Simple strategies for changing a bad habit

For the month of October I’ve been trying to work on improving my posture. In the book Willpower, the authors reported on a study that found that simply reminding yourself to stand up straight can increase self-control and resolve in other areas of life. I’m waiting until the end of the month to evaluate my level of self control. In just two weeks, though, I have noticed a huge improvement in my posture, which is certainly a desired outcome.

In the comments to the post about setting my October resolution, reader Emily asked, “what are you planning to do to work on your posture?” This was a great question, seeing as changing any habit is difficult. What I am doing to help improve my posture might be beneficial to other people working on the same goal, or really anyone trying to change a bad habit. And, to be honest, so far the process has been pretty easy:

  • I’ve posted sticky notes around the house — bathroom mirror, front of microwave, computer monitor, inside of front door — with “Stand Tall!” written on them. I’ve had to change the notes a few times because it has been easy to stop seeing them after a few days. If you are trying to change any habit, you could easily write similar messages to yourself: Hang up coat! Make bed! Do the dishes! Put clothes in the hamper!
  • Dressing less casually. This is probably just me, but I tend to slouch less when I’m wearing nicer clothes. I keep telling myself I’m “dressing for success.” A similar external cue could work with helping achieve other goals. For example, washing the exterior of your car once a week could motivate you to keep the inside of it in a cleaner state.
  • Balancing a book on my head while sitting at my desk. I don’t do this every time I sit down to write, but I do it enough that I think it is helping. I use a hardcover book without the jacket on it because the cover’s fabric-like texture helps it stay on my head. I’m not exactly sure how this could translate to helping with another goal.
  • Abdominal, shoulder, and core exercises. The first week of October I was sore from switching up the muscles I regularly use in my belly, back, and shoulders. I decided to add a 15-minute core workout to my schedule three times a week. The muscle pain I was experiencing has gone, so I think it is helping. With other goals, identify a possible hurdle to success and instead of ignoring it, take care of it early on in the process.
  • Publicly declaring the goal. Letting all of you know about my posture improvement goal has added a bit of pressure I might not feel otherwise. For many other goals, I can see how announcing to your friends that you’re working on a specific change in habit could be beneficial.
  • I’ve also been giving myself a daily grade in my calendar as to how well I think I did on the goal. If I worked on standing up straight a fair amount and feel positive about my performance, I’ve awarded myself an A. Most days, especially those in the beginning, were mostly in the B or C range. Monitoring my actions has let me see that the process has become easier in the second week than it was in the first, which leads me to believe it will be even simpler in the last week of the month. This review process has definitely been beneficial.

What methods have you used to remind and motivate yourself to change a bad habit? Share your success strategies in the comments.

20 Comments for “Simple strategies for changing a bad habit”

  1. posted by chacha1 on

    I don’t usually refer to my own blog here because I don’t write about decluttering as a matter of course, but I *do* write about body mechanics.

    I once taught lead/follow at a local dance club and had a student come up to me afterward and say all his life people had told him to “stand up straight” but no one ever told him HOW – until my class.

    So if anyone is interested in the body mechanics, visit and check out featured post “how to stand up straight.”

  2. posted by D. on

    My husband found out that the source of his back pain of 25+ years is due to not stretching his hamstrings and poor posture…he’s been doing core exercises and stretching and guess what? NO MORE BACK PAIN! πŸ™‚
    I had severe neck pain and headaches…due to bad posture (also for years.) I started doing slow yoga and guess what? NO MORE NECK PAIN! πŸ™‚
    It seems like such a simple solution that you would think it wouldn’t work…but it does…keep it up Erin…or should I say “keep it straight!” πŸ˜‰

  3. posted by Laura on

    Back in 1997, while watching my son play parks & rec baseball, I overheard one mom say to another that she was working on her posture, and felt so much better. I immediately sat up straighter, and have been cognizant ever since. Standing in church, in photos, sitting and chatting, I am always aware of my posture. I’m also 5’8″, and I like being tall.

    I took candid photos of my daughters lazily bent over while sitting and showed them what they looked like. This started them on the path to better posture, too.

  4. posted by Green on

    Half my life ago when I was a teenager, I used to slouch since I was way too tall than the rest of the girls. My parents wanted to help- they are taller than average as well. I walked imagining walking on a line with this heavy book on my head; chest out, stomach out. Thought I got it, until one night my mom wanted to ‘talk’ again. She asked me to stop walking like that- she’d overheard a bunch of a strangers. ‘Look, this girl thinks she owns the world’ said one, pointing to me and the others in that group laughed.
    Its been long since I slouched or walked like a queen, but now I am left- still- fairly self concious. Yes, I do feel better and so walk better when formally dressed or on nice hair day and yes, I can fake it. But how do we find that inner attitude of confidence, control and compposure to be able to walk that walk in a right way? I am struggling to find that natural walk yet. Any pointers will be deeply appreciated πŸ™‚

  5. posted by Julia Stepensen on

    I always seems to have bad posture when I’m using the computer and slouch a lot, sometimes I catch myself but once I start sitting up straight I feel like I’m just sticking out my breast area and start slouching again.

    But I do remember in elementary they taught us proper computer posture, hmm who would have known?

    Im really scared to get a hunch back too so I will definitively start being aware of my posture.

  6. posted by Diana on

    I’m hanging a chart on the wall and giving myself a gold star every time I complete my goal each day. When I have a certain number of gold stars, I’ll treat myself to frozen yogurt.

