Making Behavior Change Stick

I have a list of daily behaviors that I think are important to being healthy and having an awesome life. I've been tracking them with Kindara. Here is the list along with my performance for July:

  • Wake up at 6am - once
  • Get at least 8 hours sleep per night - 20 times
  • Do Yoga - 16 times
  • Review my life goals and plan - 15 times
  • Take the homeopathic remedy prescribed by my doctor - 19 times
  • Take my morning vitamins - 29 times
  • Get to inbox zero - 7 times
  • Don't eat sugar - 22 times
  • Take 4,000mg of Vitamin C - 10 times
  • Take my Chinese herbal supplement - 22 times
  • Take my evening magnesium supplement - 28 times

Below is my Kindara chart for the month that shows my progress on each daily goal (Note: I removed the information on sex as I haven't yet asked Kati if she'd feel comfortable with me sharing that information). The emoji's in my custom data conveniently disguise the rows I don't feel like talking about :)

Daily Habit Tracking July 2014
Daily Habit Tracking July 2014

What strikes me looking back at these results is the wide disparity between the behaviors I was able to do almost every day (for example, morning vitamins and evening vitamins) and the behaviors I sucked at doing every day (inbox zero, waking up early, and taking enough vitamin C).

Looking back I realize that inbox zero, waking up early and taking a mid-day vitamin C all have something in common: I don't have them worked into my routine and they aren't anchored to other habits.

Integrated Habits:

I'm a creature of habit, and the things I was able to do every day are mostly worked into my routine or anchored to other habits. It seems that once I work something into my routine it becomes pretty easy to do it every day.

For example, every night before I go to bed I track my daily behaviors for the day in Kindara. I find this fun, so it's easy for me to remember to do. This is a key habit for me because it reminds me of all the behaviors I've committed to to have an awesome life, and it reminds me to take my evening vitamins (magnesium, vitamin C and Chinese herbs).

Here's how the anchoring works: near the bottom of my list in Kindara is "Evening Vitamins". If I haven't already taken my evening vitamins for the day, going through the list and getting to "Evening Vitamins" reminds me to take them at exactly the right time - in the evening. So I'll often get out of bed and go take my evening vitamins as a result of the habit of entering my data in the evening. Looking back I'm actually amazed that forgetful me only missed evening vitamins 3 times in the month.

Another key habit is yoga in the morning. Working with my coach, I committed in late June to do at least 15 minutes of yoga in the morning 6 out of 7 days. I fell short of this goal in July, but doing yoga 16 times has me feeling great, and it also had the unintended benefit of increasing the frequency with which I review my goals, since I do this every morning right after yoga while I'm still on the mat. When I do yoga, it's easy to remember to review my goals since the latter is anchored to the former in my mind.

Another example: I take my morning vitamins after breakfast. This is easy to remember to do because as I'm washing up after breakfast, I have my morning vitamins staring at me right there beside the sink. As long as I remember to eat breakfast, it's a good bet I'm going to remember to take my vitamins

Habit Resonance: I noticed some of these habits resonate with each other. For example going to bed early is pretty much necessary for me to get up early (since I hate shortchanging myself on sleep). Getting up early is pretty much necessary for me to get my yoga practice in before I go to work. And yoga is my anchor for reviewing my goals. So going to bed early makes it much more likely I'll do yoga and review my goals. Reviewing my goals makes it much more likely I'll go to bed early.

These habits form a system that has resonance. This explains why making small changes (like 15 minutes of yoga in the morning) can literally change our lives.

As-of-yet Unintegrated Habits:

Looking at the things I failed to do every day or even most days (inbox zero, waking up early and taking a mid-day vitamin C) I realize that I haven't integrated these habits into my routine or anchored them to other habits. Here's my plan for these guys:

Waking Up Early - This is really the habit of going to bed earlier. I find when I go to bed earlier it's easy for me to get up early. Going to bed earlier is a function of being ready for bed earlier, which is a function of eating dinner earlier, which is a function of leaving the office earlier. So for August I've promised my coach to leave the office by 6pm every day. This will allow me to get home earlier, eat dinner and wind-down so I'm ready for bed by 9.

Taking Vitamin C Mid-Day - My doctor has prescribed me 4,000mg of vitamin C per day as a way to reduce stress and increase positive intelligence. Problem is, since only so much can be absorbed at once, it needs to be taken 4 separate times during the day (1,000 mg each time) . I take 1,000 mg in the morning and 1,000 mg in the evening nearly without fail, but it's those two mid-day pills that I always forget. So for August I'm going to anchor this habit to something I absolutely can't forget to do: going to the bathroom. I'm going to put some vitamin C in the bathroom at work and at home and see if that helps me turn this into a habit that sticks.

Inbox Zero - I LOVE a clean inbox. Zero emails staring me in the face helps me feel on top of my company and on top of my life. A clean inbox also helps me leave work earlier and therefore get to bed earlier, which feeds the virtuous cycle. And yet I only got to inbox zero 7 times this past month. I'm certain that making this a daily habit will improve my mood and my performance.

The question is how do I do that? I get between 20 and 120 emails per day. At an average pace of 1 minute per email (I've timed it) cleaning out my inbox can take between 20 and 120 minutes. The best I can come up with is to clean out my inbox first thing in the morning or last thing at the end of the day using ruthless GTD principles. I've been blocking off the first hour and the last hour of the day for this, and so far in August I'm 5 for 8, so far on track to smash my performance for July.

Hopefully I'll discover more virtuous resonance this month. I'll report back in a few weeks on how this experiment goes.