Tag Archives: breaking habits

Revealed: My Next Book Will Be About…

HabitsRepeatFourWhenever I start a new book, I think, “This is the most interesting subject of all time. It’s sad, I’ll never enjoy writing another book as much as I enjoy this one.” Every time, I’m convinced. And then I change my mind when I start the next book.

But I really do believe this may be the most fascinating subject ever. It’s the subject of habits. How do we make and break habits–really?

It was my interest in happiness that led me to the subject of habits, and of course, the study of habits is really the study of happiness. Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative. When I talk to people about their happiness challenges, they often point to hurdles related to a habit they want to make or break.

My habits research started as part of my ongoing happiness research—I often spend a lot of time studying happiness-related sub-topics, such as pain or the sense of smell—but I just kept pushing deeper and deeper into habit formation. Everything I read was so fascinating! The more I learned, the more I wanted to know—but also the more baffled I became.

I had many questions that seemed quite obvious and pressing to me, but strangely, few of the experts seemed to recognize them. For instance:

  •  Sometimes, people acquire habits overnight, and sometimes, they drop longtime habits just as abruptly. Why?
  • Why do practically all dieters gain the weight back?
  • It’s understandable why we have trouble acquiring habits of activities we don’t want to do, but why is it so hard to make ourselves acquire habits that we do want to do?
  • Why do some people dread and resist habits, and others follow them eagerly?
  • Why are people often so unmoved by consequences? Many graduate students take several years to write their dissertations, and stay ABD (“All But Dissertation”) even though they’re much better off finishing faster. One-third to one-half of U.S. patients don’t take medicine prescribed for a chronic illness.
  • Do the same strategies that work for changing simple habits (tooth-flossing) also apply to complex habits (drinking less)?
  • Do the same habit-formation strategies apply equally well to everyone?
  • Why is it that sometimes, even though we’re very anxious—even desperate—to change a habit, we can’t? A friend told me, “I have a lot of chronic health issues, and I do a lot better when I don’t eat wheat or dairy. But I do. Why? These foods make me feel lousy. But I eat them.”
  • Certain situations seem to make it easier to form habits. Why?
  • Why do we indulge in a bad habit even when we’re painfully aware that we’re doing it? I’d heard that sequence in my own head: “I shouldn’t. I told myself I wouldn’t. I want to. I have to. Watch me.”
  • Most importantly, what are the overarching strategies that allow us to change our habits—or help someone else to change a habit—whether that habit is exercising more, taking medication, doing homework, turning off the TV, or anything else?

I searched unsuccessfully for the answers, until one day a thought hit me: “I should write a book about habits! I’ll figure out the answers to these questions.”

And so I am. I’ve written the entire first draft, in fact.

The book’s title is Before and After, because that’s what we all want from our healthy habits—to go from before to after.

In Before and After, I identify the sixteen strategies that we can use to make or break our habits. Some are quite familiar, such as Monitoring, Scheduling, and Convenience. Some took me a lot of effort to identify, such as Thinking, Identity, and Clarity. Some are more complicated than you might assume, such as Rewards and Others. The most fun strategy? Treats. The funniest chapter? The chapter on Safeguards (I include a list of the loopholes we invoke to justify breaking our healthy habits, and they are hilarious.)

The book will hit the shelves in 2015, and if you want to be notified as soon as it’s available for pre-order, sign up here.

Here on the blog, I’ll continue to write generally about happiness, and in particular–as you may have noticed reflected in a few design changes–what I’ve learned about habits. My work on the four Rubin Tendencies came out of my habit research, for example. I was struggling to understand why people seemed so different from each other, when it came to their attitude and aptitude for habit. Why did I find it fairly easy to adopt a new habit, and I love my habits, but other people detest habits? Or they want habits but can’t form them? Or can form them in some situations, but not others? I wanted to solve that riddle—which required me to come up with a framework to capture the variations in human nature.  (It took me months to figure this out.)

I identified the abstainer/moderator distinction before I started to focus on habits, but the habits analysis helped me understand the implications of that distinction much better.

I’ve always loved “Before and After” stories, in books, magazines, and TV shows. Whenever I read those words, I’m hooked. The thought of a transformation—any kind of transformation—thrills me. And that’s the promise of habits.

I’m going to add a new feature to this site (I hope): I’d love to feature people’s stories of their own “before and after.” It’s so helpful to hear about other people’s experiences, and how they’ve managed to change their habits for the better. If you have a before-and-after story to share, you can send it to me here. I may not be able to run them all, but I’ll certainly read them all.

Habit allows us to go from before to after, to make life easier and better. Habit is notorious—and rightly so—for its ability to direct our actions, even against our will; but by mindfully shaping our habits, we can harness the power of mindlessness as a sweeping force for serenity, energy, and growth. Habits allow us to look back at the end of each day and see that we’ve undertaken the actions that reflect our values—without even having to think about it.

Before and after! It’s what we all crave.

