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

Imagine How to Accomplish What you Want

 Are you up a tree? Procrastinating, fearful, not sure where to begin?

You know how to make changes because your brain has continually accommodated,  integrated and assimilated changes your entire life, whether you meant to or not.


Up a Tree, by Peggy

The science 

When we experience something especially significant or meaningful, our brains store the memory for easy access.  The research was originally based on Post Traumatic Stress where people have flashbacks and vividly recall the sights, sounds, smells, feelings and thoughts they had during an actual traumatic event. 

Our brains are wired to make strong, retrievable memories when strong emotion is involved. Fortunately,  you can use this ability to go back in time and access again the thoughts, feelings and information you experienced when things went well.

Your brain can’t tell the difference between the actual event and the re-imagined event, thoughts and feelings.  When you assess those thoughts and feelings and imagine them in a new situation the brain stores that as a memory as if it happened, creating resources, stored in your brain, to make a change or accomplish something new.

Here’s an easy jump-start for you to regain or access the positive thoughts & feelings you already have stored in your brain to achieve something that you perhaps have avoided or don’t know how to accomplish.

Quickly fill out this form to help you find the resources you already have.

The change or achievement I want to accomplish is _______________________________________________________

The resources or abilities I need are ______________________________________

Think about a past time(s) when you had those resources or abilities (here’s some prompts)
Felt confident/assured/positive
Been assertive
Taken a risk
Made a new friend
Started a new job or class
Made a good decision
Organized your thoughts, your room, your files, your day
Done something you were a bit afraid or reluctant to do
Made others laugh/taken things “lightly”
Passed a test (physical/emotional/intellectual)
Started and finished a project
Confronted someone
Asked for and gotten help
Been motivated to do something hard
Motivated someone else
Been kind/forgiving
Been self-assured/positive/determined 

Based on my memory of past times the resources or abilities I already posses are___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

1. Using your mind’s eye remember the time you used a resource as vividly and specifically as you can.  How did you look : What were you wearing? Where were you? standing? sitting?

  • How did you move?
  • What was your tone of voice?
  • What did you feel?
  • What did you think?
  • What did you say to yourself about what you were doing?
  • What were you seeing?

2.  Now, take that image/sense of yourself and apply it to yourself in the present.  See or sense yourself with those qualities moving ahead with the change/accomplishment you chose.

3. If (or when) you get stuck it’s not an issue.  Simply recruit your memory  of the qualities/abilities/resources you’ve used in past experiences again and re-apply them to your current circumstance.  

Now, go out on a limb and take the first step.


Switch, How to change Things When Change is Hard, Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Frogs Into Princes, Richard Bandler