Twenty Second Guide to a Better Life

blog watching TBSo, I’m dwelling on happiness, and this week, I came across a notion having to do with changing your life for the better. Say you get a big insight: I’m watching too much TV.

Well, that’s just an insight. Watching TV is an excellent way to unwind, to catch up on world events, to learn new, interesting stuff. It can also be a way to spend time with loved ones that’s completely free of strife or stress, and maybe even yields some affection. So your insight simply sits next to you on the couch, while you watch the same too much TV as usual.

blog kitten watching rainChange requires action, so you decide that on Thursday nights, you’ll turn off the telly, and go for a walk. But it’s raining on Thursday, and well…. oops.

To create change, takes a lasting shift in behavior, and turns out, that’s not quite as hard as we might think. The trick, according to happiness expert Shawn Achor, is to make it twenty seconds harder to indulge in the habit you want to eliminate. Now, for a physiological addiction, I can’t see this working, but for watching TV? His solution was, before he went off to work in the morning, he took the batteries out of the remote, and stashed them into the night stand drawer on the other side of the house.

blog cuddling with a catNext day, he comes home, ready to flop onto the couch, and click the… no batteries. Hmm. The time it takes to cross the house is time to think, to reconsider, to refocus, and often enough time to interrupt what is simply a habit, not a need. The same thinking works in the opposite direction. You want to get in the habit of a short walk in the morning? Go to sleep in your walking duds, put your shoes and socks right next to the bed.

Might work. At the very least, this approach has me thinking of a) what are my bad habits, and b) what tiny changes can I make that will make it just enough harder for the force of habit to control me that I can make a positive change? What are the good habits I can give a baby-step head start on my inertia?

cat kliban sneakersOne I might try: I like to have a Ghiradelli dark chocolate square with my first cup of tea of the day…. and the second, and the third. The tea and the chocolate are not even one step away from each other in the kitchen. I’ll try storing the chocolate up on my bedroom, and only taking one square downstairs with me in the morning.

Any ideas coming to mind? Teeny, tiny little disruptions in routine that will move you closer to a good habit, or farther away from a bad one?

To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of The Traitor.


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49 comments on “Twenty Second Guide to a Better Life

  1. Huh, never thought of it that way, but that makes a lot of sense — which is why my “pajamas” are actually my exercise clothes, so I do my stretches and such first thing in the AM, and why I keep jars of fruit-infused water in the fridge so it’s a lot easier to grab a pint of water to drink than anything else. Maybe I need to get into the habit of laying out yoga pants when I dress in the AM AND move my yoga mat next to my desk so that an afternoon yoga routine becomes more, well, routine. Thanks for the INSIGHT!, Grace!

    • Ok, I’m swiping that fruit water idea and raising you… At night, when I power down the computer, I’ll take it out to the treadmill and set it up there, so first thing in the morning, I can toddle off a mile while powering my brain up.

      • The treadmill desk is a great idea — I wish I had space (and money) for something like that! But maybe I should get into the habit of leaving my walking shoes OUT next to the door to encourage me to get out and walk a little more.

        Fruit and/or herbs — today’s mix up is blueberries with lime juice but would also be good with some fresh mint stuck in. I drink so much more water now that I do this.

  2. Never gave changing habits that much thought. I usually just totally give up whatever is tempting me.

    For years, during my work life, I would have a nightcap every night after I took my bath but before I went to bed. I’d also usually have about 500 calories worth of cheese and crackers with it. Loved it!

    Sadly I’m now pre-diabetic so no more nightcap for me. Got rid of my brandy and now eat a single piece of cheese before bed. But every now and then I would like to just have a drink, so I bought a bottle to keep on hand just for those “special occasions.” Well that did’t work. I ended up having my nightly drink if I had any in the house.

    It never occurred to me to put the bottle down in the basement somewhere. Given what an effort it is for me to climb stairs now – that would probably work (smile)!!!

    • What is it about cheese? My naturopath is not keen on any dairy, but when I try cutting out dairy–and I’ve tried for months–I simply feel like I’m not eating. I can take or leave the hooch, thank goodness, but I like the idea of you keeping it in the basement or the tool shed. Has a nice, gothick feel to it.

  3. After both my parents AND my sister were diagnosed with diabetes, I realized my to Coke (or Dr Pepper) plus continuous sweet tea habit needed to go. I cut back to one Coke a day then to just sweet tea. Eventually, I worked my way down to unsweetened tea. I still drink it constantly — after my morning mochas — but my sugar and calorie intake was drastically cut. I should cut back on the amount of chocolate in my mocha but haven’t worked up the enthusiasm for that. Yet.

