How 5 Hacks for Habit Setting Worked for Me

How 5 Hacks for Habit Setting Worked for Me

Habits – good or bad – are what make up our lives.

As Aristotle put it: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Think about it: Do you floss every day? Why or why not? Do you make time for regular exercise? Are you more likely to arrive on time or be late?

These items seem small, but they can say a lot about you and your habits; knowing the answers to these questions and others is the key to breaking bad habits (such as overspending online) and creating new ones (such as exercising regularly), Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, writes in her new book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives.

the happiness project gretchen rubin

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In the book, Rubin – a fastidious good habit-setter if there ever was one – outlines 21 strategies for identifying one’s personality traits and tendencies and using this information to set good habits.

She does not suggest specific habits to set, but rather, gives readers the power to identify their own perks and pitfalls on the road toward creating the healthy life they want.

Here are specifics hacks from her book that have helped me – your blogger – change my behavior.


Track Your Behavior and Find Accountability

At Matchup, we’re extremely interested in what inspires behavior change for healthier living; the tools we have on the community board fit in well with Rubin’s ideas about accountability. If you’re trying to up your physical activity, tracking what you do – and creating external accountability in the form of a supportive community – are the two essential first steps for success.

By knowing what you’re doing now, you can see how to make improvements.

With the support of others, you’re more likely to stick with your goal of increasing how much you move until it becomes a habit.

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If there’s a reward – monetary or otherwise – associated with the habit you’re trying to track and stay accountable to, all the better, as long as the reward doesn’t undermine the habit you’re trying to form.

In my case, knowing my highly active friends will see the steps I take with my Fitbit inspires me to walk to work rather than take the bus. That’s because I thrive on external accountability, rather than pure intrinsic motivation.

fitbit charging can't leave couch

Another example of external motivation creating a healthier me: I floss daily because for years I’ve felt accountable to my dental hygienist. I know she’s going to see my teeth twice a year at my semi-annual dental visit, so no matter how rushed or tired I am, I take the time to floss, so I don’t let her down. I also try to keep my teeth shiny and white; 3D Whitestrips are the best for friends for this, but others have to try other brands and methods (This trick works for me, but maybe not everyone.) Everyone should take the time to go to the dentist in their local area, similar to the services of this Dentist in La Habra to get your teeth checked out. There may be underlying issues that need to be treated, and it also ensures that your oral hygiene is kept at a high standard. This is definitely a habit that everyone should start doing, (as well as flossing to keep the hygienist happy).

Learn Your Style

As stated above, you need to find out whether you thrive on external or internal accountability.

Another strategy Rubin outlines is identifying whether you’re what she calls an Abstainer or a Moderator.

Moderators can have a bite of dessert, a single square of dark chocolate after dinner and would feel deprived if there were told they couldn’t have or do something.

I’m an Abstainer, I’ve learned. I do better when I go cold turkey. If I have one bite of dessert, I’ll eat the whole thing, so for me, it’s best to skip it entirely. Recognizing that tendency in myself helps me just say “no” with confidence.

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Your Abstainer or Moderator style is not the only thing you need to know about yourself for habit-setting success, but it’s one way to get started on the path toward healthy habits.

Schedule Good Habits

In reading Rubin’s book, I identified one place in my life that was causing some stress.

I always take my dog for a long trip to the park every afternoon, instead of in the morning, because I have to be at work so early. But knowing that he’s only had a short walk in the morning creates stress for me every afternoon, as I rush home to see him. (Really, he’s fine. This pressure is all stress I’ve put on myself.)

After reading Rubin’s book, I committed to waking up 15 minutes earlier every morning to extend his morning walk by that much. That way, when I go off to work, I know he’s had ample exercise to last him the few hours until I’m home again. Both Pooch (pictured below!) and I are happier with this arrangement.

dog looking up sitting on sidewalk

To make this a habit, I set an alarm that requires me to get out of bed to turn it off, and every night, I lay out my clothes and walking shoes and set the coffeemaker’s automatic start. That way, I have everything I need ready for my pre-dawn walk, no excuses. My habit is now a scheduled, must-do part of my day.

Show Compassion, and Give Yourself Treats

There’s no perfect length of time for a habit to become automatic, so show yourself some slack if you slip up. Just get back on the habit horse tomorrow.

It’s also important to identify how you love to spend your time and to carve out regular space for that. This is your treat. For Rubin, it’s reading. Every day, she makes time to read for pleasure (as long as it doesn’t interfere with other good habits, such as going to bed in a timely manner).

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I also love reading, and I hate my commute. To make time for books and to lessen the commute stress, I’ve taken to listening to books on tape. A win-win.

One friend Rubin describes in the book loves CrossFit, and considers this time her “treat” time for herself. Reading this set off alarm bells for me: I love CrossFit and yoga; I truly enjoy both of them.

woman bench pressing heavy weights

By looking at these activities not just as exercise, but as a true treat that I should savor, I bring even more enjoyment to those few hours a week, and I’m more likely to go to the gym, even on those days when I’d rather not.

A Bonus Tip

I love a clean house, but hate how much time I spend cleaning. After reading Rubin’s book, I’ve adopted one tiny change that adds up: If something takes less than 30 second to do, I do it. (Examples: putting a glass in the dishwasher, wiping a fingerprint smudge off of the (stainless steel) refrigerator as soon as I see it, etc.) With this change, my home is always picked up without as much time spent doing it.

TELL US: What habits are you trying to set or break? Have any particular strategies helped you?

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