Habits as a Conduit for Change

by Noah Larsen

I've often thought that habits are the best mechanism for instituting change. Want to do something differently? Create a new habit or discard an old one and presto change-o, you're an entirely new person.

Being that this is something I've thought about in depth, I decided to put it into action. I was less interested in changing habits long-term and more interested in:

  1. seeing if I could get better at the act of changing habits.
  2. practicing discipline -- something I've often felt I wasn't very good at.

This idea isn't a new one. I'd first heard of it on a blog called Zen Habits. Leo Babauta decided to go without one thing each month for a year.

This was the initial plan until I had a conversation with Steve, who thought I was being overly negative by focusing only on removing something. So, I decided that I'd add one thing in addition to eliminating one. And thus, the game Plus/Minus was born.

For one month at a time, I've added these on a daily basis: 64oz of water, flossing, 1 hour research time, writing (1 micro story) and yoga.

I've taken away: Piping hot showers (terrible for skin if you're asking), TV, alcohol, video games and sweets/dessert.

I've done better at some changes than others, but have learned something from each of them. Nothing has really stuck wholesale, but each has altered my patterns moving forward. I still mostly floss, I drink more water, watch less TV and drink less alcohol.

Confidence in my ability to change has increased, as has using daily habits as a tool to promote change. In the past, I'd spend a lot of time figuring out how to change (read: procrastination). Now, I simply find a habit I can add or subtract to start me down the path.

In general, I try to keep Plus/Minus private but have been forced to tell people when not drinking, eating desserts or watching TV. I've been surprised by the reaction of many. Most everyone has been super interested with a few telling me they are going to try it themselves.

So, go ahead. Pick one thing you are leaving behind for a month and one thing you are going to pick up. See what it does for you.

p.s. my wife joined in on no-desserts, resulting in her decision that Plus/Minus is not for her. ;)