    • Maybe this is a case of introducing a good habit. Take your mocha on a little walk on the nice days, keep hand weights near the coffee maker and do one set when you turn it one, one set before your pour?
      I keep a rubber exercise band over an open door, and when I put water into the micro wave for tea, I try to do a slow set. Candles against the darkness…

      • I love the exercise band idea, Grace. The walk with the coffee is a great one too for days that I’m not getting ready for work as I drink the coffee.

        I am replacing the creamer with 2% or 1% milk — it all depends on who does the shopping for which one we end up having. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I enjoyed your blog post. I don’t feel like I have any personal insights to add, because I am not thinking of trying to modify any habits right now. It is back to school time again, which means change. I’m going to try for a mindfulness approach. Whatever happens, happens – I’ll just live my life, whatever it brings, until after labor day. Usually after I get over the first dread, the beginning of the school year is a very good time for me. So I’m going to set a calendar reminder to come back and look at this over labor day.
    I have to say that chocolate in the bedroom would not work for me. It might solve the problem of eating the chocolate in the morning with the tea….but I’m more of a night eater, and I’m pretty sure that the whole bag of chocolates would disappear in a setting. I’d pick the freezer out in the shed. Then, I’d have to put shoes on, go outside, and wait for the chocolate to thaw a bit. I’d really have some time to put some thought into it!

    • Amy, good luck with the back to school stuff. I didn’t realize how much I stressed over it until my daughter’s first year of home schooling (tenth grade), and holy Ned, the difference… I also think September coincides with the first harbingers of seasonal affective problems, because we knoooooow the days are getting shorter, even if the temperatures remain mild. Keep us posted!

  5. I have been trying to get into the habit of charging my Ipad in the kitchen at night after reading an ebook. When I do this, it curbs the impulse to check Facebook first thing in the morning. That FB newsfeed is definitely a “time-sucker”/ constant distraction for me.

    • So… can you leave the only charger plugged in on the counter?
      I don’t know what to tell you about FB. I’m only on there to the extent I enjoy or have something to say, and that means sometimes I’m out of FB pocket for a couple days straight. Maybe others have suggestions for keeping the social media time suck limited?

  6. I have been thinking about getting back to walking this week. Thinking but not doing.

    Am back from a 3 1/2 hour tracking session with 2 friends and I feel great, plus 4 dogs got to track in a beautiful field.

    The humidity, extra hours at work and caring for my older dog before work has zapped my energy.

    Going to set out my sweats, t-shirt, socks, sneakers and leashes by the back door and set the alarm for 6 am. A couple of steps in the right direction!!

  7. I have been thinking really hard about getting back to exercising again. I know i do a lot of sitting, because I read a lot. I don’t want give up any of my reading time, but I know I need to move more. So I REALLY loved the wearing work out clothes to bed and having shies and socks by the bed! For sure going to try it! I never thought of doing small changes to help redirect you to a new way of doing things, but I am going to try this in a couple of other things too. Thanks!

    • I read a lot on the tread mill, Mary. I’m barely toddling along, maybe 2.5 miles an hour once I get going, and yet, I figure the deal is to light candles, rather than curse the darkness. So I only get a couple miles a day done? In a year, that’s the distance from my house to the Mississippi River.

  8. For the last few years I have been trying to improve my diet routine . I especially started concentrating on it after I got diagnosed withe the BIG C, so I have different literature on good diet on my kitchen counter, it helps me remember small things like my water intake and calories intake.
    Also praying to God has become a big part of my life I had to develop this habit. I had small prayers printed and pasted on my door and other doors. It helped a lot.

    • My grandmother had a prayer she said every time she got behind the wheel. I recall Nana taking a moment to say, without fail, “Dear Lord, keep all the dogs, cats, children and other drivers safe as I’m on the road today–and me too.”

      Even if I didn’t believe in a Deity, her driving record (spotless), attested to the wisdom of taking a minute to get centered and focus on safety before turning that key.

      The image of Nana saying that prayer frequently assails me as I’m buckling up… and that’s a good thing.

  9. Ok, I just like the cat pictures. I am a cat person, even though I loved a Labrador for 14 years too. One of my bad habits is putting up with the bad habits of my cat Sam. He’s a Manx and really more of a dog-cat. I need to feed him less treats. He bites if I don’t do what he wants. My other bad/good habit is reading too much. I also tend to listen to books on when I am doing other things around the house or riding in the car. Being retired is great but it does make it too easy to form those bad habits. Thanks, for some ideas about doing better. I need to cook less and exercise more.

    • Judy, I learned to be more aware of when the animals were training me when I spent time around horses. If a 1500 pound animals gets the idea that he’s in charge, and he’s not by nature a dominant creature, much mischief (and injury) can result.

      The hardest thing about un-training a bad habit (Sue Gorman should chime in on this), is that when you ignore the bad habit (shouting etc, can just reinforce it), the pet will at first just do the bad habit harder. One of my kitties sits on the counter and gently claws at me every time I open the fridge (cause he wants milk). I put him on the floor (no petting, no talking, no scolding), and ignore him. It has taken weeks to get the behavior to diminish, and one slip on my part, (“Teapot, knock it off!”) and he’s motivated to backslide.

      Dumb animals, my foot.

  10. I’m a habitual person, so if I can make whatever it is I want to do (like exercise, eat better, etc), a habit, I’m good. I used to hit the snooze on my alarm clock several times every morning, and I realized that it just broke up my sleep. I decided to just make a habit of hitting the alarm once and hopping out of bed. It only took a few times for it to become a habit, and now that’s what I always do. I like the idea of bringing only one piece of candy downstairs, that’s the type of thing I do with snacks. I won’t bring the whole package to work or to the living room with me, I’ll just take whatever portion I’ve decided is sufficient and that’s it, that’s all I get. ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Barbara, you’re lucky in this regard. You fall into routines and they comfort you, give you a sense of order and security. I fall into routines and feel imprisoned, bored, and anxious. School was awful for me for that reason alone: you mean I have to get up at the same time and get on the same bus and go through the same classes?

      I cope by having large areas of life non-routine, so I can try to manage small areas–the chocolate–without having a tantrum. I only look like a grown up.

  11. As I just passed my 70th birthday, my few really bad habits are not really bad in my mind. I have learned to bit my tongue with my children and grandchildren. I have learned to love all peoples no matter what! I am beginning to accept my physical limitations, but continue to keep moving albeit more slowly. Accept, accept and smile. And mean it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. I’ve been trying to get back in the habit of lifting weights, and my problem is simply forgetting! If I put the weights on my bed in the morning, I’ll see them when I go to change clothes after coming home! Thanks for the idea!

    • Ten years ago, I could have said leave them by the phone, so you could so a set for every call… Now I try to stand when I’m on the phone at work, but with cell phones, we wander around…

  13. In my case sometimes I should speak before I think. I know it’s usually the other way around but I tend to over think things. I’m trying to be more spontaneous and go with the flow. So today I asked someone to join us for dinner where normally I start thinking of what that would entail and probably wouldn’t have so I asked before I had to think it through. Very glad I did. I was taught to say no thank you to almost anything even if it was offered and it would be nice so I try to stop myself before saying no automatically. It’s not easy lol.

    • One of my cousins ended up in therapy at one point, and the hardest exercise the therapist gave her was first to count the number of times in a week she said, “I’m fine,” and then to stop staying it. If you’re unhappy enough to need professional mental health treatment, maybe, “I’m fine” 347 times in a week is an overstatement.

      • There’s a new commercial out that shows how many times women say I am sorry – guilty!

  14. I have a candy jar in my office. I have been keeping skittles in the jar. I would mindlessly eat a lot of skittles. By putting the jar in a drawer,it helped me. This week,
    I bought gummi bears, which I like, but not as much as skittles.

  15. I try to walk as much as possible – I don’t use the lift & walk up escalators/stairs. Parking a little further away from the entrance so that I walk a little bit more.

    Having said that, I actually like exercising & spend a few hours at the gym everyday.

    • I wish I got whatever gene you have that makes the gym a happy place for you. Not me. Don’t like to be around strangers and mirrors, don’t like to get in the truck just to go sweat. Don’t like to sweat… I’m the one who can survive being snowed in for weeks without seeing another human being. Unfortunately, Maryland is fresh out of ice ages.

  16. I got a Fitbit to keep track of how many steps I walk in a day. The goal is 5000 a day. I had to work up to that but can meet that goal most days now. Now to tackle my sweet tooth and portion control. Staying busy helps but I can’t stay busy all the time.
    Off subject, I finished The Traitor just now. It is one of your best. Your characters and their relationships with each other–I don’t have the words to express myself–they make me feel deeply. On a lighter note, I want someone to call me “petite tigresse.” Love that.

