Habit: The Household Wonder Worker

Tap the Power of Habit

Imagine the television pitch:

"Special offer! Not sold in stores! The amazing Household Wonder Worker will take your house from chaos to castle in only 21 days. It'll speed your cleaning, calm your chaos and cut your clutter. Don't wait! Get it today--and put our 21-day Household Wonder Worker to work for you!"

You say you have the phone in one hand and a credit card in the other? Sounds that good, does it?

Sorry, television viewers. Yes, the Amazing Household Wonder Worker is the most powerful secret weapon in the war against disorganization and clutter--but you can't buy it, not in stores, or anywhere. 

You have to build your own, but it's free for the making.

Put it to work for you, and it'll lead you, step-by-step, out of the darkness of disorganization and into the light.

The Amazing Household Wonder Worker? Habit.

Let the Force Be With You

Such a small word for such a powerful force. "Habit" seems mild, benign--fussy, even. Yet a habit works like a snowball, perched at the top of a snow-covered mountain. It takes a tiny little effort to push the snowball over the edge, but look out! By the time it reaches the bottom, that little habit has the momentum and effect of an avalanche.

So, too, with the habits we build into our lives. Tiny little changes, unnoticed in themselves, have a momentous effect on our house, our family, our lives.

What's the secret? Momentum. It takes energy and thought to form a good habit, much like it takes energy and intention to push that little snowball over the edge. Once in place, however, a habit gains in strength and effect with each repetition, building all the power of an avalanche behind it. Put a platoon of good habits to work for you, and you'll triumph in the war against chaos and disorganization.

Anatomy of a Habit

Not that habits are mysterious things. We all have a brace of them, for good or bad. Does each day begin with two cups of coffee and the newspaper? Habit! Are you accustomed to fueling weekly grocery shopping trips with a maple bar from the supermarket bakery? Habit! Do you always place your handbag on the floor of the car, behind the driver's seat? There's that habit again!

If habits are familiar creatures, why are they so very difficult to start--or to change? Go back to that snowball. Yes, it's a bit of a nuisance to make it, isn't it? You have to get your hands wet and cold and numb, and pack the snow tightly. You must perch the snowball on it's ledge just so, and then give the silly thing a push. Once you do, though, look out!

The analogy explains why good habits can be so difficult to start, and bad habits so difficult to end. Setting up good habits means creating conscious, intentional change. Ending bad ones means countering the tremendous, built-up force of a thousand repetitions.

Make a Habit to Stop a Habit

How do you form a good habit? The concept is simple: decide what you want to do, and do it each day for 21 days.

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[To this writer's knowledge, the 21-day time period first appeared in pop psychology via Dr. Maxwell Maltz, author of The Power of Psychocybernetics. A plastic surgeon, Dr. Maltz noticed that it took 21 days for amputees to cease feeling phantom sensations in the amputated limb. From that somewhat obscure beginning, the 21-day phenomenon has evolved into a staple of self-change literature. Something of a habit, you might say.]

If the idea is simple, the devil is in the details. Making a new habit is hard work! Each new habit--so simple, so sanguine--must turn aside the formidable energy of an entrenched old habit to survive.

Old habits are not so easily dislodged! In practical terms, fresh new habits must be tended carefully and guarded from intruders. During their infancy and youth, good habits can be extinguished by a single episode of "Mañana, mañana--I don't wanna!" You have to cherish the new, good habit and fight the old bad one at the same time.

On the Trail of Good Habits

If you're ready to put the power of habit to work for you, try these strategies for organized success:

  • Go slow! Remembering the power of a mature habit will help keep you from the first and biggest mistake: biting off more than you can chew, habit-wise. Remind yourself that you're building a powerful friend. It's better to build a single helpful habit than try for a total overhaul of life--and fail.
  • One thing at a time! Changing a habit takes undivided energy and commitment, so tackle habits one at a time. Only after you've established a new habit should you move on to another. Take heart, though. With 52 weeks in each year, you can build 17 new habits and still take two weeks vacation before the year's end!
  • Hitch your habit to a star! A new habit stands a better chance of survival if it has a friend. Think of a current habit as a locomotive engine, and add the new one to the train. Do you put your toddler down for a nap at 2 p.m. each day? That's a perfect "prompt" to build your new habit--30 minutes of daily inspirational reading--into your schedule at 2:05 p.m. When it comes to habits, remember the lesson of the Little Engine That Could and hitch your habit to a star. "I think I can, I think I can" will soon become "I knew I could!"
  • Seek out support! When it comes to building habits, a support network is worth a thousand words. Trade "nags" with a friend: you hold her accountable, she holds you accountable as you work on new habits together. Look for online "habit buddies" to conquer tough habits side-by-side. Include support people in the new habit itself, where possible. Have you decided to walk for 45 minutes each day? Walking with a neighbor or a spouse will double the motivation (and the fun!).

Habit is the one organizational tool that you don't need to buy--and it's the most powerful in any home manager's arsenal. Pump up your habits ... to get organized!