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 2014: Use the internet mindfully

The Goal: Reduce mindless use of the refresh button and following of rabbit holes

The Plan:

1) Establish time limits on internet use (not before my morning walk and not after 9:00pm, and not during homeschool time)

2) Keep a log of what’s going on when I feel the urge to hit refresh.

August 2014: Exercise daily

The Goal: Feel healthier, happier, and more energetic; substitute a constructive habit (exercise) for a not-so-constructive one (mindless internet use).

The Plan:

1) Walk a minimum of 10,000 steps per day.

2) Do 30 minutes of resistance training each day.

3) Keep a log of my exercise and internet use.

September 2014: Reduce driving

The Goal: Reduce our regular driving by 20% and explore car-free travel options to reduce our driving mileage even more in the future.

The Plan:

1) Drive 785 miles or less for the month.

2) Experiment with car-free travel options to local destinations.

October 2014: Sleep More

The Goal: See what it feels like to get adequate sleep (and see how much sleep might qualify as “adequate”); adopt regular bedtime and wake-up time.

The Plan:

1) Get to bed in time to sleep an average of eight hours a night every night.

2) Avoid screens for at least one hour before bedtime.

3) Avoid eating after 7:00pm.

November 2014: Meditate daily

The Goal: To establish a daily meditation practice, and see how that affects my sleep, energy levels, and mood.

The Plan:

1) Meditate for ten minutes a day.

December 2014: Establish daily reading time

The Goal: To re-prioritize one of my favorite pastimes in order to bring more joy to my days and to experience the benefits of “flow.”

The Plan:

1) Read for thirty minutes a day.

January 2015: Establish a daily writing practice

The Goal: Get into the habit of writing every day.

The Plan:

1) Write a little something every day.

February 2015: Implement FlyLady routines

The Goal: Use routines to keep a tidy house without spending all day keeping house.

The Plan:

1) Do daily FlyLady routines more regularly, particularly bathroom swish-and-swipe and morning and bedtime routines.

2) Streamline my weekly cleaning.

3) Add in 15 minutes a day of zone decluttering/detail cleaning.

March 2015: Reduce yelling and swearing

The Goal: Try to stop blowing up at my kids and husband and try to curb my potty-mouth.

The Plan:

1) Continue bringing awareness to my moods before I lose it through mindfulness and lovingkindness practices.

2) Sign up for Gretchen Rubin’s 21 Day Project “Quit Yelling At My Kids”

And now that the experiment is over, here’s the

Habit Experiment Wrap-Up

Each month, I will focus on the new task for that month as well as the task from the month before. This way, I can focus on a particular task for two months, but still feel like I’m moving forward with the challenge by adding a new task the first of each month.

I’ve tried to set myself up for success by arranging the schedule so that I intersperse tasks that will free up time (like reducing mindless internet use) with tasks that use time (like sleeping). I also tried to lead up to more challenging habits. For example, sleeping more is preceded by limits on my nighttime internet use and increased exercise, both of which are things that can help improve sleep quality.

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 keep track of my waist and hip measurements because it’s possible that after I implement 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.

To let you know how I’m doing (and to keep track of it myself), I’ll post periodic progress reports throughout the month, and a wrap-up at the end of each month.

(UPDATE: I’ve stopped tracking all of these except weight, not because I don’t think they’re good endpoints, just because I don’t really feel like tracking them. Also, I never did figure out a good way to rate my eczema symptoms and the kids always need me to do something for them while I’m doing the crossword, which skews my time.)

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.

10 Replies to “The Habit Experiment”

  1. Hey there! I just found your blog via a very specifically worded google search. I was planning on doing the exact same thing, starting in a couple days. My inspiration is also Charles Duhigg and Gretchen Rubin. I’d love to know how the year went for you! I always get nervous about starting extensive projects because I have a history of quitting.


  2. This is a very detailed plan for your experiment. And I’m loving it! 🙂 Maybe I could develop a plan like yours, too! 🙂


    1. Thanks, Lucentjypsee! I’m not sure my experiment is yielding the results I expected, but it’s been educational so far. If you decide to set up your own plan, there are several great sources to get you started, like Gretchen Rubin’s website and her book Better Than Before (due out March 2015, I think), Leo Babauta’s blog Zen Habits, and Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. Habits seem pretty “hot” right now, so there are a lot of opinions swimming around about the best way to develop habits.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve visited Leo’s Zen Habits and it enlightened me about developing habits. I would definitely check out the other two! Thanks!


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