Before & After: “I Struggled for Years With Getting Myself to Ring My Grandfather”

old rotary phone

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.

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

I struggled for years with getting myself to ring my grandfather on a ‘regular’ basis. I grew up on the other side of the world from my grandparents and only really got to know them as an adult. I knew I should call my grandfather more often – that it made him really happy, that it didn’t need to take very long… but remembering at useful times seemed impossible.

And then, a year ago, I realised that I often have just a bit of down time just before my weekly dance lesson. I’m chronically early for things and being slightly *more* early was easy, and then there’s 20 minute or half an hour when I have nothing else to do but call. The dancing is something I love – making that a weekly habit was easy, and now I also have the physical reminder of standing outside of the dance building to help me build the other habit. I’ve called every week for almost two years now. He’s even stopped guilt tripping me for forgetting to call.

This is a great example of the Strategy of Pairing — when you connect two activities together to strengthen a habit. Sometimes, with pairing, it helps to say that one activity will occur only if the other activity occurs: “I keep my medicine by the coffee machine, and I can’t make coffee until I take my pill,” or “I can watch Game of Thrones only when I’m on the treadmill.”

Or, as in this reader’s case, you piggyback a new habit onto a settled habit. One habit connects to the other habit. This can be highly effective. Note: this approach seems to work better than trying to form a new habit at a particular time; it’s very easy to lose track of time.

Have you used the Strategy of Pairing to foster a habit? Have you ever piggybacked a new habit onto an existing habit?



Like what you see? Explore more about this topic.

Interested in happiness, habits, and human nature?

Sign up for our weekly newsletter “5 things making me happy”.

Subscribe to Gretchen’s newsletter.

Every Friday, Gretchen Rubin shares 5 things that are making her happier, asks readers and listeners questions, and includes exclusive updates and behind-the-scenes material.