How to Break Old Habits and Adopt an Organized Lifestyle

How to Break Old Habits and Adopt an Organized Lifestyle

Now the holidays are over, and the New Year’s resolutions are kicking in, it’s time to think about sustainability. Whether you are resolved to eat healthier this year, get organized, exercise more, or even learn a new instrument, you’ll have to think long and hard about how you’ll accomplish your by-the-end-of-the-year goals. The good thing is you’re not alone. Gaining traction on your New Year’s resolution is a matter of forming a new habit. So it’s important to understand how habits work.

Habits are like Cycles

In an interview with NPR, Charles Duhigg discusses his book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business. Everything we’ve made into a routine, from exercising to cooking, from brushing teeth to cleaning laundry, begins with the same “psychological pattern.” This is called a “habit loop.” It’s really simple, actually: every habit begins with a cue, proceeds by routine, and ends with a reward. That’s it!

Let’s look a little closer. A habit begins with “a cue, or trigger, that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and let a behavior unfold.” Then the routine occurs, which is the behavior itself, or the habit. Lastly, the reward is “something that your brain likes that helps it remember the ‘habit loop’ in the future.”

The interesting thing is habits are formed in the part of the brain that has a major influence on “emotions, memories and pattern recognition.” It’s called the basal ganglia. Why is this interesting? Because it’s a separate from the region of the brain responsible for decision making – the prefrontal cortex. And, as a result, when automation kicks in, when habit loops initiate, the prefrontal cortex goes into hibernation.

This is readily available knowledge, at least by quick reference to experience. Think about how difficult the very basics of reading and math once were. We learned by rote memory, by memorizing the alphabet and times tables, and this period of learning required intense concentration. But after a while these things became second nature. It’s because, like any other habit, our focus, determination, and persistence eventually formed habit loops.

Lessons from in the Loop

Because all habits begin with a cue and end with a reward, it’s important, especially if you have big plans for your health this year – to exercise three or four times a week, to cut out sugar from your diet, etc. – to figure out some sort of consistent pattern to follow when you eat, go to the gym, or whatever you may do.

Maybe before a trip to the gym you listen to music you really like as you prepare, and afterwards you treat yourself to some yogurt. When some people crave a sweet snack, they cut up some apples and eat those as substitutes instead.

With new habits, especially healthy habits, old habits are broken. And this means the power of the reward system established by the old habit loop becomes more and more powerless. As you exercise more, your desire to lay around all day will weaken. And as you stay away from sugar, your cravings will diminish.

For more information on habits and the science behind them, you might also be interested in Scientific American’s podcast episode where Dr. Art Markman discusses things like “How to know you have a habit,” “How to work in league with your psychology to from new habits,” and “How we are more likely to succeed when we view failure as part of the process.”

Conclusion

But, most importantly, remember that habits are like cycles: as you reinforce them, they eventually become as automatic and predictable as the sunrise in the morning. Don’t be discouraged by failure. Every mistake is an opportunity to learn, an opportunity to change, and an opportunity to become better at what you are trying to do.

How to Organize for a Clean Garage

How to Organize for a Clean Garage

Nobody knows exactly why or how the garage gets cluttered. It just does. Right? And during the holiday season, with the kids on college break, and the presents that must be stored until the last minute, the garage can be especially packed. Perhaps moving everything from the now spare bedroom into the garage was a great idea, but is it a good idea to move it all back?

It’s the beginning of a new year, and that means it’s time to make changes. Follow these tips to declutter your garage.

Where to Begin

Shivani K, writing for the renown organizing website Unclutter.com, mentions that 57% of two-car garages either only have enough space for one car or do not have enough space for any car. That’s astonishing in and of itself. But she also gives tips on how to declutter your garage.

Of course, this will be a huge task, no matter when you choose to do it. A garage is made to store a car, if not the tools to work on it, a work bench, etc. So you’re at least dealing with the storage capacity of a very large room. The garage is typically used as a middle-way point: between wanting and not wanting, between decision and indecision. Should you keep that mammoth $15 roll of wires you bought at a garage sale twenty years ago because you might use it one day? Is twenty years in the garage enough time to override the just-in-case?

Begin decluttering by pulling everything out of the garage. This is no easy task, to be sure. But it is the easiest and quickest way to determine what you have and plan where everything should be stored. Shivani recommends creating four groups for all your items: Keep, Donate, Sell, Recycle/Toss.

Don’t hold on to anything simply because you don’t want to lose money on it. Think of it this way: you paid for it to take up space in your garage. Whether you throw it away now, or never use it, you’ll lose money on it either way. And nowadays, more platforms for selling your things are available than ever before: from Facebook to Amazon, from eBay to Craigslist. Be sure to learn about listing costs and/or associated fees these services charge before you choose one.

Where to End

Commence organization! A helpful way to organize is by category or use. Tools obviously should go together. But long and short term storage should not. Make one more accessible than the other. Build shelves or hang hooks for larger items.

But most of all, never use your garage space as a way to live indecisively. Be purposeful about what you place in the garage. Only store things you know you will use (not might use), and only bring into the garage what will add to its value or utility.