“What is right is often forgotten by what is convenient.”
Although this may seem to be common sense, we can use convenience to help us cultivate and maintain good habits. What we do is greatly influenced by how convenient something is. Is the gym or yoga class nearby? Is the closest place to grab a quick lunch McDonalds?
My work schedule is flexible and extremely variable from week to week and day to day. I don’t have a predictable schedule of being in an office from 9-5. I’m extremely grateful for this, but the lack of predictability in my days mean that I’m often eating on the run, or grabbing something quickly to eat. I realized my tendency to grab whatever was quick and easy. And my working from home often became a crutch to NOT plan in advance, thinking I’d be at home and able to prepare healthy meals.
Truth is, on more occasions than I’d care to admit, I’ve heated up a frozen cheeseburger, Hot Pocket, or just ate a bowl of cereal for lunch. This is not good when trying to maintain a healthy way of eating. So I began using convenience to help me keep on track with my eating. On the weekends, I try to prepare ready made breakfasts for the week. For example, I make a tray of mini frittatas that last me all week. So, at least I start the day with a healthy, filling breakfast. These usually keep me satisfied for a while.
I use the strategy of scheduling to plan my meals and the ingredients I need every Sunday. Last week it was Italian Sausage and bell peppers, this week it’ll be bacon, red peppers, and parmesan cheese. I set aside time on Sundays to plan out my meals and go grocery shopping. That way, I’m not scrambling in the evenings after my kids’ practices, spending money on convenient, but unhealthy takeout.
Here’s another tactic I’m using. I buy the large package of plain whole almonds from Costco and individually portion them out. That way, when I leave the house to run my kids around, I grab a small prepared ziploc bag and head out the door. If it weren’t convenient, I’d look around for something already pre-packaged (Oreos? Cheese and Crackers?) to bring along.
How can we make filing our mail into a regular habit? Our mail would pile up on our kitchen counter. Embarrassingly, as I was going through my mail late in the year, I found mail from the summer in the pile. I knew this had to change. I bought an upright plastic file caddy and a plastic letter size tray. I set them both on my shelf next to my desk. Using the strategy of scheduling (again), I set aside time every Monday to file the mail from the week. I put mail to be filed in the upright caddy and items to be shredded in the paper tray. Then, I do it every Monday. Because it’s being done regularly, it takes only a few minutes to keep up with the mail!
I’m still working on making exercise convenient. For now, I’ve put my workout DVDs front and center in our TV cabinet with the laptop out and ready to roll. It’s not worked consistently to date, but I’m working on it!
I have been the worst offender when it comes to losing track of all the gift cards and merchandise credits I’ve accumulated. So, I looked for some ideas, and ended up buying a “Card Caddy”. It was fairly inexpensive, served the purpose of keeping the cards and credits all in one tidy place, and comes in cute colors. (I bought mine in silver). It’s my new cue…when I’m heading out to the mall, I grab the card caddy and I know all my gift cards and credits are in there!
Using convenience to boost our productivity is a worthwhile strategy. But it’s opposite, inconvenience, can also be used effectively. Many of our bad habits are done impulsively, so we can control our impulsivity by making something inconvenient.
In the book “Better Than Before”, Gretchen Rubin outlines six ways to make an activity less convenient:
- Increase the amount of mental or physical energy involved in the activity. Buy one of those alarm clocks that move around so that it forces you to get out of bed, or leave the alarm clock on the other side of the room. Put tempting snacks away in a cabinet and wrap them up in something that takes a bit of effort to open.
- Hide the cues for the activity. Leave the cell phone off the table at dinner.
- Delay the activity. I’ve gotten into the habit of NOT checking my e-mails until after I’ve gone through my morning routine, and after I’ve dropped off my son at school.
- Engage in an incompatible activity. When the urge to snack hits, go outside to pet your dog.
- Raise the cost.
- Block it altogether.
Many people check Facebook or other social media constantly, which makes them less productive during the day. There are apps that you can use to block social media surfing, such as Self-Control, Freedom, Anti-Social, Focus, and Cold Turkey. I’ve not used any of these myself as I use the strategy of abstaining from social media. I’m rarely on Facebook or Instagram.
One of my biggest weaknesses is Amazon’s super easy checkout, so I’ve been signing out of the app to make it just a tad bit more difficult to buy things. I’ve been changing my passwords to online shopping sites (instead of using the same one for everything) to unique, long passwords, so that I’d need to physically look up the passwords to get logged in. Other people use only cash to buy.
Think about little ways that you can use convenience and inconvenience to help you change and reshape your habits!
Rubin, Gretchen. Better Than Before. Hodder, 2016.