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How to Form a New, Good Habit & Make it Stick

What are habits? Habits are activities you perform consistently and typically on schedule. Habits don’t deplete the brain’s energy, therefore enabling the brain to focus its reserves on reviewing/solving other, more complicated aspects you confront during the day. To form a good habit like recycling, define the habit clearly so that it is achievable, pinpoint what parts of your day are already habitual, link your new habit (in a chain of events) to your current habits & start the habit forming in simple steps.

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View Idea stage here:
Build At Home Hacks, draft Recycling Habit Toolkit, partner with, develop Recycling Curriculum+Contest, identify Local Recycling Repositories, and launch Coca-Cola Recycling/Happiness Guerilla Campaign

Another Idea here (5.15.14):
Simplified Recycling Iconography/Language–Customizable To Any Brand

What are habits? Habits are activities you perform consistently and typically on schedule. Habits don’t deplete the brain’s energy, therefore enabling the brain to focus its reserves on reviewing/solving other, more complicated aspects you confront during the day.
How do you form a new, good habit and make it stick?
  1. Define what habit you want to acquire clearly so that it's achievable. Ie, “I want to recycle plastic, glass & newspaper at home.” Don’t make a lofty statement that can feel unachievable and discourage you like, “I have to recycle anything that’s recyclable every day of my life.”
  2. Pinpoint parts of your day that are already habitual – like a morning routine of drinking coffee while catching up on news, bathing, packing lunch, taking your kids to the bus stop, and commuting to work. Attaching a new habit to a chain of current habits is easier to do than forcing a new habit into parts of your day when your brain is trying to focus on deeper issues.
  3. Decide within which part of your habit cycle makes most sense to add your new habit. Recycling often occurs in a kitchen or in a garage. Then, link recycling to any habits you perform in your kitchen or garage.
  4. Start small and simple. Instead of trying to recycle everything you come in contact with during the day, start by promising yourself you will recycle the plastic water bottles you use today. Then slowly build up.
  5. Focus on your achievements. Don’t psych yourself out and quit the habit if you miss performing the habit once in a while. Life happens. Just keep at it.

Question riffing / Things to consider:
What are the barriers to recycling? What causes lack of personal motivation to recycle? Does recycling seem too complex based on all the types of recyclable materials? Is information about local recycling opportunities/locations too obscure? What are successful recycling operations and why are they successful? What is the largest scale successful recycling campaign & how was the outcome measured? What are people's individual success stories -- what motivates a person to recycle & how did s/he go about it?

  1. People in communal living areas (like apartments, condos) appear to be inspired by others who recycle, especially if an easily accessible community recycling area is established.
  2. Recycling containers are typically unattractive. How can recycling containers be designed in a way that will encourage people to acquire the containers as permanent home fixtures and conversation pieces. Is there a way to make them customizable based on the user’s recycling needs? And the containers should also be recyclable. Samples of interesting design:
  3. How can recycling be made more exciting? Here is how some people are doing just that:

    Gameday Recycling Challenge “is a friendly competition for colleges and universities to promote waste reduction at their football games."
    Cities like NYC use gaming to encourage recycling amongst residents, businesses and young people:
  4. How can community recycling info be made more accessible? How does one know if his/her community has a recycling program? Where is the closest recycling center? What is recyclable? Etc.

    Take a look at how two, small communities in North Carolina have teamed together to recycle a landfill byproduct (methane gas) to further the environment, their communities & to startup new businesses:
  5. Is there a way to combine business recycling programs into a large scale joint program, instead of separate ventures?
  6. Is there a way to inspire youth through education/school? How can youth become more engaged in recycling?
  7. Check out how the Etsy community is designing recycling bins that appeal to any style & how they design from recycled content:

Research from social scientist BJ Fogg, PhD. Dr. Fogg is the Director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University:

Sparring Mind: How to Build Good Habits (and Make Them Stick)
By Gregory Ciotti (and data from Stanford University’s Dr. Fogg)
Gameday Recyling Challenge:
NYC Waste Less:
FRG Waste Resources, Inc.
Design Buzz:
Eco Chic Design:
The (icons in infographic):
Doughnut by Alex Fuller, Newspaper by Adrian Escudero, School Bus by Alex Berkowitz, Paper Bag by Dorian Dawance, Shower by Ashley Fiveash, School by Saman Bemel-Benrud, Traffic by Laurent Canivet, Meeting by Lance Hancock, Worker by James Fenton, Food Card by Kelly Carnes, Pizza by Marcus Michaels, Football by Bram van Rijen, Algebra by Ilsur Aptukov, Pillow Fight by Luis Prado, Coffee by Jacob Halton, Note by Chok Hernandez, Sticky Note by Julieta Felix, Like by Marwa Boukarim, Sleep by Remy Medard, Sheep by Patrice Curci, Email by OCHA Visual Information Unit, 3d Model by Jose Sanmartin Gonzalez, Project by Jaap Knevel, Project by Arthur Schmitt, Magnifying Glass by Raul Serrano, Network by Mani Amini, Crown by Robert A. Di leso, Television by Andy Fuchs, Calendar by Gustavo Cordeiro


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I really like the way you pointed out on how to form the habit and I think the most important thing I have learned from them is that you need to really understand what habit you want to form. You must clearly make up the goal and then need to stick on the habit you want to form and persist on it. And also, in order to make things exciting, some people bring in friendly competitions with neighbors to enhance the habit forming process. It is a great way.

Photo of Leigh Cullen

Teng, Thanks for the feedback! Super observations. You summed it up perfectly!

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