might help me establish better habits. The basic process for creating a new habit is to have a cue, which is your signal to start your new habit. So for example, set a timer for 3 p.m. each day. When the timer goes off, that is your cue to drink a glass of water (if that’s the new habit you want to create). Then you need a reward once you’re finished. The reward could be spending time checking e-mail, calling a friend or even something as simple as checking it off your list.

During our long car ride, I also was catching up on my blog reading and found this post about apps that can help you achieve your goals. I decided to download one of the apps (irunurun) because I liked the idea that I could get my family involved, and we could work together as a team to create some good habits.

Another thing I learned in the book is that usually when I’m trying to create a new habit, my end goal is basically eternity. (I’m going to drink seven glass of water every day for the rest of my life!) Instead, it’s better to set milestones so you can celebrate your successes along the way.

I decided I would enter seven daily tasks into the app for each of us, and then our whole family would celebrate at the end of the week if we all met our goals. Now, I am talking about simple goals like, “Make your bed.” These are basic things that many people probably are able to do everyday without having an app to tell them what to do. But what can I say? My husband and I are both the youngest child in our families and we would rather tell each other jokes or play a board game or go for a walk, rather than doing housework.

However, according to “The Power of Habit” people who have good habits in one area of their lives tend to naturally have better habits in other areas, too. The book specifically mentioned that people who make their bed everyday are better at other things, like exercising, sticking to a budget and eating healthy food. So, making my bed seemed like a good place to start.

I have to say that I literally couldn’t wait to jump out of bed this morning and make my bed for the mere fact that I wanted to check the little box on my app to let everyone know I had completed this task. After I made my bed, I read my Bible, and then checked the little box to record my success. I drank a glass of water: Check!

I ran around to each of my kids and announced to them, “I need to see your iPod. I’m going to download an app that is going to help us all create better habits.”

The middle two kids handed over their iPods without any question. I suppose the fact that Mom was actually encouraging them to use their iPods was so amazing that they didn’t bother to protest.

I thought my 14-year-old would be an even easier sell, so I gave him my little speech.

“Why would I need that?” he asked. “I don’t have any bad habits.”

Strangely enough, this is mostly true. Perhaps it’s because he’s the only first-born among the six of us. He keeps his room neat and tidy every single day. He puts his backpack away after school. His shoes are never in the middle of the floor. He hangs up his towel. He brushes his teeth without ever being reminded. The dentist even told him lately that his teeth were remarkably clean for a teenager. He is devoted to working on his basketball skills. He helps out around the house.

He definitely has flaws, but he does seem to have some really good habits, especially for a 14-year-old.

I haven’t downloaded the app for him yet. But after dinner, I thought I had my chance to prove to him he does have some bad habits. We were all eating on the run, and I saw him out of the corner of my eye leave the table without cleaning up his dishes.

“Could you please come back and put your dishes in the dishwasher?”

“I don’t have any dishes,” he responded. I had made chicken strips with some pasta, so I couldn’t imagine how he didn’t have any dishes.

“I had a sandwich,” he explained. “I put the chicken between two pieces of bread so I wouldn’t need a plate.”

There you have it. Sandwiches. That kid is always one step ahead of me.

I think I’m going to let him continue on his path of good habits without downloading the new app. But for the rest of us, we will be marking our little check boxes each time we do something good!

What about the rest of you? Do good habits come naturally to you? Do you have some bad habits you want to break?

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