Helpful Habits: Setting Yourself Up for Success


I talk to patients in my practice all the time about how hard it is to stay on top of your medications. Some are on multiple medications that they take several times a day in confusing regimens. I’ve seen how tough it can be tough to keep it all straight. Fortunately, there are some ways you can set yourself up for success and the good news is, these tips work for more than just prescriptions.

A key component of keeping straight when to take what is setting up good habits. I think we’ve all had the experience of trying to find our keys after leaving them somewhere we don’t normally put them. We’ve set up a ritual of where we put things before going to bed so that when we wake up, everything falls into place before we head out the door. If our keys are somewhere different, it throws everything off. A new study out this week shows that we should think of our medications in much the same way.

The study looked at older adults taking asthma medications and asked whether setting up habits and rituals around taking their medications might help with taking them as prescribed more consistently. Shockingly, only 40% of participants were taking their potentially lifesaving medications properly. In asking what kept that 40% on target, the researchers found the following strategies:

  • Store your medications in the bathroom. Most people stored their medicines in the bedroom, but those who kept their medications in the bathroom remembered to take them more often.
  • Integrate taking medicines into your morning routine. Making medications part of your to-do list every morning (such as sitting down with your pill box after breakfast) becomes second nature and makes you less likely to forget.
  • Take your medication at a specific time of day that’s the same every day. Research has shown that when routines change, medications are forgotten. Resist the temptation to take them later because you’re busy with something else.

While some of this is specific to taking medications, I think it has a deeper message for the things we do to stay healthy. Creating new habits is hard, but is essential to changing the way we live our lives. When you’re not used to going to the gym or putting on sunscreen before you go outside, it’s always going to seem like a hassle that will often be forgotten. This study shows us that to be successful, you need to make these new behaviors part of your daily ritual. Do them at the same time, every day, no excuses. After a week or two, you’ll forget you ever did things any differently.