Creature of Habits

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Literature, Self-Improvement, Wellness

Hello, Swooners! It’s been a while. Four months, to be exact, since our last post and even longer since our last in-depth story. After a few years of writing for The Swoon Society, Kirsti and I began to experience an “enthusiasm gap” and decided to take a short break, but short-term behaviors can easily become long-term habits…

Years ago, I read the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and was slightly disconcerted to realize that almost everything we do—both self-serving and self-defeating—is simply a habit we got into somewhere along the way. While a new habit can overwrite an old one, the neural pattern for the old habit still exists in the brain, lying dormant until something comes along to reactivate it. This explains how, months or even years after adopting a positive habit, we can suddenly fall off the wagon and find ourselves right back in the throes of the negative habit we thought we’d kicked.

I am usually good about establishing habits when I’m highly motivated, but I can’t always figure out why some habits stick, while others fall away. I enjoy exercise and take long, nightly walks with my dog, but I’ve struggled to maintain a consistent upper body workout. I might do push-ups several times one week, then slip to once or twice the next week, and do nothing at all for a week or two after that, despite having a strong desire to be strong.

For this reason, an online article caught my eye recently. The teaser mentioned that a man had strengthened his upper body by developing the habit of doing just two push-ups every time he went to the bathroom. I was intrigued enough to read the entire article, which introduced me to the Tiny Habits method from Stanford behavior scientist BJ Fogg.

In his book I learned that, over years of personal experimentation and research with large numbers of people, BJ discovered some key components of successful habit formation:

    1. Start TINY. When he wanted to develop the habit of flossing his teeth daily, BJ began by flossing ONE tooth, then built on that until he was eventually flossing all of them. If he was short on time or simply not feeling it one day, he’d scale back and floss just one tooth, because that was his original habit, and even this small action served to reinforce it.
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    2. Create a recipe. To remind yourself to do the desired habit without needing a Post-It note or alarm on your phone, do it immediately after some other activity in your day that’s already habitual. Using the original example above, BJ’s recipe for upper body exercise would be: “After I use the bathroom, I will do two push-ups.” Rehearsing the sequence a few times in succession is often enough to decisively link these behaviors in your mind. (My favorite trick from a Tiny Habiteer featured in the book is to use a negative event or habit as the trigger to do something positive for yourself, helping you to instantly turn that frown upside down.)
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    3. Celebrate! BJ emphasized that this easily-overlooked action is actually one of the most important for lasting habit formation. By following the activity with a moment of celebration, the behavior becomes hardwired in the brain as something associated with a reward, making it more likely to “take.” How you celebrate will be unique to you, but some ideas are to pump your fist in the air, kick up your heels, or say, “Yes!”
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    4. Begin with three habits. Conventional wisdom suggests that you develop one habit at a time—then, once it’s established, try to add another and another—but BJ advises focusing on the system of habit formation rather than on a single habit. By starting with three habits, you’ll reinforce the practice of using regular, daily activities as triggers to do the new, desired behaviors.

The steps above are an extreme simplification of what’s in the book, which contains abundant examples and in-depth explanations for how and why these steps work. And they DO work. Since discovering this method, I’ve become a creature of habits, quickly establishing several daily behaviors that I’d previously failed at doing consistently for months or even years…including writing for this blog again by taking just one minute to type out my thoughts each time I sit down in front of the computer.

BJ Fogg believes that his method is nothing less than a revolution in how to approach and achieve long-term change. Based on my experience so far, he may be right, so join the movement and find out how Tiny Habits can make a BIG impact in your life.


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Tiny Habits

 

I highly recommend listening to the Tiny Habits audiobook, which is read by the author. There’s an inspirational preface (not included in the print version) in which he explains how he used Tiny Habits to overcome some lifelong speech issues and earn the right to narrate his own book.

To get started right away with the Tiny Habits method, click here and follow the link to “Your next step” at the end of each page.

 

Have Your Day in Courtesy

Author: Kirsten K., Holidays, Self-Improvement

Kirsti and I find few things more swoon-worthy than good manners and common courtesy, but it often seems that people today think minding their Ps and Qs means checking their phones and maintaining their quarrels. In 1986, a group of concerned citizens in England made similar observations about the lack of civility they were witnessing around them and formed The Polite Society (since changed to the National Campaign for Courtesy) with the goal of bringing awareness to the “behavioural problems of the nation.” To that end, they established a National Day of Courtesy on the first Friday in October.

national-campaign-for-courtesy

Although there is a National Common Courtesy Day each March 21st in the U.S., Kirsti and I believe this is an issue worthy of repeated acknowledgement, so we encourage our own Society members to celebrate civility, praise politeness, memorialize manners, and commemorate courtesy today—and every day—in the following ways:

  • thank-you-noteRemember to say “please” and “thank you.” This is Courtesy 101, but you’d be surprised how often these words are left unsaid.
  • Write thank-you notes—even if only by email or text—after receiving gifts and attending parties, or for any reason at all. I like to put notes on the doorsteps of houses in my neighborhood that are beautifully decorated for the holidays to let them know how much I enjoy their displays. People love to be appreciated!
  • Ease up on the pedal when another driver wants to merge. It’s the journey, not the domination.
  • Step outside of a store or restaurant to take a phone call if you must. You’re louder than you think. Really.
  • RSVP by the date on the invitation. Someone thought you were special enough to include on their guest list. Don’t make them hunt you down for a response.
  • Be on time. This is a huge one for Kirsti and me. To quote Vince Lombardi, “If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late.” Give yourself extra time to account for unexpected delays.
  • vexed-by-textHonor your commitments. I’ve grudgingly attended many events that I wanted to back out of at the last minute, only to end up having a wonderful time. People may have declined other offers, purchased food and drink, or cleaned their homes in anticipation of your arrival, so unless an actual emergency arises, don’t make excuses—just go!
  • Respond to emails, texts, and voicemails in a timely manner. We all get busy, but it only takes a minute to write or say, “I’m swamped at the moment, but I received your message and will respond as soon as I’m able.” When you do respond, make sure to address each point in the original message. Nothing wastes more time than going back and forth.
  • Save your comments until the end of the movie. Keeping a running commentary is the filmmaker’s job for the DVD extras—not yours.
  • Hold doors for people. It may turn into a clown car situation, but you might restore someone’s faith in humanity and set an example for others at the same time.

