Want to Form Healthier Habits? Start Pairing Tasks.
Have you ever noticed how it is so much easier to get your house in order when you’ve got company coming over? Or you can stay awake for yet another episode of The Crown but trying to clean out that inbox causes your eyes to glaze over and lids to fall shut? Why is it easier to commit to a organizing that closet next weekend but not today or even this week?
We all have those tasks on our to do lists that we know need to get done, that are important, helpful, ambitious, etc but just not.getting.done. They are not fun. They keep reappearing each day or week and waving at us like, “Hi! Remember me?”
Here is my best tip for motivating you to get the not so fun stuff done that you need to do. I’m talking about folding laundry, going through mail, paying bills, exercising (although that can be fun), and emptying the dishwasher. I’m also talking about the habits that you mean to adopt but are always forgetting like taking your vitamins or drinking enough water. These are all tasks that you need to do but nobody is giving out medals for completion. There aren’t even participation trophies for finally finishing those 60 ounces of water.
“The task that can be done at anytime is done at no time.”
The Theory Behind Pairing Tasks
A lot of you know I am a huge fan of Gretchen Rubin and she talks about the strategy of pairing as a method for strengthening habits in her book Better Than Before. You pair an unpleasant or forgettable task with something rewarding or fun or even regular to help you remember that you only do at that particular time. It’s similar to rewarding yourself but with a more healthful outcome. A reward signifies a special treat that should be reserved for occasional feats and struggles like running a marathon or completing War and Peace.
Pairing is linking a task that needs to be completed with another activity. This way you do the “un-fun” task in conjunction with something else that makes it more fun or consistent. Eventually, they become paired and you don’t think about it anymore. It becomes a habit.
Examples of Pairing Tasks
This strategy enormously helpful by providing motivation and self reliance. It’s a way of reframing the task from something dreadful to something pleasant that you know you will do. Here are some examples:
- Watching a favorite TV show/ listening to a podcast ONLY when you are exercising or folding laundry
- Cleaning your car ALWAYS when you fill it with gas
- Drinking your favorite coffee or tea ONLY after you’ve gone through mail or paid your bills
- Reading your favorite blogs ONLY after you’ve completed a specific (read: dreaded) task
- Eating your favorite dessert ONLY if you’ve made it
- Taking vitamins BEFORE you brush your teeth
When you pair the negative with the positive you also designate a specific time for completing a task. The task that can be done at anytime is done at no time. You always postpone until you think it will feel fun or you’re inspired. Well, folding laundry or paying bills will never feel fun or inspiring on its own. You’ve got to pair it with something that you enjoy so that it gets done.
You need to create action-oriented reminders for yourself when adopting new habits because they’re not automatic yet. Tasks like taking vitamins or drinking enough water need a trigger to remind you to do it. You’re not leaving your house without brushing your teeth so pair taking your vitamins BEFORE brushing to get it done. When you get up to walk around, drink a glass of water while you’re at it.
Pair a daunting task or a new habit with one that you’re already doing and see if it doesn’t help you be consistent. The beauty of this is that it won’t even feel like you’re doing anything if you’re doing it right.