What Do Dishwashers Tell Us About Habits And People

By Azzy Aslam

Habits, Routines, & Behaviours

20 Dec, 2020

Dishwashers, Habits, And People


Most mornings I will empty the dishwasher. It’s something I started to do a few years ago. It’s simply because most morning I get to the kitchen first. Usually to grab a drink of water and put the kettle on for my morning tea.

Emptying the dishwasher was in part a little self-serving as my favourite mug would probably be in the dishwasher. As I got my mug, part of me knew I was probably going to get the line “you could have emptied the dishwasher rather than just getting your mug”. A sentence I have inflicted on my kids many times!

This was the start of clearing of emptying the dishwasher rather than just retrieving my mug. For some weird reason I found I was OK with the cups, glasses, and cutlery, but hate emptying the dishes, side plates, and bowls. I have no idea why,  I just hate doing them.

This is now a habit. Well, more than a habit, it’s now a routine. It’s become automatic.

  • Wake up
  • Head to the kitchen
  • Glass of water
  • Look out of the window for a few moments
  • Put the kettle on
  • Start empying the dishwasher

Creating Habits and Routines

Over the days, weeks, months, and years the process has been building the neuralpathways in my brain. The connections from neuron to neuron. It’s become optimised through repetition. Even the order of emptying the dishwasher is now automated –  dishes, sides plate, bowls, followed by cutlery, the glasses, and finally the cups.

There’s an interesting thing about the order I empty the dishwasher. You may well have heard of the saying “Eat The Frog” by Brian Tracy from his approach on getting things done. In short, it means to do the one thing you don’t like doing and doing it first. Particualrly if it’s part of your overall goal.

In this case the goal is to empty the dishwasher. However, part of it involves taking out the dishes and bowls which I don’t like. So, I do them first and the rest feels easy. It also helps my mindset, because I have done the tough part first (eaten the frog) and the process has started and my habit will now get me through to the finish without much thought or encouragement. It will happen, it always does, each day.

This example may seem a little random, and I guess it is in some way. But it shows just how we create, build, and strengthen habits, whether it’s emptying dishwashers, writing a book, training to climb Mount Everest, or coming up with a new propulsion system for interstellar space travel.

It shows the real power of habits, which is why it underpins my approach when I work with clients to help them make changes which last.

The reward of a completed habit

In the habit cycle there usually is a reward once you complete a habitual action or routine. In my morning dishwasher routine, it’s my cup of tea in my favourite mug made exactly the way I like it. There’s also the satifaction of having an empty dishwasher and things being neatly back in their place ready for the next meal!

There’s also the self satisfaction of getting something done first thing in the morning! It’s a bit like the military thing about making your bed in the morning when you get up. You start the day with having completed a task first thing and if you have an awful day at least when you get into bed it’s all neat, crisp, and ready for you.

Completing the habit cycle with a reward, no matter how small, helps to repeat the activity and strengthen the habit until it becomes automated. The reward doesn’t have to be a cup of tea in your favourite mug it can be as simple as putting a cross on the chart and seeing the number of crosses grow each day. Or it can be a punch in the air, a big smile, and self congratulation on completing another 15 (0r 20, 30, 40…) minute run today.

This is why when I work with clients I always ask them to track, measure, and see their progress day by day on a chart of some description. Once it becomes a habit then you can start a chart for a new habit! There’s always something more you can do and achieve. Human capacity to achieve things is truly vast – we never really push ourselves to explore just how far we can go. The few who do, are seen as exceptions. The reality is they are human, just like you and me, but are prepared to do the tough stuff first – every day.

How will you push yourself further today?


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