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  • If you’re thinking, “But Gretchen, I’m dying to read Before and After. I can’t possibly wait until 2015!” well, fear not. In the meantime, you can read my most recent book, Happier at Home.

Do You Fall Prey to These 4 Types of Impulse Purchases?

impulse-purchase

When we’re trying to change our buying  habits, one challenge is that marketers are so clever at enticing us into making impulse purchases.

In David Lewis’s book Impulse: Why We Do What We Do Without Knowing Why We Do It, he provides a list of the four main types of impulse buys, developed by industrial economist Hawkins Stern in 1962.

Do you recognize any of these categories in your own purchasing patterns?

1. Pure impulse buying — you make a true novelty purchase, or escape purchase, that’s very different from your typical purchasing pattern

2. Reminder impulse buying — you see an item or remember something that reminds you that you need an item

3. Suggestion impulse buying– you see a product for the first time and imagine a need for it

4. Planned impulse buying — (isn’t this label an oxymoron? oh well) you make a purchase based on price specials, coupons, etc.

Now, I know that some folks out there are my fellow under-buyers, and we have to force ourselves to make impulse purchases of the #2 sort. Even when I know I need something, I hate to buy it!

Interestingly, Lewis notes that people generally don’t consider it a mistake to make impulse purchases. Research suggests that only about 1 in 5 people regret it, and 2 out of 5 say they feel good about it. (If you don’t feel good about it, here are 5 tips to resist impulse shopping.)

If you battle impulse purchasing, what category gives you the most trouble? How do you combat it? Of course, we’re always told to shop with a list–and seeing these four categories makes it clear why that’s helpful in fighting impulsive spending.

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  • If you’re a fan of good order, you’ll be so satisfied by a visit to Things Organized Neatly on Tumblr.  Beautiful, beautiful order. One thing that has surprised me about happiness: the extent to which, for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm.
  •  I’ve heard from many real-estate agents who are giving Happier at Home to their clients. If you’d like personalized, signed “Tips for Happiness in Your New Home” cards to go with the books, or signed, personalized bookplates, request them here. But you don’t have to be a real-estate agent to ask! Ask one for yourself or for friends. (I can mail to U.S. and Canada only, alas).

Turn a Negative Behavior Into a Positive

 
We have all made promises to ourselves to change a negative behavior, like no more McDonald’s French fries, I swear! Or more dire challenges like being impatient with your mother, getting defensive with your husband, or yelling at your daughter for just about every thing. You have come to the decision to make a change because others have asked you to or you are decidedly sick of your behavior and recognize this is not an example of your best you.

Have you noticed, like many resolutions or promises you’ve made in your life, that you have abandoned them and quickly gone back to the old way of doing things? I will venture to say that this often happens because you don’t have a plan for change. You don’t have a plan for what to do instead of yelling or being impatient. If you want to change a behavior, before you attempt, think long and hard, step-by-step on what actions you will take instead.

Focusing on the behavior you would like to change is not enough, you have to want the change, be ready for the change, that includes a plan for what to do, and your focus really needs to be on where you want to be. Positive thoughts will get you to where you desire.

Most of our undesired behavior is rooted in habit and the way we have always done things. It may even be deeply rooted in the way our parents responded to things. These behaviors are truly difficult to turn around. As with an addiction or habit, you need to deal with each interaction moment-to-moment and day-by-day. You have to slow the movie down, that is your life, so you can “see” the thing that your mother does and why you react with impatience. Be “in” the moment so you have an opportunity to breathe, to think, and to phrase your response before putting it out there.

Before this, take some time to really ponder the way you would like to relate. What does that look like? What would you say instead? Maybe, it’s even a great idea to share with your husband your desire to be with him in a way where you no longer feel the need to defend. He may be able to support you in the change.

If you have questions or comments on changing a negative behavior contact Sandra A. Daley at info@sandradaley.com or visit her at http://www.sandradaley.com

 

Breaking the Cycle of Hardship

Question for Deepak: I have been self studying meditation and alternative healing for over 17 years; I will be 37 years old this December. I am not financially stable at the moment. I am in the process of having to move out of my apartment. I have found myself living this cycle of loss every year around the same time for the last 4 years. I have had many breakthroughs spiritually and have helped many do the same. As a healer, I have help people have better lives. My question is, even though my intention in life is to bring love and joy into others lives, why must I go through so many hardships; and how can I bring an end to this cycle?

Answer from Deepak: An essential aspect of getting out of this cycle is to shift your perception of this situation so that you don’t frame it as a cycle of loss. That conceptual package in itself sets the image that you are doomed to come back and repeat this current set of circumstances. Focus on what is new and different in your life right now, because there are undeniable differences between the present and your past. Magnify and empower those forces of transformation with gratitude and positive acknowledgement. Gratitude is an immensely powerful force of change that is always available to us if we only stop and take notice. This will help pull you into the present where you are more unencumbered by your past and able to create something useful for yourself.
 
Love,

Deepak

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