If you need encouragement to form a habit – of exercising, for example – here’s a simple technique that will help. It is based on the idea that it is helpful for the person to be able to SEE how she is doing.
“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”
– Jim Rohn
Step 1: Print out a free blank calendar, a month at a time, from one of many sites on the internet, for example by going to:
Step 2: Put the calendar up somewhere it is impossible to miss seeing it every day, e.g., on the bathroom mirror or on the fridge door
Step 3: Every time you do the desired activity, you mark the square for that date with a bold X, preferably in color in order to make it stand out.
Step 4: Seeing the number of days each week that are or are not marked with an X can be a powerful visual reinforcer of the desired activity.
1. You must commit to using the calendar for at least one month, irrespective of whether or not the activity is done
2. Do not do anything else with this calendar other than marking it with a simple X. Do not try to monitor more than one activity, do not add comments. The technique is effective in large part because of its simplicity. The visual impact is not as powerful if there is a lot written on the calendar.
3. There is an alternative way of using this method, which is to try to make unbroken “chains” of the marks. This approach was made famous by comedian Jerry Seinfeld who attributed his productivity at writing comedy to it. The idea is that when you do the desired behavior (in Seinfeld’s case it was to write jokes daily) for several days in a row, it forms a chain that you then don’t want to break.
While this is true, the flip side is that once the chain breaks, i.e., you miss doing the desired activity due to any reason, you may feel as if the entire process has failed. Rather than viewing occasional lapses as inevitable parts of the process of forming a habit that are not important in the long run, you may view the process in all-or-none terms. I prefer to encourage one or more of the following more adaptive viewpoints:
“Any X’s are better than none.”
“I met the minimum number of X’s per week or per month”
“I had more X’s this week than I had when I first started”
Copyright © 2016, Rajnish Mago, MD. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced in any form without express written permission.
Disclaimer: The information on this website is intended for general educational purposes only. It is NOT intended as a substitute for medical advice. Patients must ask the clinicians treating them, Dr. Mago or others, for advice specific to their situation.