Trigger Happy! More on Healthy Habit Automation

photo: wikipedia

Regular readers may recall that I've recently begun experimenting with healthy habit "triggers."

What I mean by that is: I've been trying to create simple pairings between external stimuli and desired actions that will eventually, I hope, become so automatic that I don't even have to think about them. Sort of like the way I say "Yes please!" whenever I hear the trigger "would you like another piece of cake, Crabby?"

Only, um, perhaps a little healthier than that.

Well, the experiment continues, employing a brand new sneaky method that I stole from a clever reader who suggested it in the last post.  Wanna hear an update?


But first...

Brief Trigger recap:

My goal is to initiate only one or two fairly simple positive habits per month, triggered by an everyday object or occurrence. And then keep adding on month by month until my life is a veritable freakin' carnival of effortless healthy habits! Because let's face it, the whole "effort" and "willpower" thing? Best avoided if at all possible.

Last month, remember what I worked on?


Yep--Taking the stairs two at a time.  Everytime I see a set of stairs, which is a daily occurrence because I live with them on both coasts, I try to remember to ascend two at at time and get a little extra leg work.

So how well is that trigger working out going into the second month?


Actually, the remembering part is going great. It's the execution part that's proving problematic.

Sigh. I seem to have fucked up my knee (again).

This is causing me both minor physical pain and major psychological distress. Going up stairs even one at a time can now hurt my right knee. Unfortunately, running, and even my go-to aerobic fallback, the elliptical, are also causing problems. Gahhhhhhh!!!!

This will most likely be the subject of a long whiny post in the future, especially if it doesn't get better soon, but for now I am avoiding anything that hurts more than a little, and stretching and strengthening the bodily parts I'm thinking could benefit from that, and I've resolved to seek medical advice when we shift coasts in (OMG) about a week and a half.

But, here's the thing: I have not stopped going up the stairs two at a time!  Because I am an imbecile really don't want to lose the habit and ruin my shiny new experiment so early in the game.

I have discovered, though, that I can do two steps at a time repeatedly with my left leg for a while, and then cautiously sneak in two with my right without pain. But only if I am very, very careful about how I line up over my feet and make sure to push hard with my glutes and not swing my left leg forward to the next step. Modifying my movements and paying such careful attention to biomechanics may actually be helping! Or maybe not, but at least it's keeping the habit going without totally trashing my knee.

So Next Up: A "Manufactured" Trigger!

For this month's habit, I stole an idea from Death Ride Grandma in the comments to the last healthy habit trigger post.

It's the notion that you can engineer your daily environment to provide helpful triggers for good behavior that you keep forgetting.

Like DRG, stretching is something I need help remembering to do.  One trigger I'd tried to set up before, but kept forgetting to do, was to do a particular hip stretch whenever I floss my teeth.

photo: wikipedia

No, not that kind of hip stretch.

It's a piriformis stretch in which you put a bent leg on a countertop and lean in. (I won't steal the drawing, but if you need a countertop tooth-flossing stretch, just click on the link and scroll down a bit).

Anyway, it pairs perfectly with flossing!  My upper body is busy, but my legs are hanging out right next to the counter which they could be taking advantage of.  Right leg goes with upper teeth, then left leg with lower teeth, and voila, multi-tasking!  But like I said, I kept forgetting.

So what's the sneaky trick?  Now I have started "hiding" the dental floss.



Yep, it now lives in a drawer wrapped in a washcloth.


Hi there, dental floss!

(Actually it's dental tape, which is harder to find but is thicker and is much more satisfying to work with than the skinny regular floss.  But I digress).

Why a washcloth?

Because when I do the countertop stretch, I don't like my ankle bone resting uncomfortably on the uba tuba. ("Uba Tuba" is just one of the cheaper and more common granite countertop options but it's awfully fun to say, isn't it? Uba Tuba! Uba Tuba! Uba Tuba!)

But yeah, uba tuba is a hard ouchy surface, so I generally employ a wash cloth as an ankle cushion.


So when I go to floss my teeth and can't find the dental tape for a moment and then come across the washcloth?  It reminds me to do the stretch.

Progress so far: Since initiating the hide-the-floss maneuver over the last few weeks, my daily piriformis stretching compliance has gone from about 8% to 100%!

Do you guys ever manufacture triggers or would you consider it? Or is this all crazy talk?

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