I was just on vacation for a few days where I didn’t take my laptop around. Before that vacation it was no problem to write this blog post every day or do my daily chore. Now it seems I need more energy to get back into it. Sometimes when we think about interrupting something we should think of the increased effort it will take to re-start. So much easier to just keep going strong.
We all do these things that we know take away from our happiness yet they are addictive. For me it’s reading the comments section after I read an article or watched a movie I liked. It’s a no-win situation: those who share my joy are never as expressive as the people who have to spew negativity for no good reason at all. So what’s yours? If your masochistic habit is connected to sexual masochism good for you. You are having more fun then the rest of us with our one stupid habit 😉
People often wonder how long it takes to form a habit. Somehow popular culture seems to love the number 21 days, although that is not true, because some habits clearly take longer than others (say if you were motivated to eat chocolate every day you could probably implement that immediately). What Gretchen Rubin says is that a habit is a habit when we have ceased to ask ourselves any questions about it but just do it. There is no decision involved, rather the moment we stop thinking about whether we should do something or not it’s a habit.
We can learn a lot about success if we look at successful people. There’s the temptation to look at their experiences and then copy what they did. After all it worked for them. When people do this they often try to copy the few things which supposedly helped the successful person break through: try to meet a famous person or do some one-off creative stunt. Yet these life-turning events and happy accidents would usually not have happened without the work that these people put in. Copy and modify habits instead of life happenstances. What makes someone continuously successful is a mixture between skills and putting the work in. The randomness by which someone discovers you can only come if you have created something worth discovering.
The comedian Jerry Seinfeld once mentioned in an interview that he makes a cross on each day he has practiced his comedic skills. After a while you have a chain going that you don’t want to break. Setting yourself a tiny habit to do every day can be a great way to start such a chain. What chain, even if it’s just for 5 minutes a day, could you build?
A habit is automated behaviour. We do it without thinking. Habits help us save energy and reach our goals by being consistent.
Mindfulness is the ability to focus on the present and return our attention again and again to this very moment. It calms us down and improves the quality of experience because we are not distracted from life when it unfolds.
They seem like opposites but they are not. We can decide to mindfully brush our teeth, even though brushing our teeth is a habit. We can establish a habit of mindfulness meditation every day. Or we can decide to engage in mindless habits if we would rather multi-task.
However it’s important to understand that we have a choice. If we forget that we are just subject to random decisions our brain makes for us instead of the other way round.
We all have routines. Not only the activity itself is routine but the thoughts that accompany it as well. Thoughts lead to emotional reactions and different feelings combine to make up our moods. So if we pay attention to the thoughts we have each time we do routine tasks we have the chance to adjust what we think repeatedly. If you want to be more grateful, savour more and appreciate the good focus yourself while you are brushing your teeth. In the beginning it requires effort but after a while just seeing a tooth brush will remind you of positive thoughts and feelings. Give it a try.
People often wonder how to stay motivated and seek a steady stream of inspiration. But doing something consistently is in itself rewarding if you enjoy the activity in the first place. Of course it’s not always as easy as that but chances are you will find consistency easier if you notice the pleasure of consistency without coupling it with explicit expectations.
Yesterday I wrote something so disconnected, random, all over the place and shallow that I will have to trash it or 98% of it. And I smiled the whole time. This is really bad I said to myself. Yes I know I replied with glee.
The pride that I am sticking with a new habit is bigger than the desire to stop, just because it’s bad. It’s more important in the long run to stick with this habit than to hold on to the delusion that everything I write contains a good thought.
Bad work that we don’t care about sometimes has to be written down to make space for other things. It shouldn’t have the power to keep us from articulating the good work that is still somewhere inside.
If you want to implement a habit your success is much more likely if you link it to an existing habit. The less decision making you do the better, meaning that if you just do something before or after brushing your teeth, eating or during the commercial breaks it’s a no-brainer and therefore you are more likely to succeed.
Sleep and food are not the only resources which need to be replenished. Whatever powers your day, be it willpower or creativity, needs to be charged as well. We often treat willpower like an unlimited resource despite science clearly showing that we have less willpower after our willpower has been used. Creativity is not necessarily the same as willpower however the building blocks still need to be in place, for creativity to renew itself: exposure to new ideas, sharing them, extending and modifying them. Make sure to charge yourself up, because there is really no reason to treat your iPhone better than you treat yourself.
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.
- Think of some habits you do every day without thinking.
- Identify what triggers those behaviours.
- Think about what conditions are in place when the habits happens (sorry too much Hobbitses).
- Pat yourself on the back.
- There is no step 5.
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?
One thing that keeps people back from embarking on activities and habits they know are good for them is this idea that doing something often needs tons of willpower. The more often you try to shape your thoughts in a more helpful direction = the more willpower you need = the harder it is. Actually the exact opposite is the case.
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.
When we are trying to change habits or the climate in our head there’s good and bad news. The bad news is that you are trying to undo patterns which have been flawlessly working and lightning speed for several years. So often 20 days of doing something might not get us the results expected. The good news is that our brain is flexible: we don’t need 13 years to change a brain pattern which has been firing for 13 years.
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 …
Success happens on special days: graduation, the day you get promoted or a child is born. However is this really how success happens? Or are we confusing peak-experiences with success? Real success is much quieter and harder to pin down.