Join Gretchen Rubin for an in-depth discussion in this video Begin now, part of Gretchen Rubin on Creating Great Workplace Habits.
- Now a question that comes up all the time of course is okay, I want to start my good new habit, but when do I begin, where do I begin, how do I begin? Now the strategy of the clean slate is one of the best times to begin. And this is the strategy that takes advantage of the fact that whenever we have a major transition all our old habits are wiped away and so new habits can crowd in much more easily. Now this can be any kind of transition. It can be a transition in a relationship, like a marriage, a divorce, a new baby, a new puppy, a new boss.
It could be a transition of circumstance, a new job, a new city, a new school. And sometimes even the smallest transitions can end up wiping the slate clean in a way that allows us to form a new habit. Now the thing that's frustrating about the clean slate is it's not something that's available to us at all times. We have to be going through a transition. But we want to be very aware of when we're going, of how to take advantage of it, so that we don't let the opportunity slide. So for example, after I graduated from law school I was going to start a clerkship and I decided that I was going to go to the gym every morning before work and very smart, because I had not understood the power of the clean slate at this point, the very first week that I was on the new job I went to the gym before work.
Now it could have been very easy for me to say to myself something like, well it's really stressful and tiring to start a new job, so I'm going to let myself settle in for a week or two and then I'll start trying to go to the gym before work. Big mistake, because how we start is very much how we continue, and if I had had those first two weeks not going to the gym, that would have felt like the default. That would have felt like a normal day and getting up earlier and schlepping down there earlier and going to the gym before work would have felt like a major imposition, but because that's what I had done from the very first day, that seemed natural.
That seemed like my natural default day was to go to the gym and then go to work. So whenever you are going through a transition you want to start the way you want to begin. Just the way in college where you sat in class on the first day was probably the seat you sat in for the rest of the semester. You want to start as you want to continue. So I talked to someone who was a big workaholic and he said in my new job I'm going to absolutely, positively leave everyday by seven o'clock, except for the first couple weeks when I'm settling in where I think I'm going to stay a little bit later so that I can get used to everything.
And I said no, if you want your habit to be leaving at seven o'clock you've got to do that from the very first day. You've got to put that in at the beginning when it's the easiest to change a transition. Now in setting up these transitions can look very silly and might not even be recognized as transitions but they're still powerful. You always want to be on the lookout for a possible transition to use. I talked to a woman who said everyday on the way home from work I stop and get fast food. It's like my car has a mind of its own. I'm not even controlling the steering wheel, it's just pulling off to buy me this fast food.
I cannot help myself. But then she got a new car and she said it crossed her mind with this new car I'm not going to eat fast food in this new car and that was all the transition she made. So maybe you have a new boss and you might say to yourself you know what, I really had a bad habit of coming late to staff meetings, but with this new boss I'm going to be on time every single time. And that transition, that new person, that new atmosphere might help you keep a habit effortlessly, even something that had been a challenge to you before.
So you want to be on the lookout for those transitions, so you can use the strategy of the clean slate to your advantage. Now there's a lot of strategies that you can use to change your habits, but the most fun strategy and a strategy we should all be using all the time is the strategy of treats. Now the strategy of treats is that we should all load ourselves with healthy treats. And some people think that this sounds selfish or self-indulgent, but actually it's very important because when we want to keep ourselves keeping our good habits and when we want to keep ourself command high, which we really do.
You want to have a lot of self-command both at work and at home. It helps to give ourselves healthy treats. They did research where they gave people a treat in the form of a little gift or having them watch a funny video and people's self-command rose. We're like cellphones that need to get a charge and the way to get that charge, that way to make yourself feel energized and comforted is to give yourself a little treat. And you want to give yourself a healthy treat, you know? There are unhealthy treats, we all know them. Usually they are food and drink, shopping, or screen time.
They can be healthy treats for some people, but for many people they become unhealthy treats. But you don't want to do something to make yourself feel better that ends up making you feel worse. You don't want to eat a big plate of brownies thinking that it's going to make you feel better, when as soon as they're done you're filled with regret. So you want to have a long list of healthy treats and some adults don't have a good sense of what those treats are, so you want to think about what could be your treat. I mean it could be anything from crossword puzzles, going for a bike ride. I know a guy who would go to camping stores.
He doesn't even really like camping, he just likes camping stores. He likes the stuff, so he'd go to camping stores. Looking at travel brochures, looking at art books, spending time with your cat or your dog, it can be small things but it's whatever makes you feel like you're getting that charge, that you're plugging into that power source. That you're giving yourself that treat that's then going to make it easier to stick to your good habits. Because the fact is, when we give more to ourselves, it's easier to ask more from ourselves.
So the strategy of treats is the most fun way to help you keep your good habits.