The positive effects of being habitual

Jill and fitness instructor Brycie Arruda has been one of Jill's greatest encouragements.

Jill and fitness instructor Brycie Arruda has been one of Jill’s greatest encouragements.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know I’ve been reading Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin, which discusses the positive effects of being habitual. According to Rubin, it’s easier to develop good habits if you first understand your personal nature, or “tendency.” You can take her online quiz to uncover your tendency. My results identified me as a Rebel.

At Weight Watchers meetings, we often talk about the strategies we use to navigate challenging situations where we are tempted to eat “off plan.” Some examples might be a potluck dinner or eating out at a restaurant. What to do?

I am a plate clearer. If it’s on my plate, it’s going to be eaten. Therefore, when eating out, my personal rule of thumb is to not order anything that isn’t plan friendly because I know I will eat every last spec of food on my plate. I research menus online to determine ahead of time what I will order. If there is no online menu, or if it’s a last minute stop, I stick to broth based soups, lean meats (without any creamy sauces), and veggies (hold the butter). If I order a salad, I ask them to hold the croutons and go light on the cheese, and I always order my vinaigrette on the side.

Then I clean my plate.

Rewards: Good or Bad?

Rubin devotes an entire chapter to the good and bad of using rewards as a motivator. On the surface, rewarding yourself seems like a good idea. But rewarding yourself with a Blizzard from Dairy Queen after a workout probably isn’t a good idea, especially if you make it a habit. But, according to Rubin, it goes even deeper.

A reward can obstruct habit formation because it connects a desired activity with a sense of deprivation or suffering. Instead, she recommends intrinsic motivation. Because I am a Rebel, Rubin suggests I am intrinsically motivated by challenges – and she would be correct.

Example: I decided to start running in January of this year to aid in my weight loss, and to change things up a bit. I’d previously stuck to indoor cycling classes.) I decided to register for a 5K to keep me motivated and it worked. I ran 3 three times per week right up until my first 5K in March. Once I successfully completed that race, I registered for a 10K in May. Once I checked the 10K off of my list, I registered for 10 mile trail race in August. Yes, you could say I like challenges.

I still like to use the occasional extrinsic reward too, but I select them carefully. For instance, I love to help myself to the complimentary coffee at the gym after an early morning workout. The cinnamon flavored coffee tastes so good! I pour myself a cup on my way out the door and it’s such a treat! No sugary syrup, no whip. No harm done. Know thyself.

Jill Prouty

Jill is a reader, writer, and professional librarian who enjoys spending her free time with her husband of twelve years and their two sons. She has an MSLS from Clarion University of Pennsylvania and a BA from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.