Ideal Life Hack: Good Habits and Routines

In my Ideal Life Reel (here, here and here) today on the theme of Good Habits and Routines, I mentioned a productivity hack that I gleaned from the brilliant James Clear called the Paperclip Method. (That link will take you to his article about the method.)

I also mentioned my impending sense of doom about the end of the school year, and just how much the arrival of three people for the next two months is going to throw a wrench in all the good habits I have put in place during the course of this year.

You know that I don’t like surprises. I live for my framework and my guardrails. Although we will eventually get into a summer routine, there is going to be this nightmarish transition period during which I will: forget to transfer laundry to the washing machine, not get dinner ready before hanger (my own and that of my progeny) ruins the day and otherwise not keep up with the myriad little tasks that make up my day as a mom.

The Paperclip Hack

While there is no way but through this transition period, I am going to try to ease this transition for myself by finding one little tiny way to keep motivated, and it is inspired by James Clear and his Paperclip method. The materials required: a box of paperclips and a receptacle.

The hack was originally used, according to Clear, as a method to motivate a salesperson who was doing cold calls. Every time he made a cold call, he transferred one paperclip from one receptacle to another. The method is literally that simple.

The psychology of it is that, in sales, success is a numbers game, as in more cold calls, more opportunities to turn that call into a sale. So finding a way to motivate yourself to just make those calls is a way to make progress towards success.

Transferring the paperclip from one receptacle to the other served as an immediate “reward’ for the activity. Yes, it is a teeny, tiny reward. But the brain experiences it as a reward.

This is much the same principle as the “To-Do List” or the check boxes: the act of crossing things off our list is a teeny tiny immediate reward, bringing the long-term benefit of repeated useful activities into the present.

My Button Hack

I don’t have a box of paperclips, as Mr. Clear suggests. Sure, I could run to the store and spend fifty cents to buy one, but believe it or not, that actually sounds like work to me. And I really would rather not turn motivation into work. I’ve got enough going on. Besides: what is more tempting to two little boys, ages four and five, than a brand-spanking-new box of paperclips?

What I do have inordinate quantities of are buttons. Why I have so many buttons and beads is a mystery to me. I don’t ever remember buying all these buttons. I also have little empty jars of baby food and mini jelly jars rescued from a bakery we used to frequent.

So. Here is my plan: During this transitioning-to-vacation period, every time I do something that would be one of my regular routines/good habits, even if I do it outside of my regular routine, I will give myself the teeny tiny reward of moving one little button to another jar.

Maybe I will give the colors different meanings: Red will be about meals (having a meal plan, pre-preparing the ingredients), Yellow will be about my health (drinking enough water, getting in my steps, preventing a binge eating episode), Blue will be about my creative work (posting an article, doing my Reel), Green will be about housework (doing the laundry, tidying up…). I don’t know… we’ll see. But because these things still need to get done, even in the midst of potential chaos, I will be giving myself an immediate reward.

In my Ideal LIfe, I am a person who isn’t intimidated by transition periods.

For a deeper dive into this theme of Good Habits and Routines as it relates to the Ideal Life Exercise, click here.

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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