Habits – 21 Completions to change a bad organizing habit
We are all creatures of habit. Without realizing it we stick to our routines, even counterproductive ones. Take time to become aware of your routines. Are they working for you? If not, develop new routines to fit your current life.
Overcoming the habits that don’t serve us requires practice, and 21 successful completions of a new behavior to override the old one. That means your laundry piles on the floor because you decided at least 21 times that leaving it was a better idea than putting it in the hamper.
Habits have mental and physical components. Mentally, you decide on a new behavior. Physically, you must do the new behavior to count it as a completion. Continue practicing the new way until it’s been physically done 21 times. At this point it become a “no-brainer” routine.
People often try a new organizing idea 2 or 3 times, but decide it doesn’t work the first time they forget. Then they give up entirely. A better way is to remind yourself that you are learning something new. Say, “I will do it right the next time,” then correct the physical motion. In other words, when you finally find the keys on the day you forget that you decided to keep them on a hook next to the door, go ahead and place them on the hook. Remind yourself that keys go on the hook, and then take them on the way out the door.
By thinking through a task’s steps, you can find ways to improve the system. Laundry is done when the folded clothes are replaced in the closet, not when folded piles linger on the couch. Successfully practice this 21 times and you will save time refolding because you knocked over a pile while looking for the television remote.
This article originally appeared in Sage, September 2008.