Tag Archives: Before and After

How Does a Rebel Change Habits? One Rebel’s Clever Solutions.

In my (bestselling) book Better Than Before, I set forth my “Four Tendencies” framework, which divides people into one of four categories, depending on how they respond to expectations. To take the quiz to find out your Tendency, go here. To read generally about the Four Tendencies, go here.

Since Better Than Before came out last month, I’ve talked a lot about the Four Tendencies. It’s definitely one of the things that readers are finding most interesting.

I love it when people tell me about their ingenious ways of working with their Tendency, in order to change their habits. For instance, I was impressed with an Obliger who figured out how to build a system of external accountability for getting up at 6:00 a.m. How would you do that? I wondered. Her solution was brilliant: on HootSuite, she’s teed up an embarrassing Facebook post that will go live at 6:15 a.m., unless she gets up in time to disable it. Problem solved!

I got an email from a Rebel, Lucia, who came up with some terrific ways to work with her Rebel Tendency to shape her habits.

Mastering habits is a particular challenge for Rebels, because of their general opposition to anything that feels like a chain or a pre-commitment. In fact, I’ve been struck by how many Rebels have contacted me, to ask about how to shape their habits — and so I asked Lucia if I could post her solutions, because other Rebels might benefit.

Lucia writes:

I had such a lightning bolt moment when I read Better than Before and identified my tendency. I’m a Rebel, and while I take distinct pride in this tendency, it is quite a difficult one to work with when trying to form habits!

The areas where I’ve struggled most have been, like a lot of people, food and exercise. I managed to adopt an exercise routine last year when I began weight lifting and boxing with my male friends. After reading your book, I realized why I have been able to maintain this strategy for so long — women typically don’t lift weights like men (bench presses, etc) and women typically don’t box. Subconsciously, the act of exercising in a way atypical of my gender has been satisfying my inner Rebel, and so I have able to stick to it. I take pride in saying, “I can leg press around 300 lbs.” Most people say, “Wow, that’s a lot for a girl,” and I think to myself, Yes, that’s right, ‘for a girl!’ I am unique and my exercise is unique!  [Here, she’s using the Strategy of Other People — Rebels delight in doing something in their own way, with an approach that’s different from others.]

Additionally, I realized why I have not been able to conquer my food habits in the same way. I read (and loved) Gary Taubes [who wrote the book Why We Get Fat, which I write about in Better Than Before] around the same time I started lifting and boxing. Since then, I have gone through cycles of climbing onto and falling off of the low carb bandwagon. Now, thanks to Better than Before, I know why! I was trying to force myself with science, and rebels listen to no one. Not even Gary Taubes (Step 1: Identify the problem). I had to think of ways to make eating healthy feel like a freedom and a choice, rather than an obligation. [This is using the Strategies of Identity and Clarity: the Rebel decides, “This is what I want, this is who I am.”] This was quite difficult, because eating healthy is such a highly encouraged habit in society. Whenever I hear people talk about “feeding their temples” and “nurturing their bodies” I grow resentful and annoyed.  So I came up with the following strategies to make eating right feel like my own special, contrarian decision:

1) Restrict quality, not quantity. Allowing myself to eat as much as I want takes the edge off of the restrictions that come with the low carb lifestyle. Whenever I get the urge to snack mindlessly, I tell myself to eat as much as I want of the low carb food in my fridge. And suddenly, the burning desire goes away.

2) Relish in cooking, and cooking things that are unique. Not many people cook all their meals, and I take pride in the fact that I do (how many people, especially 23-year-olds, make beef bourguignon?). [This is another way of using the Strategy of Other People.]

3) Relish in using foods that are demonized by misinformed nutritional science. Bacon. Steak. Butter. [This is yet another smart use of the Strategy of Other People.]

I have countless more little tricks (I’m an Abstainer) and strategies (Convenience — I prep all my meals on Sundays so they’re easy to grab). In summary, I cracked it! I have been able to keep the habit for several weeks now and am noticing the difference!

I never would have identified my Rebel tendency and been able to tackle my food habits in this way without you.

My father would like me to add that he has known this about me since I was a four, when I would wrench books out of his hands and insist hotly, “I can read it myself!

This is a great example of the fact that we can master our habits, if we do it in the way that’s right for us. When we take into account our own nature, we can set ourselves up for success.

But when we search for one-size-fits-all solutions, they often just don’t work.

How about you? Have you come up with some ways to work with your Tendency to shape your habits? As I’ve been on my book tour, I’ve loved hearing all the stories.

Before and After: An Obliger Figures Out How To Exercise Regularly

Have I mentioned that I have a book coming out, about habits? Oh right, I may have mentioned it.

