Introducing: The Habit Experiment

I love routines. I thrive on routines. I could never leave the house without routines.

I also have a lot of trouble developing routines.

Every day, I think, “If only I could make X a habit*, things would be so much easier. I’d have less stress, more energy, and just in general feel happier and more relaxed.”

This is what I tell myself, but is it really true? I don’t know because the first hurdle on the road to habit acquisition is so high, I rarely actually follow through, and if I do, I don’t follow through well enough to form a habit.

So, I’ve decided to change that.

I’ve put together a list of nine tasks or sets of tasks I’d like to make into routines—or to break from being routines. I’ll tackle a new one each month for next nine months:

July: Use the internet mindfully

August: Exercise daily

September: Reduce driving

October: Adopt regular bedtime and wake-up time/Get adequate sleep

November: Meditate daily

December: Establish daily reading time

January: Establish a daily writing practice

February: Implement FlyLady routines

March: Reduce yelling and swearing

Each month, I will focus on the new task for that month as well as the task from the month before.

It’s possible that some of the later habits will happen organically, and if so, I’ll modify, rearrange, or remove them as necessary. I also have a couple of other habits I might add to the list, but I’m trying to start small (ish).

Each habit will come with its own metrics, and in addition, I’ll have metrics I’ll track throughout the project. These include:

  • weight
  • waist circumference
  • hip circumference
  • time to complete NY Times crossword puzzle
  • rating of eczema symptoms

These are variables I plan to track, not goals in themselves. the primary reason I want to engage in this project is to reduce stress, and each of these is a variable that stress can affect.

Stress seems to affect weight, so I’m to tracking weight to see if it changes as I implement my routines. I will also track my waist and hip measurements because it’s possible that after I add to my daily exercise, my weight will increase a bit as my muscle mass increases, so I want an additional data point to track. I could also keep a food log to see if my cravings change with my stress levels, but I’m not interested in the level of analysis that would require.

Stress can affect cognition, so I’m going to track how my performance on The New York Times crossword puzzle (comparing Mondays to Mondays, Tuesdays to Tuesdays, etc) and see if my time decreases or increases over the course of the project.

Stress might mess with immune function, cause chronic inflammation, and trigger or exacerbate eczema (and presumably other inflammatory symptoms), so I’m going to see how this one symptom does over the next several months.

So for July, I’ll focus on using the internet more mindfully. My goal is to reduce or eliminate compulsive checking of Facebook, WordPress, and e-mail, and resist the urge to follow every internet rabbit hole.

This will involve two components:

1. Restricting my internet usage to morning hours and evening hours for the completion of specific tasks. I will not use the internet before my morning walk, nor will I use it after 9:00pm unless I’m completing a specific, planned task (e.g., streaming a movie with my spouse).

2. Keeping a log of the times during the day when I feel a pull towards the computer for a non-planned usage of the internet (i.e., to hit refresh on Facebook, blog stats, or e-mail) noting what’s going on at the time and what I’m feeling at the moment. With the log I hope not only to break the compulsive element of the behavior but to determine what need drives the compulsion so I can perhaps address that need in another manner.

Starting tomorrow, July 1, I’ll focus on mindful online interactions. I’ll post periodic progress reports and then a wrap-up on August 31.

What habits do you want to develop in your own life? What do you hope to achieve through those habits?

*Although a habit and a routine are slightly different, I’m using the terms interchangeably.

9 Replies to “Introducing: The Habit Experiment”

  1. Metrics aside, for August, you may want to consider purchasing inexpensive bicycles for you and the family. I picked up bikes for my family of four about two months ago. The kids ride periodically (4 – 5 times a week) and my wife and I ride daily. It’s an easy habit to get into and unlike other exercise regimens, it is easy to do despite existing physical fitness.


    1. Good suggestion, Mark.

      We actually all have bikes (and a trailer for my son who’s still on his balance bike). My spouse bike commutes to/from work each day and the kids and I used to bike frequently when we lived out West, but the drivers in our current neck of the woods don’t have a lot of experience sharing the road with bicyclists, which makes it pretty unsafe to bike anywhere with my kids, especially now that my daughter has outgrown the trailer and transitioned to her own bike. But we do have a rail trail nearby, and as much as I dislike the idea of driving the bikes to the trailhead, it would certainly be a way to get us all more exercise.

      Thanks for the idea!


  2. loving the idea of setting out a task for each month. never thought of it and is a better structure than the normal chaotic everyday todo-list


  3. I like this idea. I really do think that you can make certain things habits, but there has to be some intrinsic joy that comes along with the action or the habit will not form. You also have to be willing to take the good days with the bad. Some days the habit will be pleasurable, but sometimes it will be a chore. Good luck with your endeavors. I can’t wait to read about them.


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