Imagine this: It’s a Friday night, and you want to cook, but your sink is full of three-day-old dishes and Tupperware from lunches this week—yuck! You know it would be better to keep on top of your dishes every day so the kitchen is clear whenever you want to use it, but how do you start a new habit like that? Instead of hoping you magically achieve perfect dish discipline overnight, use these techniques to build a solid habit.

Two incredibly useful books

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

This book explains the science behind habits, and why we do what we do. It’s a great resource for learning about what habits are, and how to build them.

Atomic Habits by James Clear

This is more of a how-to, full of practical strategies and information that helps create new habits and break bad ones.

Inventory your habits

The first step for change is awareness, so start by making an inventory of your habits.

Brainstorm with yourself; what habits are already second nature? Make a list of the habits you have, and mark them as positive, neutral, or negative. For example, if you brush your teeth twice a day, every day, that’s a positive! Some things depend on the person and the situation. If you play a game of solitaire before bed every night, and it helps you relax, that’s a positive. If it keeps you from going to bed on time, that’s a negative.

Know your “why”

You know what you want to do—keep the sink clean. But why do you want to do that? It’s much easier to cook in a clean kitchen than a cluttered one. It’s also more hygienic and keeps pests away. Maybe you want to entertain guests more often.

Instead of starting a new habit because you vaguely feel you “should,” ask yourself what your reasons are.

When you know why you’re doing something, you’ll be more likely to continue it.

Be crystal clear about what you are doing

“I want to keep on top of my dishes” is a great starting point, but it’s not enough to put a plan in action. Come up with specific tasks that will complete your goal. For example:

  • I will rinse out each dish when I’m finished with it, so nothing gets caked on.
  • I will always return dishes and cups to the kitchen when I’m finished with them, so dishes aren’t scattered around the house.
  • Every night before I go to bed, I will make sure the sink and counters are clear of dishes, and that everything dirty is in the dishwasher.
  • As soon as the dishwasher is full, I will run it, and put the dishes away when they’re dry.

Start with a goal, and then figure out what concrete steps you can take that will get you there.

Schedule it

Routine solidifies habits!

If you make it a point to clear the sink every night right before bed, eventually you won’t have to remind yourself, because right-before-bedtime will feel like the time to clear up.

Remind yourself

How will you stick to your schedule until it becomes second nature? Remind yourself! Set an alarm on your phone, put a sticky note next to your bed, put it in your paper calendar—whatever you need to do to remember your routine, do it! Having a failsafe like an alarm saves you from going into the kitchen in the morning, seeing dishes in the sink, and groaning at yourself.

Remembering a new habit can be tricky—especially if it’s a habit you don’t enjoy. Treat yourself gently, and give yourself whatever support you need.

Engage others

If you live with others, get them in on the dishes, too! If you plan with another person, you can remind each other and help keep each other on track. And it makes the work go faster.

It also helps to tell people! If you’re trying to make running around the block every morning a habit, tell your friends, your co-workers, your family. It creates a sense of accountability, and people who are in the know can check up on your progress.

Reward yourself

Creating a new habit is tough—treat yourself! If you keep your kitchen clean for a full month, hit up the spa as a thank-you to you. Did you run around the block every day this week? Maybe a massage is in order!

Be careful with rewards; make sure that you’re treating yourself to something appropriate. If you’re running every day to get fit and lose weight, sugary food rewards might be counterproductive. And be strict with yourself—if you don’t keep up the habit, don’t reward yourself.

I hope these tips help you on your way to your goals. Get in touch with us if you’d like to learn more about building good habits, especially if you’re looking to get organized.