12 Ways to help you (and me) make changes

The pandemic has shown us, on a massive scale, how difficult it can be to make changes. When we want to change our behavior, it can be difficult, after all, there was usually a good reason, a positive coping mechanism, that led to the behaviors and  habits we have now. But as we solve one issue with a habit,  or as our situation changes, we may find that what we are doing is not in our best interest.  I set out to learn what makes change easier. Kathy Milkman had some answers. Here are 12 of them.


1.  Pick a special day to start

Pick a meaningful date to start the change that you want – That’s why New Years or Mondays are often picked for change kick-starters.  To make it more memorable be creative:  Your dog’s birthday, April Fool’s Day, the first full moon! 

During the pandemic, a became more lackadaisical about housecleaning, especially the kitchen. I’ll mop “tomorrow” or as soon as my shoes stick to the floor . . . I picked the second Thursday of the month to clean, even if it’s not dirty. I live alone and a month of dust seems reasonable.


2.  Make the change fun or entertaining

There’s more than one way to exercise, learn to salsa, join a soccer team, march while playing the flute. Instead of weights – lift cans of popcorn or hoe a garden.   Even if it takes a bit more effort or time, you are making a long term change, so make it as fun, pleasant, easy and likely to be actually done. 

Did I mention I hate doing housework?  I bought some “tool-toys” – a scrub brush that rotates and a sponge with a happy face.  Admittedly, watching someone else clean would be more entertaining.


Green beans a la mode:

3. Pair the new activity, with something you like.

If you limit the paired activity to when you are doing the new activity you want to have, it makes it even stronger. Say you love romance novels. Reading them on the treadmill makes exercise more enticing.  

What works best for me  is to pair housework with music. I dance as I scrub with my rotating brush and clean the kitchen with my happy face sponge. Pairing cleaning with dance and my trusty tool-toys is sometimes even fun . . . sometimes.


4. Turn it into a game, with an opponent and scoring system.

Make it a game, set small goals and create gaming features such as  scoring points, symbolic rewards, enemies, obstacles to overcome, allies who help you. You can also compete with yourself. Click here for more on turning a goal into a  game: our post “The Game That Can Give You 10 Extra Years of Life”

I cleaned the kitchen in 30 minutes, next time I will try for 20.  I’m thinking if I only eat take-out I can get my time down to 3 minutes and a gold metal.  SCORE!


5. Identify obstacles you are likely to encounter and pre-plan to work around them.

Identify what might stop you from making the change that you want.  It’s easy to INTEND to change  but things come up that get in our way.  Thinking ahead about possible obstacles or temptations helps plan around them.

Did I mention I REALLY dislike to do housework?  Well I do.  One of the obstacles I have identified is playing Sudoku on my computer instead of cleaning.   I’ve decided I won’t recharge any of my electronic devices, as I usually do, the night before my 2nd Thursday of the month cleaning day.  I wonder if there are paperback Sudoku books . . .


6. Make it flexible, to stay on track if time or place changes

Create a flexible schedule for your new activity to develop a more robust habit.  Plan on strategies for possible location or time changes so you can sustain your new behavior when important events come up.

If something IMPORTANT comes up on my the 2nd Thursday of the month cleaning day I still need to clean so I don’t get ptomaine poisoning.  I hereby designate the 3rd Wednesday of the month as my alternate cleaning day (thought I’d shake it up with a Wednesday . . . ).


7.  Track your progress 

Keep track of your progress. Tracking lets you know when you did well, so you can feel good, it helps avoid forgetting, and you notice if you did not do well. A miss here and there is not a problem, (several in a row might be). 

I’m tracking my cleaning on a calendar that I made for Zazzle.  So far it’s working because I am pairing the pride I feel about making the calendar with the pride of sticking to a  2nd Thursday cleaning schedule. See #3!  Click here for my calendar.


8. Link a new habit to a habit you already have.

 Link a new habit to an old habit. . . such as adding flossing to teeth brushing, or adding some fruit to your morning coffee routine. This will make the change easier to remember and easier to become a habit.

Since I’m in the habit of eating every day . . . maybe I’ll clean the kitchen before I sit down to eat instead of waiting till my shoes stick to the floor.


9. Expect to fail some of the time.

If you expect to make the change perfectly and then go off your diet or forget to floss, you will think you can’t change, and give up. Failing or missteps are part of the process. Even scientists who literally “shoot for the moon”  with rockets have to make corrections along the way.

I expect to become a world class Sudoku player and expect it will be at the expense of a clean house.


10. Set mini goals.

Set mini goals. Start with one small step that you can see yourself doing—and then continue  to add  more small goals. When I started hiking for exercise, I would give myself a goal:  I will hike 10 minutes out, 10 minutes back. If  I thought I could do more, I could go a little further, or add more time to my goal next time I hiked.

Not sure this will work with cleaning my house because I like to hike.  Maybe 10 minutes of cleaning and 10 minutes of Sudoku . . . 


11. Copy others who do what you want to do.

“Copy and paste” the ideas and methods of other people  who have made the changes you want to make.  Identify the specific ideas they use and the ones that fit your lifestyle and try them out.

I googled Oprah because she owns several houses.  She must hate housecleaning too because I could not find it on her annual list of “favorite things”.   


12.  Reward Yourself

Give yourself rewards. Even symbolic rewards like the gold stars stickers teachers give kids have power. You can also save treats, like watching TV or something good to eat.

Now that I’ve salsa danced while scrubbing the tile with my rotating brush, linked cleaning with breakfast, lunch and dinner, tracked my progress on my calendar, I think I will reward myself with a cleaning crew and of course calendar them in for the 2nd Thursday of every month. 

Here is to making change fun!


Adapted from “How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be” by Katy Milkman