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In order to better a habit, there are a few factors that should be considered. A habit is easier to nurture if it has some of the following. You don’t need all of these, but the more you have the better.

It is obvious

It is attractive

It is easy to do

and

It is satisfying.

Example: A few months ago I was trying to keep a log on some activities I wanted to track; the more I tracked them the better I would be at doing them. I was using a note I made on my iPhone. It wasn’t easy to maneuver around and I often made mistakes/wiping out the data. This was more frustrating than satisfying, and in time I gave it up. I now do the same monitoring using an app “Way of Life’. This is on my phone, it has a pleasant lay-out, and it is easy to do. When I record an activity as done, the app gives me a green bar stroke with a pleasant sound, which pleases me very much. I am doing a much better job recording – and doing – my daily tasks.

Another example: I keep my blood pressure cuff and my paper journal right next to my favorite chair. When I sit in it, I can easily reach out and pick them both up. When they were in drawers across the room they were out of sight and required ‘effort’ to get up and fetch them. This sounds quite lazy I know but I want results.

Conversely, to extinguish a bad habit, turn all this advice on its head and make the action/habit

invisible

unattractive

difficult to do

unsatisfying

What candy there is in the house has been removed from the candy dish, which was readily seen and assessable. The sweeties were moved to the depths of the freezer in the laundry room. I have to remember now they are there. I have to get up and walk to the laundy room and rummage through the frozen packages (ouch!) to get at them. As I munch M&Ms I conjure up disagreeable visions such as The Good Doctor frowning or my future self critical of my actions.

A patient of mine is curtailing his smokes. He had them placed in a drawer that requires his wife to open it for him; he’s learned too to have her take the car keys after 5PM so he can’t drive to the gas station.

I educate my patients to watch their words. The mentioned patient is to say to himself and others “I am not a smoker” rather than “I am trying to quit smoking”. By framing himself in this position, he sees himself differently. A ‘non-smoker” avoids casinos; A non-smoker on break doesn’t step outside with the smokers. When bored/frustrated a non-smoker does other things than smoking.

I try to do this myself. I say to myself throughout the day: “What would a healthy person do?”. This reminds me order better food like turning down fries for some vegetable), or go to the gym after work rather than just go home. After all, a healthy person gets in some daily exercise regardless of motivation.

People may not be easily able to give up a bad habit for the sake of their loved ones, but sometimes they will for their future selves. I sometimes envision myself three months from now, going to The Good Doctor, for blood work/weigh-in. My future self calls me to do him a favor and act right to make him proud.

While I dislike succumbing to peer pressure and to vanity, they come in handy to help shape behavior. It is not coincidence folks struggling with drugs, gambling, or alcohol are told to change the folks they hang out with. Being embarrassed by our habits is a useful ‘in’. Telling folks about your goal may evoke fears of judgment enough to do the right thing. For example, Someone and I don’t keep a tidy house, but if there are to be visitors, the house gets a throughout clean-over. I’ve considered inviting over friends or relations knowing this will get the house cleaned and repairs attended.

One final thought on habits. One must stop believing habits are impossible to change or something that holds sway over us. The more we practice, the more we achieve, the more likely good habits take hold and bad ones dissipate.

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