In my study of habits, I’ve identified many strategies that we can use to make or break our habits.
The Strategy of Scheduling, of setting a specific, regular time for an activity to recur, is one of the most familiar and powerful strategies of habit-formation—and it’s one of my personal favorites.
For most people, and certainly for me, there’s a kind of magic about seeing an item actually appear on a schedule. Scheduling makes us far more likely to convert an activity into a habit (well, except for Rebels), so, for that reason, I schedule even some slightly ridiculous habits, such as “Kiss my husband every morning and every night.”
One of my most helpful Secrets of Adulthood for Habits is:
However, while I want many of my habits to happen daily, or almost daily, there are other habits that I want to follow just once a week.
Many of my habits revolve around trying to read more. Reading is my favorite thing to do, and it’s also essential to my work, yet I still have to work on reading more and reading more widely.
This is one of the most surprising thing about habits — at least to me. I understand why we find it tough to make habits to do something that we don’t want to do, but why is it often so hard to make a habit to do something we do want to do? That we love to do? (One of the big themes of Better Than Before is how to make habits that allow us to do more things we enjoy.)
In my case, I made a habit to get me to do more of something that I both like and dislike to do. I used the Strategy of Scheduling.
I’ve acquired a large pile of books that look fascinating — but also demanding and dense and perhaps a bit boring. Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media, Plutarch’s Lives, and Victoria Newhouse’s Art and the Power of Placement were at the top of the stack. I needed to schedule a specific time for this kind of reading. It wasn’t work reading, for which I always make time, and it wasn’t pleasure reading, for which I make as much time as possible…it was study.
I decided to add thirty minutes of Study Reading to my weekend, to tackle those books. I can read more than thirty minutes, if I want, but I can also stop at thirty. That’s another Secrets of Adulthood for Habits: To keep going, sometimes I have to allow myself to stop.
I became a little discouraged when it took me a month to plow through Understanding Media. Should I abandon this habit? Then I realized—well, I wasn’t reading the McLuhan very fast, but it was faster than I’d been reading it for the past two years, when it sat untouched on my bedroom nightstand.
How does the Strategy of Scheduling work for you? Do you find, like me, that just seeing something “on the schedule” makes it much more likely to get done?
Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.
Image courtesy of Julie.