Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Shoe Principle of Motivation -- How to Change Your Habits and Your Life

A few months ago, I taught Relief Society in our ward about the need for regular family and personal scripture study. There were a lot of great ideas and experiences shared, and in the end, I believe we all felt more motivated to give the time to study.

As part of the lesson, we discussed some of the barriers to developing the habits -- things like uncooperative kids, entropy, lack of desire, busy lives, and difficult schedules.

I shared what I call the Shoe Principle of Motivation.

I've been running now for five years (before that, I'd never even run a mile).  I've learned a lot from running.  The past eighteen months, it's been fairly easy to get out and run because I've had consistent, dependable running partners.   Knowing my friend is counting on me to show up at our appointed time means I'm there no matter what.

But before that, I always ran alone and frankly, for a number of years I ran more because it was good for me than because I liked it.  Signing up for races helped to keep me motivated because I hate to waste money.  But even with a race on the horizon, I still had a hard time just getting out the door some days.  I read a lot of books about running and tried to figure out how to stay motivated.

One day, I happened across running guru Jeff Galloway's technique for dealing with the lack of desire to run. He suggests, "Go ahead and give in. Tell yourself you may not run after all.... By doing this, you reduce the negative mental bombardment temporarily." Galloway then gives a six-step ritual:

* Listen to some up-tempo, energizing music. 
* Put on running clothes and shoes to be comfortable, not to run. · 
* Relax. Maybe read something uplifting. 
* Step out the door to see what the weather is like. 
* Walk down to the end of the block to see what the neighbors are doing. 
* Start running--slowly."

It's always the getting out the door and getting started that was the hardest part of running.  Once I was out, I could put in the time to finish.  But getting up enough desire and motivation to get out the door?  Hard sometimes.

But after reading this, I realized that once I was dressed for running and especially once I had my shoes on, the run almost always happened.

I wish my running shoes looked like these.  

I pointed out to my class that for me, the shoes were the pivot point -- the pivot point that made the difference.  Then I asked what pivot points we might have in our lives in regard to scripture study that could be like putting on your shoes.   Do you have a place for study? A good pen nearby with a scripture journal? 

I got some wonderful answers.  One woman said that having a basket with all their scriptures on her kitchen table made it so it worked for her.  The visual reminder right there at meal time made it difficult to forget their regular study. Others talked about finding the best time for their families and setting it up so it worked.

For us, scripture study has been first thing in the morning for years.  When our kids were about ages 7 and under, we used to do a nightly devotional with a scripture story and song each evening and we were fairly consistent.  But once our kids started getting older and having different bedtimes and more activities, nights just didn't work for us as well so we switched to mornings.  At first, it was tough getting into the habit and waking up on time, but we solved that problem by having Lillian, around age 9, be in charge of waking everyone up in the morning.  She loved the responsibility and it worked so well that we hardly missed a day.  Nowadays, I'm the one waking everyone up at 6:45 every morning, but I'm proud to say that aside from an occasional holiday or weekend day, we've been consistently reading in the mornings ever since.  I love that time because my kids, having just gotten out of bed, are still bleary-eyed.  Unlike some of our Family Home Evening lessons, where the kids are bouncing off the walls, our scripture study time is quiet.  And if the kids aren't exactly forthcoming when we ask questions about what we read, we do have good discussions and I think (hope?) they are learning.  

Since my Relief Society lesson, I've had some time to think about the ways the shoe principle might apply in other areas.  In a recent article, Joseph Grenny, a Behavioral Scientist, writes that "best way to control your behavior is to take control of the things that control you."

He points out that studies show consistently that people don't make conscious choices about their behavior, but rather, that their behavior is shaped by cues in their environment.  Give a child a larger plate and larger utensils and they'll eat more without even realizing it.  A lot more, it turns out.

The application?  Change the things around you when you are trying to change YOU.
You and I are far more affected by small changes in our physical environment than we understand. The reason this is so empowering when you understand — and accept — it is because the easiest thing you can change is your environment.
Don’t want to text while driving? Put your phone in the back seat. Tired of procrastinating? Disable some of the electronic interruptions that keep tempting you into impulsive forays. Want to change your diet? Use smaller plates and spoons.
In my life, I've found this to be true:

  • When I want to eat healthier, it helps to get rid of all my favorite junk food (potato chips, ice cream) and instead put healthy snacks front and center in my pantry -- I've come to love dried coconut and dried mangos from Costco.
  • I learned long ago that sleeping in my exercise clothes made it that much easier to exercise the next morning.  And really, what's more comfortable to sleep in than yoga pants and a T-shirt?  
  • Recently I realized that I was once again, spending too much down time surfing Facebook on my phone.  I first moved my Facebook app to another screen, so I'd have to scroll through a few pages before clicking on it.  That worked for a while because every time I pulled up my phone, it reminded me that I was trying to cut back on Facebook.  But after a couple of months, I got used to quickly scrolling to that screen and I was back to my old habits.  Now, I like Facebook and it's a decent activity for downtime, but it was out of balance in my life.  So a few weeks ago, I deleted the Facebook app from my phone altogether.  I still have Messenger (yes, the cursed app many are avoiding) so I get immediate notifications when someone sends me a personal message, which is one of the main reasons I justified checking Facebook anyway.  I set the goal to only use Facebook on my computer.  It means I'm a bit behind in reading up on what's going on in some of the groups I like, but I can usually catch up fairly quickly.

    As a bonus, without Facebook on my phone, I'm still using my downtime, but now for dealing with email and catching up on blogs through Feedly.  In addition to following my friends' blogs, I follow some about photography, some about cooking, some about mothering, and some about the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I learn a lot from reading.
  • I'm also finding that the alarm function in my phone is both liberating and wonderful.  I have regular alarms that remind me when to pick up my daughter from preschool, when to take my daughter to violin lessons, and when the twins need to go to cross country.  But I've also set up alarms to remind me about things I was forgetting.  I've recently needed to take iron supplements and vitamins, but I can't take them in the morning because they can't be taken at the same time as my thyroid medication. So, until I get in the habit, I've set my alarm to go off at lunch time every day to remind me to take them.  I've also set an alarm to go off twice a week to remind me to check my children's grades and assignments online to make sure they are turning them in.
  • Another scheduling item that has made my life easier is a healthy use of Google Calendar for recurring events.  This summer, for instance, we had one morning a week to tackle a house project, so I put that into the calendar, along with the days we would be swimming and the day we would be working in the yard.  Last spring, we got into the habit of checking our calendar every morning after scriptures, and having those things on the calendar just helped make it easier to keep our schedule.
  • This fall, I added into the calendar things both things I plan to do each weekday morning (inbox and projects Mondays, blogging Tuesdays, groceries and errands on Wednesdays, etc.), as well as activities and events I would like to do if there is time, like the most interesting and convenient classes at the rec center.  For example, I put in the Monday night 9:00 Power Yoga class.  I know I won't be able to go every week, but the reminder that it is an option is going to be wonderful.  I went last night and I loved it.  I'd forgotten how much I love yoga and how amazing and relaxed I feel after doing it.    

I'm sure there are plenty more examples I could list, but I'd love to hear from you, dear reader.  What are the things in your life that are like putting on your shoes?  What habits have you changed in your life?  How have you changed your environment to change your life?

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