Unfuck Your Habitat

You're better than your mess.

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Dear the Amazing Lady who runs UFYH (and Team UFYH overall!),

You may know about this, but in the case that you did not, I thought I’d share. 

For the people who argue against making their bed each day, there is actually recent research into how we form habits suggesting that this is an amazing idea.  My understanding is that, basically, it’s really hard for us to change our behavior in major ways.  But it’s easy for us to ‘add’ new tasks into an existing ‘habit loop’ and those ‘habit loops’ can become incredibly complex and add up to changing a lot of our behaviors.

Many of our everyday routines are actually complicated tasks that we almost never think about - for example, you don’t need to actively think about each step in brushing your teeth (pick up toothbrush, find toothpaste, apply paste to brush, put brush in mouth, brush front of top teeth, brush front of bottom teeth, etc).  Your brain takes all of these habits and learns them in a ‘chunk’ (actually a technical term!).  So, once you have your brain engage the ‘brush your teeth’ habit/routine, you pretty much go on autopilot through it. 

Learning new habits is all about triggers and rewards, apparently.  The ‘brush your teeth’ routine is triggered by, say, picking up your toothbrush, or walking into your bathroom first thing in the morning and the reward is clean teeth.  [Rewards don’t need to be big, complicated things — just a little feeling of self-satisfaction works!] 

From what I understand, it’s way easier to use existing triggers to learn new habits than to create completely *new* habit loops. 

So, for example, if you’re not a clean person at all, it’s nearly impossible to get yourself to change by force of will.  You can’t just yell at yourself something like ‘I just need to be more organized!’ and expect to change overnight.  It’s not about will power, it’s just not how our brains work.

But!  It’s comparatively easy to add little new habits into your existing habits.  You just use your existing habits as a ‘trigger’ for new ones. 

So, adding ‘make the bed’ to your morning habit loop is a really easy, concrete change to make.  It has a clear trigger (‘waking up, getting up’) and a clear reward (‘the satisfaction of having made something more organized when you perhaps don’t normally do that or consider yourself capable of being organized).  

And then, because you’ve added this new little habit to your morning routine, it becomes easier to add more.  So, ‘wake up, stumble out of bed, straighten the covers, go make coffee’ becomes ‘wake up, stumble out of bed, straighten the covers, take your vitamins/pills, go put on the coffee, tidy kitchen while coffee is brewing, etc’.  You’re using existing triggers in your life to change your habits and you’re getting to like the reward of doing those things (where the reward is the satisfaction of having a clean house and keeping it clean). 

‘Make the bed every day when I wake up’ is a really easy/awesome habit to start with.  It’s almost like a gateway ‘habit’ to help get you onto a newer and better habit loop.  And it’s much easier than trying to will yourself into just being tidier or more organized.

Anyhow.  I just thought I’d share.  I hope I’m explaining it well.  This article on ‘How Companies Learn Your Secrets’ by Charles Duhigg talks about all of these ideas.  I found the whole article fascinating, but the relevant bits about habits and how we form them begins on page 2 with the bold heading ‘Inside the brain-and-cognitive-sciences’ and continues through the top of page 4.  Duhigg has written a really interesting book about all this called The Power of Habit.

Love the tumblr.  I read it on google reader — I don’t normally post to tumblr but thought you’d find this stuff interesting if you didn’t already know about it.  I mean, clearly you intuitively have figured it out, but there’s emerging science and research that totally supports you!  I kind of found this information pretty life-changing.


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    Reblogging this to make it easier to find next time someone hassles me about bedmaking on a non-Tumblr website just...
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    Ah, cognitive science. :)
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    this is a good post
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    I love everything about this thing that you have written. This particular embarrassing thing happens to me a lot with...
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