    • Thanks for the kind words about The Traitor, and I agree: I got really lucky with that book and this series. Fingers crossed for The Laird, though it’s a darker tale.

      My 68 year old brother swears by his fitbit, and I want to smack him. I don’t dare tell you what his goal is, but he’s a guy. Allowances must be made.

  17. I need to move more. Years of living with a chronic illness has taught me to conserve energy. I used as few steps as possible. Though not cured, I am doing much better now, (I no longer use a wheelchair), the trouble is after years of not exerting myself th I need to relearn how to be active again. Change my habits and start to move and do more. The one little thing I want to try, is to use the upstairs bathroom instead of the one down the hall. Thus requiring me to walk a little farther and climb the stairs.
    My new phone has a pedometer app, and I’ve been adding a few hundred steps every day.

    • Linda, I am so pleased to know that you’re putting a chronic illness to route. So often, the illness that can’t quite beat us physically goes after the emotional reserves, and that’s game, set and match. A few hundred steps a day for somebody who was wheelchair bound sounds like a marathon to me.

      Long may you strut to that upstairs loo!

  18. Totally brill! I have a lot of bad habits that have popped up recently. I’ve been spending too much time on my iPhone (work in an iPhone support center, but I check it too often when I’m not working) and spent too much time playing games, rather than writing. I have a surgery coming up at the first of September and that will give me a chance to make a break and a fresh start. AND give me a chance to catch up on my reading. I’ve been stocking up on your books!

    • Julee, when I’m checking email constantly, and chained to the solitaire games, it’s a sign of anxiety. Around book release days, when a loved on is shakey, when my finances have acted up…. I’m glued to a screen. Maybe the surgery is weighing on you–it would me.

      Will hope the books can help. They help me, which is half the reason I write them.

  19. I am working on eliminating white flower and sugar. It’s incredibly difficult, as I am often on the go. I find that if I don’t plan my meals in advance, I am doomed. For years I just ate whatever I felt like eating. Now I find discipline is crucial. Plan and prepare.

    • The white flour is at least easier than it used to be. There’s a gluten free section in most stores. Sugar… argh. I’m told there’s a kind of chocolate made with honey, but I haven’t found it. I use agave nectar in my tea (low glycemic value), but I need to just leave the sweets out.

      Good luck to you. The people who’ve accomplished the changes you’re trying to make say they feel great!

  20. I like this idea. Sorry, I still include one piece of 60% Giardelli in the evening but one change I made was to give the man his earphones and say you watch the telly while I work on my book. It’s really helped.

    Yesterday I got back on my exercise at least twice a day for 15mins kick. No it’s not much but it’s something. I set a reminder at work and here and turned the radio on, and danced (at work) for 15mins to “If you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it” Beyonce, “Gone Gone Gone” Philip Phillips, and the Fair”, Dougie MacLean. That was a good 15mins. I was actually out of breath. And looks like it’s time again, lol.

  21. Hey, this is a great idea! I’ve decided I can’t have an afternoon snack until I take a short walk. Of course, it would be better if the walk replaced the snack, but baby steps.

  22. Oh my goodness, I’m buried in bad habits! I’m working on eating better and exercising more, if I have to go somewhere I get in at least a mile walk as it’s half a mile to the closest bus stop, I no longer drive. I’ve joined Sara Humphreys Romance Fit Club For Readers and Authors, everyone is welcome so come join us, the members are very supportive of one another. I’ll be returning to the Y this coming week but probably for just the pool exercises until I see my rheumatologist at the end of September. I found out last month, after a back X-Ray, that my lower spine is starting to curve to the left and I don’t want to cause further damage by doing the wrong exercises. Getting old is horrible, especially since I’ve got both RA & OA. I just finished The Traitor, I just couldn’t drag reading it out any longer so now I just have to wait for Michael’s story. I’ve got a couple of projects to keep me occupied until then and I’ve got a dog I can walk if I ever remember to buy her a collar. My poor a/c doesn’t allow for wearing exercise clothes to bed but I can always put them on the chair by the bed, set my alarm for 6:00 and get in a walk before it gets too hot.

  23. I have so many bad habits. I have a treadmill that I don’t use because I would rather lay on the couch with my Kindle. I also drink too many cokes and snack on junk. I know that I need to do better, but sometimes it’s easier to just take the easy way out. Need to make a vow and start eating healthy and exercising more.