A question a lot of us deal with on a daily basis: How can I be happier and more productive? What about our habits? We like to learn from the best, so recently at SxSw we jumped at the chance to meet with Gretchen Rubin. For her work on The Happiness Project and Better than Before, Gretchen has done a massive amount of research into what makes us tick the way we tick.
The answer is: 40% of how we are is shaped by our own individual habits. So it’s simple – Live the decision to embrace a new habit, and stop the decision making run-around. Just do it! Decisions made successfully put habits on autopilot.
The hard part?
Discovering your own personal way of changing your habits. The central question: What is true for you, and how do you tick when it comes to making changes? Knowing this helps you successfully make changes that work for you and open the door to a new habits!
It is important because we’re all different, right? You know, there are some people who ‘gear-up’ under looming deadlines and always seem to be in “sprint-mode”. They’ll relate to the graphic below and say, “…yeah, that’s me!” And then there are others who carefully plan in advance and take everything one step at a time… making slow but sure progress.
None or all – versus – a little bit at a time
The difference between these two styles also pops up in our personal lives. Here’s an example that I’m familiar with.
Example: Chocolate (of course, what else?)
I always eat a chocolate bar in one go. Yeah, I want it all, with the usual regrets afterwards. To change my habit, having none is better than having a little.
Then you have people who break off one chunk of the chocolate bar, and put it aside for a week! Can you imagine? It’s very hard to have a reasonable discussion with these people. It generally goes like this:
My boyfriend always takes one chunk. He arrives home with a chocolate bar, has his one-chunk quota, and then I proceed to joyfully devour the rest, and blame him afterwards. He says, “But you could have taken just one piece?” And I say, “Not possible! You know I’m going to eat it all, and that’s why you shouldn’t have bought it in the first place. It’s either none and all!” Not a chocolate fan? Just imagine what your ‘all or nothing’ indulgence is…
If you know this about yourself, then you can apply it to your habit change strategy. As a lot of people know, I quit email a long time ago. Yes…I gave up email…totally. At first, I tried (really hard) to ‘do it’ better by using getting-things-done methods, folder systems, and stuff like that, but I it wasn’t working for me. Then I decided to do choose an approach that fits me: go cold turkey! I unplugged myself completely from email, decided never to use it again, and got back to working instead of being perpetually trapped in my inbox. I’ve never looked back.
Tip: Choose a healthy way of cheating upfront
Some people need healthy treats, or rewards that make it easier to live the new habit. It’s up to you what you choose – you know best what works for you. Some choose to buy music on iTunes every week, listen to an exciting podcast, or take a walk in the park. Whatever you choose, it should be something that energizes you and puts you in the moment, and that means in control. Planning your rewards in advance will give you the edge at challenging moments to keep your hands on the driver’s wheel and your new habit alive. You know the way that works for you.
So what are your habits?
How can you plug into them to be happier and more productive? Are you someone who runs a marathon and then stops running the next day? Or, someone who loves the 30-day online challenges so popular these days. (I know I do!)
Milestone versus finish line
A lot of people first create finish lines, like when they want to lose weight: “I want to lose 5 pounds.” But actually, setting a finish line is the one thing you should NOT do. If you set a finish line, you’re finished. You hit your target, but then you gain the weight back, and have to do it all over again. And remember: it’s much harder to start over again. A finish line might be a great way to reach a goal, but it’s not always the best way to create a new habit!
For example, choosing a healthy lifestyle wins out in the long run over focusing on the goal of “losing 5 pounds”. With a healthy lifestyle, you create a total context that’s about more than just hitting a target. A context creates change that continues, for longer than 30 days. Setting a finish line is a limitation when it comes to creating a new habit because it’s an end point. Celebrating milestones rather than setting finish lines will take you forward and shift your focus… to new beginnings.
Catch my next post with more on Gretchen Rubin and her Four Tendencies framework exploring the ins and outs of how change happens on LinkedIn.