by Kathie England

Better Than Before – Sitting Is the New Smoking: Pairing

The strategy of pairing is a fascinating approach to developing a new habit. It can also help identify bad habits.
Pairing is coupling two activities. According to Rubin it’s one activity that you want to do and one you don’t particularly want to do. I think that’s a narrow perspective. I believe that it’s also pairing something you’d like to START doing with something you already do.
In the book One Small Step Can Change Your Life, Robert Maurer invited “Julie” to pair walking in place for one minute with turning the television on. He asked her to walk in place for one minute BEFORE she turned the television on. Turning the television on was a habit she already had. Her new habit was to begin exercising by starting with that small step of walking in place for just one minute.
Rubin shares a number of pairing examples:

  • Watching a certain television show ONLY while working out at the gym
  • Reading printed magazines for fun ONLY while on the cardio machines at the gym
  • Buying a bagel ONLY after WALKING to a favorite bagel shop

Another example I really liked was what she called “Commercial Cleaning.” In this case one of her readers explained that whenever a commercial came on, she would do a chore like putting a load in the dryer or washing a few dishes.
That strategy was the next step that “Julie” took when she decided to extend her walking.  She began walking in place during commercials. Eventually she advanced to walking in place during the entire 30-minute show.
Rubin suggests that these examples are actually a form of multitasking, a time management strategy that is usually discouraged because we lose time as our brain toggles between two activities. These examples many indeed be examples of successful multitasking because the brain isn’t being required to toggle back and forth quickly between activities (kidding ourselves that we are actually doing two things as the same time).
How does pairing relate to the subtitle, “Sitting Is the New Smoking?”
Rubin proposes that to reduce the amount of time sitting while working at a desk, find activities that can be done while standing like talking on the phone. She sings the praises of treadmill desks as another example of standing while working. (I’ve read that isn’t necessarily as effective as some believe.) The important issue, though, is that many studies show “the average American sits for at least eight hours a day. While we sit, our metabolism changes for the worse. Sitting for several hours a day seems to raise people’s risk of early death, even for people who exercise.”
Pairing is also associated with bad habits like having a cigarette with the first cup of morning coffee. Other habits that aren’t so desirable include reading emails as soon as they arrive, shopping while travelling, and eating candy at the movies.
My own example is how I’ve paired taking my make-up off at night and brushing my teeth before climbing into bed. My old habit was to take off my make-up, climb into bed, and read. By the time I’d finished reading, I was frequently too tired, or so I told myself, to go back to the bathroom and brush my teeth. Since I created this new pairing, I’ve only missed one night of brushing my teeth (and that was a night I was sick).
What pairings could you start that would help you create a new and desirable habit?