5 signs of a habit you’ll stick to

Lyubomirsky - good habits
Why are we able to stick to some habits and not others?

Some of it has to do with how we execute a habit – getting support from friends, giving ourselves breaks when we need them, and building on momentum. But some of it happens way before that: when we feel compelled to form a habit in the first place.

In The How of Happiness, psychology researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky offers a test to help determine which happiness habits are best for you. For optimum fit, a habit should have these characteristics:

  • Natural: It feels normal, and easy to stick to. Maybe it’s a habit we’re already doing most days, like going for an after-dinner walk or brushing our teeth in the morning.
  • Enjoyable: We find it interesting and challenging, like learning a new language.
  • Valuable: We believe it’s important and identify with it. We’ll do it even if it’s not enjoyable. Exercise might fall into this category for some people.

Ideally, a habit shouldn’t have these characteristics:

  • Guilt: We force ourselves to do it because we feel guilty, anxious, or ashamed if we don’t. For example, some people might do volunteer work because they feel guilty about their privilege or new money.
  • Situational: We’re forced to do it by someone else or by our situation. Maybe our spouse is making us attend counseling or pressuring us to do a weight-loss program.

In the end, Lyubomirsky explains, these five aspects are largely measuring something called “self-determined motivation,” a drive to achieve goals based on our genuine interests and values.

“Research suggests that if you have this kind of motivation . . . you will continue to put effort into the endeavor and be ultimately more likely to succeed. In other words, where there is a good fit, you will try harder and feel right about what you’re doing,” she writes.

Not all goals will have all these characteristics, and that’s okay. In fact, we can reframe goals so they check more of the right boxes. I might be driven by guilt to avoid sugar and carbs, but I should strive to focus on being creative and challenging myself to come up with tasty treats (enjoyability). Your boss may force you to take a training course in marketing, but you can focus on how the new skills will be valuable for your career.

How do your goals stack up?

Photo by Flickr user .melanie


8 happiness hacks you can do in 5 minutes 

Find Happiness NowShortcuts to happiness don’t exist, right?

Wrong, says author Jonathan Robinson. He’s the author of Find Happiness Now: 50 Shortcuts for Bringing More Love, Balance, and Joy into Your Life

I’ve read my fair share of “tricks” to be happier, and most of them fall flat. Not so with this book. If Robinson were younger, he might have called his tips “happiness hacks” – simple, genius, colorful ways to boost your mood in just a few minutes. 

The challenge is actually doing them and – for me at least – the easiest way to start is to do a one-month experiment to create the habit. So here are 8 happiness hacks you could try every day: 

1. Set your priorities before breakfast

I’m obsessed with the topic of work-life balance lately, and this tactic gets to the heart of it. Before breakfast, Robinson recommends, think of the seven things you want to do today and prioritize them. This includes work stuff, but also personal activities. Ask yourself, “What’s really important to do today in order to create a balanced, happy life?”

“Asking myself what’s important helps remind me that the bottom line in life is not how much I do or make. Instead, it’s how much of my dreams of creating joy, love, and contribution I can integrate into my day-to-day life,” he says. 

2. Write down 3 good things 

According to Robinson, even if you do this technique for just a week, you’ll be 25 percent happier even six months later. There’s a ton of research about gratitude journaling, and it actually works. 

According to Marty Seligman, who invented “Three Good Things,” the key is what you do after you write them down: pause for a moment and reflect on how you and your personality traits helped bring them about. Then, positivity becomes part of your identity. 

“You start to understand that no matter how difficult a situation you’re in, your ability to laugh, or connect with others, or learn something new or whatever is good about you can help create a special moment. The power is within you,” explains Robinson.  

Some people journal at the end of the day, and others write down happy moments as they come along. I’m in the midst of trying this out for a month, using Happier.

3. Do a “thank you” mantra 

Like “Three Good Things,” the thank you technique is about appreciating the things in your life. But this one goes even further: to do it, you simply start saying thank you for everything you see around you – good and bad:

“Thank you for my car, thank you for my iPhone, thank you for this beautiful music, thank you for this nicely paved road, thank you for the man that just cut me off, thank you for the anger that stirred up in me, thank you for the opportunity to practice forgiveness,” writes Robinson. 

The idea is to train yourself to stop taking things for granted, and even start appreciating the silver lining in the “bad” things. 

4. Belt a song in your head

It might seem crazy what I’m about to say, but Robinson recommends that you silently belt out songs that fire you up when you need a confidence boost. To top it off, adopt the facial expression and swagger of your favorite superhero, and you’ll be ready to conquer the world. 

“If you really allow yourself to let go and pretend, you’ll soon find that it no longer feels like an act. You will feel totally self-assured. You will be unstoppable,” explains Robinson. 

It’s not such a crazy idea – just watch Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on power postures, and you’ll learn how certain positions release different hormones into our bodies, making us feel stressed or invigorated. 

5. Listen to a magical song 

Songs can give us confidence, but they can also give us peace and inspiration. Robinson recommends that you create a magical playlist with your favorite uplifting songs. When you feel the stress coming on – or maybe for an afternoon break – you can pause for 5 or 10 minutes to soothe your soul. 

“Your mind will be clearer and your soul more soothed,” he writes. “With hardly any effort at all, you’ll find that you’re more centered in your heart and better able to handle whatever life throws your way.” 

6. Get rejected 

The problem with rejection, Robinson explains, is that we see it as a failure – and fear it. But if you create a rejection goal – say, one rejection per day – getting rejected becomes a success! That means you’ll have to ask for what you want more often, and you may get some unexpected yes’s along the way. 

If you’re so inclined, you can actually do a 30-day Rejection Therapy experiment. It comes with iPhone and Android apps, and there’s even an Entrepreneur edition. 

7. Meditate 

If you’ve been reading the news at all lately, you’ve probably heard that meditation is like a miracle drug with no side effects. It makes you more focused and creative, reduces anxiety, improves your memory, makes you more compassionate, and much more. In his book, Robinson suggests two meditations that you could practice: 

The pure love meditation: After getting comfortable, picture someone you love giving you a heart-melting look and think about why you appreciate them. Imagine hugging them and your souls being connected. “The Pure Love Meditation is a practical way to build a bridge to the ‘kingdom of heaven within,’” he explains. 

The jaw-dropping meditation: Take about 5 minutes to be aware of the tension in your jaw and face and let it all go, letting your jaw drop wide. When you open your eyes, imagine that you just arrived in your body and are seeing the world through new eyes. 

8. Journal 

We have 50,000 thoughts a day, Robinson says, and the enlightened ones often slip away and are forgotten. To catch them before they fade, get in the habit of writing down your best ideas and goals right away. 

“I have found that since my brain now realizes I take its insights seriously, over the years I’ve had many more important realizations than I used to have,” he says. 

Every week or month, read through your journal and feel the inspiration.  

I love the idea of life experiments, and I plan to do more in the future. Would you try any of these techniques, just for a month?