  7. posted by Carolyn on

    I have kept tallies for substituting positive thoughts over negative thoughts. At the end of the day/week, inserted them into a spreadsheet. Kind of geeky I know, but it gives me a way to track improvement over time.

  8. posted by Emily on

    that was me! Thanks for the update on how you are achieving your goal. I’m planning to work on my posture … so now I’m looking for a good size book to keep by the computer.

    One other tip I’ve been told is that if you are a sloucher don’t wear halter style tops, the weight of the shirt/dress across the back of your neck will encourage slouching.

  9. posted by Hayley on

    I designate a color as a reminder. Every time I see red- it reminds me to correct my posture.


  10. posted by Elaine on

    Love this! I wanted to change how I carried myself at work, so I forbid the wearing of jeans there. I find I’m just too casual when I do. About a year ago, I gave myself a “no sweat pants outside the house” rule which has helped me feel better about some other things I’m working on.

  11. posted by dancer1 on

    RE: last bullet point – the daily grade in the calendar. I teach young professionals in an online environment. In the past decade, I’ve noticed that when I ask my students to grade their own performance, they invariably score themselves more harshly than any of my colleagues or I would do. Interesting, isn’t it, how ‘hard’ we are on ourselves?
    I do agree with Erin – dressing less casually does work. Again, in the teaching context, when we have to assess our students in their professional roles, we ask them to dress up to standard office attire: business suits (men and women). We find that ‘dressing the part’ really does ‘lift’ their performance.
    And finally – core exercises. I honestly believe that core strength is the key to ageing gracefully while retaining our range of movement. The Core is Everything. Do all that one can to promote Core Health — the rest will follow.

  12. posted by Dee at Home on

    Well, I’ve always heard 30 days is he magic number to create a new habit.. altho I think it’s a year to ingrain an exercise routine.

    I usually find me an accountability partner.

    Like today, a fellow blogger and I are starting Youtube for our business. We know we need to do it but it’s too daunting alone. Together we feel we can stay the course and accomplish what we need to do. Also, in this type of situation, she can learn certain aspects of the new venture, while I learn others. I think it’ll just be so much easier all the way around.. and definitely more fun!


  13. posted by Mama Leone on

    I have a co-worker who removed her office chair and sat on a wooden stool.

  14. posted by Kat on

    At 5’11” I am the shortest person in my familly – my mom is 6’3″ish and my dad and brothers are in the 5″ or 6″ range (at some point it doesn’t matter – you’re just taller than everyone else). Mom always told me that the worst look on a tall girl was hunched shoulders and I think she’s right. I can’t get away with putting on shoes that will make me shorter so I have had to embrace the height. I am taller than my husband and nearly everyone I know, but I feel that wearing high heels makes my posture much better – I suppose that it’s also related to dressing better as one does not wear heels with sweatpants. πŸ™‚

    I used to do a bit of runway modeling and good posture is a must there, so when I had the opportunity to coach some girl scouts with their fashion show (to show the clothing they had created) I told them first to “stick ’em out” which got them laughing and eased their minds. No one needs to know that you are leading with your chest (with core muscles tight), but you will automatically walk taller and keep your shoulders back – it’s also helpful to have on a supportive bra.

    @Green – I think you DO have the confidence… walk as tall as you are – or taller with heels. The strangers in your story were just jealous of your height and composure and you’ve been scarred by them. Keep your posture straight, your nose where it belongs and a warm smile on your face. Now if they’d only make reasonably priced clothing with 36″ inseams…

  15. posted by Susan in FL on

    This probably sounds horrible but when I see someone with bad posture or rolls of fat at the waist in the store, etc., I tend to straighten up and suck my tummy in. Just being observant seems to help remind me.

  16. posted by Bubamara on

    My good posture was one of many benefits of studying and later teaching Taoist Tai Chi. Tai Chi is so easy to do and yet gently persistently gives amazing benefits.
    My hint for good posture sitting down: Sit on the edge of the chair, on your “sit bones”. You know, those bones under the bottom that poke your lap when a skinny kid is on it! πŸ˜‰
    Keep your feet in front of your hips and flat on the floor. Your weight should be in your bottom AND in your feet. If you bend forward (when not at a desk) you should feel an increase in the weight in your feet. (let your arms hang relaxed when you are doing this exercise).
    Easy ! πŸ™‚

  17. posted by DebbieRN on

    The idea to give yourself a grade is refreshingly new to me. I wrote 5 of the important things I like to get done on my day off and was more productive. Too often we write goals and then lose track. I think it’s because we don’t follow through all day. It helped me “stay responsible” all day. Thank you Erin!

  18. posted by Green on

    Thanks Kat! Just writing about it and hearing from you has been therapeutic. I can feel that care-less-for-strangers-opinion in my bones.
    Feeling accomplished in what we have set to do helps. Star charts have worked well for my 3 yr old son and I am trying to figure out a way it works for me. I can imagine my sons’s delight if we have a universal star system for his parents too!

  19. posted by Asha Dornfest {Parent Hacks} on

    I’m impressed with how creatively you’re approaching this new habit. Interestingly, I just wrote a post about habits (more vague than yours, but also exploring the whole habit formation thing) AND it’s because of my exercise class which happens to be having a big effect on my posture! I think that exercise is huge, not only for strengthening your muscles, but for raising your body awareness in general. I’m walking very differently these days.

    Here’s the post, if you’re interested:

  20. posted by Johnny Mean on

    Check out the back joy core. It works wonders for posture for all you desk jockeys! It has worked well for my spinal injury and build postural strength.

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