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


Thoughts on Doing Things for Other People

This February, my friend went dog sledding in the far reaches of frigid northern Canada. An older Chinese woman, intent on sharing pictures of the adventure with her friends, insisted on sitting in front. She wasn’t really interested in dog sledding, she said, she just wanted everyone to know she went.

It made me wonder: why do we sometimes do things (tweet, post pictures, write status updates) just for their effect on other people–who, we hope, will deem us cool, funny, and gorgeous? Somehow, this led to a discussion of Twitter, and whether the Twitter cofounders cared how people used their platform.

As it turns out, Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey (who, by the way, recently saw cofounder Biz Stone leave the company to work on a startup called Obvious Corporation) is clearly supportive of using Twitter for social change in this Huffington Post interview. When asked what causes he is particularly fond of, Dorsey responds, “My position is really to build technologies that speak to any cause; that’s what I want to do all the more of.” In other words, he wants to build a versatile platform that users can shape to their unique purposes. But, presumably, Dorsey means good causes, not including the various Ku Klux Klan Twitter accounts.

The fact that startups are open and even eager to iterate means they recognize that users may develop surprising, new, and even better uses for their products. But once the final (or relatively final) product is out, I can’t imagine that how it’s used is irrelevant to the creators. Creating something of value is fulfilling in itself–witness the failed companies whose founders don’t regret a moment of their journey–but seeing it used in valuable ways must add even more to the sense of pride and accomplishment.