Habits and Happiness

I am currently reading a book by friend and colleague, Braco Pobric entitled, Habits and Happiness: How to Become Happier and Improve Your Wellbeing by Changing Your Habits.  While yes, I know Braco and was happy to read the book for him, I have been delighted by what I have read and wanted to share a few observations with all of you that deepened my understanding of myself and all of those that I help to increase happiness in their own lives.

First Braco really intrigued me by his discussion of how habits can be used as a tool for creating happiness in our lives.  We all know that good habits are well, good for us, right?  But I hadn’t really thought about the idea that it is the collection of these good habits that really creates not just the platform for happiness in our lives, but happiness itself.  For example, everyone I know who has created exercise as a habit in their lives not only feels better in their everyday life, but they also get an instant boost of happiness immediately.  The habit makes them feel good and so do the trickle down effects of that habit.  The same can be said for other habits such as yoga, meditation, making a gratitude list, smiling at your neighbors, eating healthfully etc…

So, we all know there are good habits and there are bad habits right?  Good habits obviously increase our feelings of happiness and bad habits obviously don’t.  But what about Circle Habits?  If you’re like me, I had never even heard of this concept before.  Circle Habits are those habits that you keep saying you “should” do and you don’t.  “I should exercise, I should eat better, I should….”  This is where a light bulb went off for me and I am going to expand on Braco’s writing.  Circle Habits are also detrimental, but for more reasons than you may think.

Here’s why: Not only are you not making progress on an intended behavior BUT you are also making yourself feel bad by telling yourself you “should” be doing something that you aren’t AND now here’s the really interesting part, you are conditioning yourself to feel badly when you think of this behavior.  YOU ARE CREATING A NEGATIVE ASSOCIATION IN YOUR BRAIN MAKING IT EVEN HARDER FOR YOURSELF TO CREATE THE BEHAVIOR.  How likely are you to create something as a habit if every time you think about it, you feel bad about yourself for not doing it?  That bad feeling becomes associated with the habit itself and then you resist it!  The more you resist it, the worse you feel, the worse you feel, the more you resist it and so on.  If you really want to create a good habit for yourself, you have to create good feelings about it.  You have to stop the circle. 

If there is a habit you have wanted to create for a while and you feel like you “should,” you will have to change this conditioning by: 

1.     Instead of telling yourself you “should,” re-examine your life and see if this is a realistic habit for you. Examine your lifestyle and your schedule.  Does it seem manageable? Is this a good time to start a new habit?  Don’t try to run a marathon before you’ve run a 5K. 

2.     If the answer to 1 is no, then modify your expectation by changing the habit to fit your lifestyle or by putting the start date of the new habit on hold.  But be sure to set a date to re-evaluate, don’t just put it on hold forever, Braco Pobric says.

3.     If the answer to 1 is yes, or if you have modified the habit to fit your lifestyle better, now create a schedule: how many times a week or a day, for how long, at what time of the day etc…

4.     Put it in your calendar as an appointment and honor it just as you would a work engagement, a doctor’s visit etc…

5.     Now, make it fun and tie in as many positive emotions as you can.  Play music you like or set up the environment in a pleasant way.  Think of as many ways as possible to increase the reward of engaging in the habit.  This will create positive associations in your brain when you think of engaging in this habit and you will be more likely to do it.

I want to thank Braco Pobric for inspiring this blog and for inspiring me to break my Circle Habits.  I hope everyone out there will have a new understanding of why our “should” thoughts are so counterproductive and how to break that cycle. 

Be Well,