This list is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a beginning. And while we’ve all slipped up from time to time, making a consistent effort to be courteous is what gives you a reputation as Someone Who Often Observes Niceties.

With the current atmosphere in our country, shining a spotlight on civility has never been more important, so now that you have your day in courtesy, spread the word and do your part to polite up the world!

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National Campaign for Courtesy

 

Aptitude Adjustment

Author: Kirsten K., Nostalgia, Self-Improvement
First Day of School

The first of many first days of school.

When I was growing up, the school year always started the day after Labor Day, but I know several people (including my sister, a teacher) who have already resumed classes this month. Whether you are a teenager returning to school, the parent of a student, or an adult pursuing a higher education, you may be familiar with aptitude testing. (If the mention of school and testing just took you from swoon to yawn, sit up and pay attention! You might learn something. 😉)

Unlike academic exams, which often make people feel anxious and frustrated, aptitude testing can actually be fun. I remember taking aptitude tests in elementary school and thinking that they were a great way to get out of class. Comprised primarily of multiple choice questions, they took no more than an hour or so to complete. Afterwards, students would add up their answers from the various columns to learn their particular set of skills and which profession(s) they were most suited for…but the playground called (Red Rover was about to send Kirsti right over) and my own results were promptly ignored.

Graduation Day

With a degree, but without a clue.

In college, my major was undeclared until the last possible moment, when I was required to choose one by the university (I’m terrible at making decisions!). Unsure of what I wanted to do, I opted for a subject that could be generally applied and focused solely on obtaining my degree. Without any specific direction for my future, I simply wanted to finish school and get out into the “real” world, but after years of struggling to find my niche, a friend suggested I speak to her neighbor, who’d had a positive experience with aptitude testing through the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation.

As an employee of General Electric in the 1920s, Johnson O’Connor sought to increase workers’ efficiency and satisfaction by placing them in positions best suited to their natural abilities. The program he developed was so popular that employees asked to have their children tested, which led to the creation of a Human Engineering Laboratory that officially became the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation in 1939. Today, the Foundation has testing centers in major cities throughout the United States.

JOCRF Logo

I made an appointment for two days of testing at the Los Angeles center, where the atmosphere was casual and welcoming. After a brief interview, I was led through a series of tests, beginning with an assessment of my dominant hand, arm, leg, and eye (apparently, I’d have made a good baseball player), and proceeding through evaluations of memory (my highest aptitude), color vision, motor skills, auditory discrimination, clerical speed, and even innate hand strength (which, I was told, mysteriously correlates with certain professions that don’t require hand strength). At the end of the second day of testing, I was given my results.

Inventory of Aptitudes and Knowledge 2

If I hadn’t known better, I’d have thought the administrator was psychic. He began by saying, “You love to walk into chaos, because you immediately begin to sort things and attempt to create order.” Bingo! Then he noted, “You probably play a musical instrument well, but you have trouble following along with the sheet music, so you learn a song and then play it from memory.” Cue the Twilight Zone theme.

Inventory of Aptitudes and Knowledge 1While aptitude testing does not equate to career counseling, there are specific kinds of work suggested by your pattern of aptitudes. It turns out that the first one listed under my summary of test results was the college major I’d so “randomly” and belatedly chosen. Also of interest was the fact that I tested below average on spatial ability. My father was an aeronautical engineer and I’d briefly considered pursuing the same career, but my aptitudes revealed that I was unsuited to that profession. How many children thinking of following in a parent’s footsteps would reconsider after having their aptitudes assessed?

Unlike grades in school, there’s no judgment associated with aptitudes (in terms of one being better than another). Someone with a low IQ or who struggles academically can still have aptitudes that make him or her well-suited for certain vocations. Aptitudes are also stable over time. A person who is tested at 15 will have the same results if tested again at 65, which means that early testing is recommended. Had I been assessed before going to college, I would have structured my education differently and probably had a greater sense of satisfaction and purpose.

Wordbook 1But it’s never too late! My cousin went back to college in her 50s and got her Master’s Degree with honors. One of the stories in the Foundation’s newsletter that convinced me to get tested as an adult involved a successful surgeon who decided to take the tests along with his teenaged son. He discovered he had an aptitude for music and began to take piano lessons in his free time, providing him with creative fulfillment outside of work. Plus, the one ability tested that CAN be improved upon is vocabulary, which allows people of any age to have greater success in expressing their aptitudes.

If you are about to embark on a new phase of your education, are having trouble choosing a direction for your life and work, or want to change professions, but aren’t sure where to focus your energies, aptitude testing might be right for you. The investment of time and money is minimal when compared to the value of understanding and applying your natural abilities. At the very least, consider an “aptitude adjustment” by building your vocabulary using the Foundation’s list of resources, because with the right aptitude, you can go all the way.

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Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation