Tag Archives: behavior change

Habit hacking: Apps to build good habits


Changing a habit is hard because you have to do something consistently. Every single time it is a choice between that thing that you should do, and the thing that you always do, that is easier or even automatic. Tracking a habit is very important because the mind constantly tries to trick you into slipping back into your old habits.  However, tracking can be annoying. There are more and more impressive and easy to use good quality apps though, that really work to trick your brain. My top 3 apps for habit hacking:



This one is for concentration as well as saving me from sitting. Pomodoro is a timer based app that schedules you to work for 25 minutes straight, then take a 5 minute break. After 4 cycles, you take a longer break. I use this in conjunction with Self Control, another timer app that blocks all procrastination sites for however long I choose and cannot be undone until the timer is out. It’s great because a 25 minute work interval is perfect for getting over procrastination. The hardest part about procrastination is to start on a task. It is often much easier to keep working once you get going. It is quite easy for me to convince myself that I only have to work on that task for 25 minutes, and if I really can’t get into it, I will move on to something else.

My only problem is that If I do get into a work flow I don’t notice the alarm. My brain just clicks through and keeps going so I do not get the benefit of getting up to stretch for 5 minutes every half hour like you’re supposed to and I REALLY REALLY NEED TO BECAUSE SITTING IS KILLING ME.

Perfect Me:

iPhone Screenshot 1

It’s a very basic concept with a decently easy interface. You set up a habit you want to track, phrased as a yes or no question. Did you exercise today? Did you call your mom today? and then you set up how often you want the app to ask you about it (e.g. daily, weekly, monthly basis). Then it colour-codes the days on a monthly calendar and tallies up yeses and nos. I started using this one for dry January to count how many days I did not drink (25!). Since then I have successfully used to change my waking up and exercise habits.

Stop, Breathe, & Think:

A young man meditating peacefully in his forcefield while the hubbub of life goes on around him

While Pomodoro is saving my productivity, Stop, Breathe & Think has been saving my sanity. Seriously, I love this app. I tell everyone about this app. I would shout off the rooftops about this app. Whoever designed this app did a very good job. This app asks you to check in mentally and physically, and suggests short guided meditations based on your mood. As a moody person, I was scared to even know at first. It made me nervous to record my emotions every time I meditated because I realized I didn’t want to know just how much my mood was fluctuating. But it was actually really eye-opening. I realized that I am  frequently in a positive mood and experience good level of mental and physical wellbeing. And it opened my eyes to the fact that I choose anxiety every day, on top of all my good emotions. I thought, how weird! Why am I carrying that around? Life is good, and I am happy. This was the best habit to add to my arsenal and it takes about 5 minutes a day!

Do you have an app that helped you develop better life habits? Have you tried any of these? Please share with me in the comments.


It’s Plastic Free July and I’m ashamed of myself

It’s Plastic Free July and I’m ashamed of myself
Plastic is chokes oceans, creates awful living conditions, and uses enormous amount of oil to produce

Plastic chokes oceans, creates awful living conditions, and uses enormous amount of oil to produce

As many of you know, last year I attempted the Plastic Free July challenge… with dismal results. I started out the challenge feeling confident that I will rock it because there are so many lifestyle changes that we’ve made already to reduce our plastic use – I always use my trusty S’well bottle and Joco cup, I don’t use straws, and I bring a canvas bag when I go shopping. So I thought, for sure the top 4 offenders have already been eradicated from my daily use. However, once I started, and actually counted how many pieces of plastic sneak into my life on a daily basis, I realized I wasn’t working hard enough. I also realized how many challenges there are for an individual who is trying to do this without a community of support.

So the shameful part that I have to now admit, is that after the challenge I not only didn’t try harder, but I also backslid. And now a year has gone by and the challenge has started again, and I haven’t even said a word. I told myself that I will try it again, but I made no effort to prepare. I haven’t discussed it with my partner. And then Canada Day rolled around and I didn’t start it. And I still haven’t.

One hurdle this summer is that because I have to work on my dissertation, I don’t have any trips planned to get out of the city and into nature. It’s easy in Windsor to lose the connection to the wild. There is no where here that I get that overwhelming feeling of awe, love, and joy for nature as I do in BC, for example. There is no where I can go and spend the day surrounded by old growth forests, or natural and pristine beaches, or the ocean. Southern Ontario is so thoroughly stripped of that kind of joy, and day to day tasks make it difficult to get away long enough to find it. And research confirms the disconnect I am feeling. Studies find that spending time in nature brings a deep sense of happiness and connection, and that people feel a vague sense of unhappiness in man-made environments.

But you can't take the forest out of the monkey, amirite?

But you can’t take the forest out of the monkey, amirite?

