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Our brains organize information in different ways. With habits, and happiness, and everything else, I’ve always been attracted to organizing information according to numbered lists — this process helps me think clearly and remember better.
I’ve mentioned many times, I’ve just released on a book called Better than Before, about how we make or break habits — which is an intensely fascinating subject.
Slight tangent: I get a tremendous kick out of the numbered lists that pop up throughout Buddhism: the Triple Refuge, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Four Noble Truths, the Eight Auspicious Symbols. It was surprising to me that Buddhism, with its emphasis on gateless gates and transcending the bounds of rational thinking, has so many of these numbered lists. I love them, but still, it seems incongruous. There’s a koan to be written about it, that’s for sure. Like, “Use numbers to throw away enumeration.”
Here are some numbered lists that are useful for habit-formation — presented, of course, in a numbered list:
1. The Four Tendencies
When it comes to making a habits, it’s crucial to know how you tend to respond to expectations: both outer expectations (a deadline, a “request” from a sweetheart) and inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, keep a New Year’s resolution).
Your response to expectations may sound slightly obscure, but it turns out to be very, very important.
In a nutshell:
1 Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations (I’m an Upholder, 100%)
2 Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense (myhusband is a Questioner)
3 Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
4 Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves
2. The Foundation Four
It’s a Secret of Adulthood: Good habits foster good habits. Change fosters change.
Certain habits seem to be particularly important; they serve as the Foundation for other habits. I always remind myself, “First things first.” That is, pay attention to the obvious before worrying about more subtle concerns.
Foundation habits keep us from getting too physically taxed or mentally frazzled, and then, because we have more energy and self-control, we follow our healthy habits more easily.
From my observation, the four Foundation habits are:
o getting some exercise
o creating external order
o managing eating and drinking
The Strategy of Foundation holds that when you’re trying to change some habits, think about strengthening your Foundation.
3. The Essential Seven
When I think about the habits that I wanted to cultivate, or talk to people about their happiness challenges, it seems as though just about every habit that people seek to make or break falls into the “Big Five”:
1. Eat and drink more healthfully (give up sugar, eat more vegetables, drink less alcohol)
2. Exercise regularly
3. Save, spend, and earn wisely (save regularly, pay down debt, donate to worthy causes, make purchases that contribute to happiness or habits, stay current with expense reports)
4. Rest, relax, and enjoy (pursue a hobby instead of cruising the internet, enjoy the moment, stop checking email, get enough sleep, spend less time in the car, take time for myself)
5. Stop procrastinating, accomplish more (practice an instrument, set aside two hours daily for uninterrupted work, learn a language, maintain a blog, keep a gratitude journal)
6. Simplify, clear, clean, and organize (make the bed every day, file regularly, put keys away in the same place, recycle, give away unused clothing)
7. Engage more deeply—with other people, with God, with yourself, with the world (call family members, read the Bible every day, volunteer, spend time with friends, observe the Sabbath, spend time alone in nature)
4. The Ten Categories of Loopholes
I love this list; loopholes are hilarious.
When we try to form and keep habits, we often search for loopholes, for justifications that will excuse us from keeping this particular habit in this particular situation. However, if we catch ourselves in the act of loophole-seeking, we can perhaps reject them.
1. False choice loophole – “I can’t do this, because I’m so busy doing that” – this is one I often use, myself
2. Moral licensing loophole — “I’ve been so good, it’s okay for me to do this”
3. Tomorrow loophole — “It’s okay to skip today, because I’m going to do this tomorrow”
4. Lack of control loophole — “I can’t help myself”
5. Planning to fail loophole — “I walked into this bakery to buy a bottle of water”
6. “This doesn’t count” loophole – “I’m on vacation” “I’m sick” “It’s the weekend”
7. Questionable assumption loophole — “the label says it’s healthy”
8. Concern for others loophole — “I can’t do this because it might make other people uncomfortable”
9. Fake self-actualization loophole – “You only live once! Embrace the moment!”
10. One-coin loophole –“What difference does it make if I break my habit this one time?”
How about you? Do you like reading or making numbered lists? It gives an illusion of control — an illusion, perhaps, but a helpful illusion.
Gretchen Rubin is the author of the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, Better Than Before, The Happiness Project, and Happier at Home. On her weekly podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin, she discusses good habits and happiness with her sister Elizabeth Craft. She writes about happiness and habit-formation at gretchenrubin.com. Follow her on Twitter @gretchenrubin, or on Facebook, at facebook.com/GretchenRubin.
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