The Power of Habits

When I got my first apartment after I finished graduate school, I learned an important lesson about the power of habits.

Several times during the first few weeks, I left my apartment and started my 3-block walk to the subway, only to stop in fear that I had not locked my door.  I would return to the apartment and discover that I had indeed locked the door — I just couldn’t remember doing it.

Eventually, I trusted that if I left the house with my keys in my hand, I was going to automatically lock the door, so I should stop worrying about it. 

There are certain actions that we do throughout the day that require very little brainpower and happen on auto-pilot.  (Brushing your teeth, for example.)  That’s a good thing, since we need our brains for a lot of other more complicated activity.

So how can we use this phenomenon to help us get — and stay — organized?   Identify a behavior that you want to change, work on making it a habit, and then you can coast along on auto-pilot.

Here’s an example.  Suppose you always misplace your keys and end up being late every day because you are looking for them.   Set up a place near your entryway and make that your key place.  It could be a drawer, or a bowl on a shelf, or a hook in the closet.  Put up a sign on the back of your door that says “Put your keys away!”  You’ll see that every day, and you will start putting your keys in their designated place.  In a couple of weeks, you’ll start doing it without having to look at the sign.  Once it becomes a habit, take down the sign, and start working on a new habit.

I recommend that you work on only one new habit at a time.  The more complex the behavior change, the long it will take for it to become a habit.  But don’t give up! 

Try it and let me know how it goes.

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