Yes, indeed, my book Better Than Before comes out March 17. So close and yet so far! Somehow the fact that it’s now “February” instead of “January” makes my publication date seem much, much closer.

The way publishing works these days, pre-orders give a big boost to a book. If you’re inclined to buy the book, pre-ordering is a big help to me. Order info here.

Occasionally, I post an interesting before-and-after story submitted by a reader, about how he or she successfully changed a habit.  I love to hear people’s stories about habit change. We can all learn from each other. If you’d like to share your story, contact me here.

This week’s story comes from someone who wants to remain anonymous.

“Between my and my husband’s full-time jobs, work travel, and 2 young kids, I’ve often felt I had very limited time to exercise in the last few years. My favorite form of exercise is to run or hike outdoors with a good friend. I happily trained for and ran several marathons with friends before having kids. For the longest time I thought the “friend” part of the equation was because I’m a fairly sociable person and often have to work alone. It’s nice to combine chatting and exercise. Also, meeting a friend is often the key to getting me out the door. If I don’t have a plan to meet someone, I tend to prioritize something else (work or family) even if there is no deadline for that other thing. Until reading your Four Tendencies framework and realizing I was an Obliger, I really didn’t know why.  [Readers, if you want to take a Quiz to determine your own Tendency, it’s here.]

“I began to have concerns in the past year or 2 when my previous exercise partners moved away or changed schedules, and I could not seem to make myself exercise consistently alone. I tried signing up for gym classes, large group training programs, or running events like 10Ks, but it didn’t work – I would find excuses not to go if something else seemed more pressing. Having invested the money was not a huge motivating factor for me (which bothered me, but not enough to drive a change). I tried recruiting other friends as exercise buddies, but if their busy schedules interfered then I would just drop my plan too. I was feeling terrible that I seemed so dependent on friends to do something I know I like doing & that is good for me- exercise!

“FINALLY I read the Four Tendencies framework and the light-bulb went off. As an Obliger I had to understand my motivations better and create solid external accountability for exercise! And it had to be really consistent and difficult to rearrange! I realized it would be nice if my new exercise plan could involve friends, but it didn’t have to. I do enjoy running and hiking alone once I get going. And in the past I had exercised successfully for months with a neighbor’s new puppy who had to go on long runs with me or she’d chew up the house! I realized that the pre-paid large group classes or 10Ks did not work for me because the instructors or organizers, while nice, did not “need” people to show up, and left it to our own motivation to participate. And unless I attended a class or event with a friend who expected or “needed” me to go, I often wouldn’t go.

“The new accountability system I’ve now followed for 4 months is simple. Our neighbors mentioned they were hiring a part-time babysitter 2 mornings a week. I asked if she could come to our house first, from 6-7 am. During this time, I go out to exercise. The babysitter is happy to sit, read, and drink coffee while the kids (usually) sleep. If my husband is home, he gets up and leaves for work earlier than usual, which he loves. If he’s traveling, I can still exercise. The great part is that the babysitter (and my husband and kids) all cheerfully expect me to go for a run and, when I get back, they ask how it was! In light of this, I feel I can’t just sneak off and do something else! Or cancel – I feel it would be very inconvenient (and unprofessional) for me to change plans, because the babysitter lives 15 min away and would not appreciate rearranging such an early schedule at short notice. The outcome seems to work & be win win for all of us.

“Exercising consistently on those 2 days somehow makes it easier to add in other sessions on other days (because I feel better about sticking to the plan?), and I have also realized that “team” relay run events are a great exercise goal for me – I have to train for my parts of the relay and participate on the day, or the whole team will be badly affected!  Even though I do still wish that my nature was different and that I could be more self-motivated to exercise, it feels really good to have identified the strategies that work best for me, after literally decades of trial and error!”

This terrific story illustrates an important point about Obligers: they differ in what makes them feel “Obligated.”

In this case, we hear, being part of a large group didn’t trigger  a sense of external accountability. The sense of obligation arose from a connection to a specific person.

Second, paying money didn’t seem to make this Obliger feel very obligated, while for some people, money is a very powerful factor. Having paid for something, the thought of wasting money on something not used, having to pay a late fee, etc.

As with everything related to habits, the key is to think about what works for you. That’s the way to find success.

Have you found a good strategy to get yourself to exercise regularly? This is one of the habits that people most want to form, and have most trouble with.

If you want to take a Quiz to learn about your Tendency, go here.  More than 35,000 people have taken it!

 

“Instead of Feeling That I’m Never Going to Finish…I Can See Large Chunks Getting Done.”

I’m writing my next book, Better Than Before, about how we make and break habits– an issue  very relevant to happiness. Each week, I post a before-and-after story submitted by a reader, about how he or she successfully changed a habit. We can all learn from each other. If you’d like to share your story, contact me here.

To hear when Better Than Before goes on sale, sign up here.

This week’s story comes from Nyssa Hattaway.

I am a devout member of my church.  All of my life I have been taught to develop the habits of church attendance, tithing, daily prayer and daily Scripture study.  I have easily been able to practice all of them except the Scripture study.  I am an avid reader, but for some reason I just hadn’t found my groove on this one. 

My cohorts had given lots of advice informally and from the pulpit.  Read a chapter a day.  Just read a verse a day.  Study by topic not chronologically.  Set a time for 10 minutes and read what you can in that time, and so forth.  You can imagine in my 20+ years of adulthood how many unsuccessful starts and stops I have had, and you can probably guess the guilt that accompanies it.

Somewhere along the way, someone gave me booklet with a 40 day reading plan.  Assignments are made daily and by the end of the 40 days, the entire volume of Scripture is complete.  I decided to try it.  Instead of just giving a little, this program requires 5-6 chapters daily, somewhere between 45-60 minutes of reading.  Instead of feeling that I’m never going to finish and that I’m slowing plowing through the book, I can see large chunks of it getting done.  I am already half way through the volume!  I never thought that by committing to MORE I would have more success, but it demands planning, time and commitment, and that is where I was falling short in previous attempts.  I think this strategy could be applied to many habits and wondered if you have encountered it?  I will continue to study the Scriptures in this way even after the 40 days as I finally have a habit that works for me.

This example illustrates one of the most important things I’ve learned about habits — actually, the most important thing I’ve learned. The secret to good habits is to know what works for you.

Using the Strategy of Distinctions allows us to figure out how we’re different from other people, how we might tackle habits in a way that suits our particular idiosyncrasies. It’s a Secret of Adulthood: we’re more like other people, and less like other people, than we suppose.

One distinction is: Do you prefer to aim big or aim small?

Some people have better success changing a habit when they start small. A series of small but real accomplishments gives them the energy and confidence to continue. For instance, a person who wants to write a novel might resolve to write one sentence each day. Or a person who wants to start running might resolve to run for one minute.

This approach is often emphasized as the best way to form a habit. But in fact, as the example above illustrates, some people do better when they’re more ambitious.

Sometimes, counter-intuitively, it’s easier to make a major change than a minor change. When a habit is changing very gradually, we may lose interest, give way under stress, or dismiss the change as insignificant. A big transformation creates excitement and energy and a sense of progress, and that helps to create a habit.

As Steve Jobs reflected, “I have a great respect for incremental improvement, and I’ve done that sort of thing in my life, but I’ve always been attracted to the more revolutionary changes. I don’t know why.

How about you? Do you do better with small changes or big changes?

 

Before and After: “I Get My Coffee in My Bedroom and I Don’t Go Downstairs Until I Am Done.”

I’m writing my next book, about how we make and break habts– an issue  very relevant to happiness. Each week, I’ll post a before-and-after story submitted by a reader, about how he or she successfully changed a habit. We can all learn from each other. If you’d like to share your story, contact me here. To hear when the book goes on sale, sign up here.

This week’s story comes from Paige NeJame.

My husband and I own a small company. For the most part, I am able to do my work from home in order to stay flexible for our three kids, fitting in most of my work around their schedules. When I would find a “crumb of time” as I called them, I would rush to my office (in my bedroom) and work.

When the kids were younger I was constantly stressed because after they stopped taking naps, the crumbs of time rare and short.

As they entered school, it was much easier for me to find the time – as long as nobody was ill, I had 6 hours to myself to get my work done.

But then there was summertime. It was like back to having the crumbs of time again since all three kids are underfoot again. I knew I had to do something different this summer and remembered that you often write from 5am – 7am. I decided to try this schedule. The first morning I went downstairs and got my coffee and one of my kids was already up. I got pulled into cleaning up the kitchen and discussing with him something about the upcoming day and before I knew it my “golden hours” were gone.

That day, I moved my Keurig coffee machine, coffee pods, sugar cubes, and Coffeemate to my bedroom. Now I still get up at 5am, but I don’t go downstairs. I get my coffee in my bedroom (which feels like a treat) and I don’t go downstairs until I am done with my work. Just by moving the coffee machine, I am able to stay put and do my work and have the rest of my day to be with my kids!

There are several aspects of this habit-change that I think are worth pointing out.

First, identify the problem. This sounds so obvious, but it’s actually a crucial, and often over-looked, step. Once you’ve truly identified the problem, solutions become more obvious. What’s the problem? She didn’t have time and space to herself during the summer — even at 5:00 in the morning.

Second, change your surroundings, not yourself or other people. Instead of trying to persuade her kids to act differently, which can be tough, she moved the coffeepot. Much easier.

Third, do what’s right for you. For many people, getting up earlier is a great way to claim a part of the day for themselves. I love my early-morning time. But this won’t work for night people, so if you’re an Owl, don’t try to make yourself attempt this solution, which is so contrary to your natural inclinations.

Fourth, be willing to ignore conventional advice. I often see the advice, “Never work in your bedroom. Keep your bedroom a place of relaxation, enjoyment, and rest.” That’s good advice, for some people. But maybe for you, working in your bedroom is the right answer. It’s always helpful to consider suggestions, but be willing to reject them if they don’t work for you. I experienced this as an Abstainer. It took me a long time to recognize my Abstainer nature, because people kept telling me that I “should” learn to be moderate, because moderation is “better.” But for me, I finally realized, abstaining is easier. And I want to shape my habits to suit me.

Fifth, habits are easier when they feel like treats. Try never to let yourself feel deprived.

The sad fact is that there’s no magic, one-size-fits-all solution for habits. Self-knowledge! Everything in habits and happiness always comes back to self-knowledge.

How about you? Have you ever made a few small changes that gave you a big boost in this way?

My book on habits, Better Than Before, comes out in March 2015 (Crown). If you’d like to hear when it becomes available, sign up here. Habits! The most fascinating subject ever.

“If I Didn’t Take Drastic Steps I Wasn’t Going To Be Around for My Son.”

I’m writing my next book, Better than Before, about how we make and break habits– an issue  very relevant to happiness. Each week, I’ll post a before-and-after story submitted by a reader, about how he or she successfully changed a habit. We can all learn from each other. If you’d like to share your story, contact me here. To hear when Better than Before goes on sale, sign up here.

This week’s story comes from Angela Peinado:

I believed myself to be Wonder Woman and loved when people used to say “I don’t know how you do it all.” I would never say “no” to anything. I loved the recognition and praise. This Wonder Woman Habit came tumbling down fast and hard. I found myself working a 40 hour/week job, teaching one or two nights a week, finishing up my dissertation, part of my son’s school advisory council, home room mom, volunteering for a large community event, on top of being a wife and mom.

 

I was feeling stress and the beginning stages of anxiety. My sleep habits were out of whack, not to mention my eating schedule. I had gone to the doctor because I wasn’t feeling good (wonder why), and she starting asking me questions about my daily habits. She almost flipped off her stool and said I had to let some things go. I walked out saying OK but then didn’t do a thing (except added on a church committee).

 

One day, every single thing I was doing either had questions I needed to answer, problem to address, or deadlines for that day. I just lost it and felt this thing happening inside me but couldn’t tell what. My heart was beating fast, had shaky palms, and felt this exhaustion I never had before. My first thought was I was having a stroke. Nope! It was a full fledged panic attack. My doctor then said if I didn’t take drastic steps I was not going to be around for my son. Talk about a wake up call.

 

I refocused my life, read well-being books, meditated, took some me time, and learned how to relax. Slowly the Wonder Woman habit wants to sneak up but I have to learn I can say no. This was a tough habit to break, since I had been doing it as long as I had. Slowly my life is becoming something I am proud of and do not care what others may say or think. This was the toughest habit to break and it took a long time to recover, but I did and and work hard each day to be mindful and find that balance.

This is what I call the Strategy of the Lightning Bolt.

Discussions of habit-change often emphasize the importance of repeating an action, over and over, until it becomes automatic, and such repetition does indeed help to form habits. However, it’s also true that sometimes we’re hit by a lightning bolt that transforms our habits. We encounter some new idea, and suddenly a new habit replaces a longstanding habit. The Strategy of the Lightning Bolt takes its power from knowledge, beliefs, and ideas.

The Lightning Bolt is a highly effective strategy, but unfortunately, it’s rare, and practically impossible to invoke on command.

A milestone event, whether positive or negative—a panic attack, as in this example, or a marriage, a diagnosis, an anniversary, hitting bottom, a birthday, an accident, a midlife crisis, a long journey taken alone—often triggers a Lightning Bolt, because we’re smacked with some new idea that jolts us into change.

Have you ever been hit by the Lightning Bolt, and found that your habits changed — whether gradually, as in this example, or perhaps even overnight?

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