Stuff like ‘the path is the goal’ and ‘it’s more about process than outcome’ are true but as humans we are prone to get discouraged if we don’t see results. Therefore doing something for one single reason is a risky strategy – if we don’t get what we want we deem the effort useless. I like to think of several outcomes. If I would write daily just to get more people to my website I would have stopped months ago. But it turns out that I am training myself to keep a habit, writing out thoughts which might one day be put together in a book or some other format and that those who read regularly claim makes them think. So how can you pursue activities that lead to multiple good outcomes so you get the feedback to keep going, even if one or two objectives don’t work out?
When you are thinking how to best reach a particular goal it’s important to understand whether you need an intervention or establish a habit.
An intervention is something that you do once or several times over a limited amount of time. Writing a gratitude letter or keeping a humour log for a week are examples. Chances are that you will feel happier for a while after doing an intervention. In some cases, though this should not be expected, we have some kind of epiphany or shift in perspective, in which case, the good effects might persist way longer than the actual intervention duration.
However often we waste money and energy chasing one-off short-term interventions while the only thing that would actually help us achieve the goal is habit change. Dieting versus changing your diet for good is the prime example for this.
So whatever your goal is, try to figure out whether you just need some inspiration and possibly a change of perspective or whether you need sustained effort.
Gretchen Rubin the author of the book Better than Before mentioned in an interview, that not all habits take long. This is often overlooked. In the spirit of looking at what works ask yourself which habits you have picked up fairly easily. Do you always do them at the same time or place? What is the trigger? Do you reward yourself or not? Are there any exceptions to the habit or not?
Often when we want to change our behaviours we forget to make some space for the new behaviours first. Then we often fail, not because it’s not worthwhile, but because we don’t think we have time.
So if you look at everything you do everyday what takes energy away from you? What leaves you in a more negative state than you were in before? Which thoughts, habits and activities can you remove or at least reduce to make space?
Willpower, a finite resource, is what we turn to when we want to make something happen or stop. We can endlessly criticize ourselves for not being able to resist food or for getting angry, although we know it’s not good for us. Yet willpower uses often more energy than managing the environment and the situation. So instead of getting angry for eating something when we are super hungry and vulnerable we can instead use far less energy, if we don’t let ourselves get that hungry in the first place. Whatever behaviour we are trying to start or stop, the environment plays an important part and it’s often easier to change than you might think.
We understand changes only through comparison. Therefore we are naturally paying attention to big changes because you don’t need to be perceptive to detect those. However nature’s changes are mostly imperceptible when they happen: the leaves don’t change from one day to the next but start with small spots that change colour. The change might seem sudden if we haven’t looked at
Let’s say your morning routine: what’s the goal of it? To be able to sleep as long as possible and leave home in as little time as possible? To connect with your family and set the day off right? Or to spend some alone time before taking on the world?
The thing is almost everything we do is optimized for something even if we don’t think about it. Usually it’s speed: people want to get from A to B in the shortest amount of time.
One way of building happiness into your daily life without thinking about it is to screen your habits and do small adjustments. What can you do to make the morning a good start for the day? Eat good quality breakfast? Practice being truly in the moment and enjoying the self care you are showing yourself while taking a shower? What happens if you take an extra 10 min on your commute but choose a route that will expose you to more natural beauty? Walk on the other side of the street so you can soak up some extra sun? Leave the house 5 min early so you don’t have to run everywhere?
On their own these things won’t make a huge difference in your life. But they add up.
There was a time when the notion of brushing your teeth everyday was not mainstream. People had to be convinced to do this. As Charles Duhigg mentioned in his great book ‘The Power of Habit’ one trick the industry discovered was read more …