As my graduate education is slowly coming to an end, I also find myself more stressed out, eating worse due to lack of time for cooking, and producing a lot of garbage as a result. Last summer, I tried a local grocery delivery, which forced me to eat a variety of great local produce and cook on a regular basis. But we butted heads because they unnecessarily put all the produce in plastic bags, and even though I am very happy to hear that many of my friends signed up for the service this summer, I did not because their packaging practices have not changed. While I still have enough options for good quality local produce with less plastic, the fact that I have to go get it, mixed with stress and lack of time, means I default to going to one of Walkerville’s many delicious restaurants and cafe’s much more frequently than I’d like.

My dissertation (and in part, the challenge itself) also made me think about whether individuals trying to change their behaviour can really have the kind of impact that is needed to avert the worst of climate change. It feels futile, especially when you see things like assholes who are “Rolling coal” as a fuck you to environmentalists, or the fact that the People’s Climate March, the largest ever act of activism on climate to date was slammed for leaving piles of trash afterwards. Why should I bother with all the daily effort and mental thought that is required to build more sustainable habits? What is the point?

Marchers make their way across Central Park South during the People's Climate March on September 21 2014, in New York. PHOTO/ TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Marchers make their way across Central Park South during the People’s Climate March on September 21 2014, in New York. PHOTO/ TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

In thinking this way, I fall into the same psychological trap that I’ve been reading about: the classic commons dilemma, the failure of cooperation, the insidious impact of capitalist culture on the psyche: If I do it but no one else does it, I waste the effort and deprive myself, while everyone else can still live with all the comforts and conveniences of our throwaway culture. Knowing that this is a psychological trap, as it turns out, doesn’t make it any easier to overcome. It comes with guilt, shame, exasperation, sometimes despair, but mostly… indifference. Sometimes I rationalize it by telling myself that I am contributing to progress through knowledge creation, and that is my place, and that is enough because I can’t do everything. My research on the impact of culture on unsustainable behaviour also makes me ambivalent about focusing on individual behaviour change, when it is systemic change that will have the most impact. All this uncertainty allows me to remain complacent but also ashamed because I know I can do more. And when there is shame, that’s when the conversation dies, because if you don’t talk about it then you can pretend it’s not there.

In writing about it on the blog I hope to puncture through that barrier, to bring it out in the open and shine light on what I’m sure is a common experience of paralysis.


In related news:

~ 10,000 people marched in Toronto today for Jobs, Justice, & Climate

~ If you are in Windsor, and want to join a group, check out the Windsor chapter of the Blue Dot movement

Climate change: Fear based messages don’t work

WWF is fond of this strategy

WWF is fond of this strategy

This has been the dominant strategy so far – tell people how bad things are going to get if we don’t make changes now, and the fear of an uninhabitable planet will motivate people to start changing their act. But does this really work? Can we appeal to people to make changes in their behaviour in order to reduce climate change by using fear?

Theories of social influence and persuasion paint a complicated picture. For example, if you think that David Suzuki is a legitimate ambassador and a valuable source of information on climate change, then the fear that rises in you may in fact motivate you to start doing something. If you think the government or oil companies (and their scientists) are legitimate sources of information, then perhaps the opposite will occur. But if you fall into the latter camp, then any fear-based message that is coming from the environmentalist side will be met not with scrutiny. Instead, all the focus will be on the fact that the message comes from an illegitimate source, and the message itself will be ignored without thought or reason. This is why you may often hear things like “Oh, that David Suzuki. Isn’t he kind of radical? He is such an alarmist.” Sure, if that is what you want to believe, but that hardly negates the message, which is separate from David Suzuki himself. Unfortunately, research shows that reactive attitudes are exceptionally persistent, especially when there is pride associated with being resistant to persuasive messages.

The other problem with fear-based approach is that it only works when the target of the message feels vulnerable to the threat. We can talk about increased severe weather – heat waves, tornadoes, hurricanes, snow, etc. but people are very adept at the “it won’t happen to me” bias. As severe weather events increase, this may become easier to overcome – when people in places like New York experience hurricanes, it’s harder for them to say it can’t happen to them. But this means we have to wait until enough people have experienced such adversity before we can get them to change their behaviour. There needs to be another approach in the mean time.

And then there is this gem: a study found that, “the fear of publicly supporting favoured causes in which one had no stake prevented nonvested individuals from acting on their attitudes.” In other words, even if you can persuade someone to change their attitude about climate change, unless how this will serve their self-interest is readily apparent, attitude will not result in behaviour change. It is quite common to talk to people who believe climate change is happening, who believe that human behaviour is a contributing cause, and who are not necessarily doing anything about it because the personal costs right now are high, and personal costs in the future…. are for future you to worry about.

Many of our current behaviours are habits of convenience – and changing those takes more than changing attitudes. What we must focus on is building up people’s capacity to effect change in their lives, and their belief that these changes are not a waste of time, that they will have an impact. The perception of control – that people are choosing to do something, that they have the resources to do it, and that it will have impact, is crucial to mobilizing all the people who are already silently on our side.