Boost Happiness by Forming New Habits of Mind

“Focusing on the good isn’t just about overcoming our inner grump to see the glass half full. It’s about opening our minds to the ideas and opportunities that will help us be more productive, effective and successful at work and in life.”

—Shawn Achor, positive psychology expert

Image shows a silhouetted head with the outline of a brain filled in while puzzle pieces. Title: Form Habits of Mind.What’s the secret to becoming a happier person? Try forming a positive habit of mind! Pick a positive habit to develop—it can be any habit, but we do mean one habit. Some examples include:

  • Spotting things and people to be grateful for.
  • Exercising.
  • Investing in friendships.
  • Meditating.
  • Focusing—don’t multi-task.
  • Saying “thank you” and showing appreciation.

Next, do the behavior once a day for 21 days in a row. Mark the days off as you go.

Why 21 days? According to William James, an American philosopher and psychologist, a behavior practiced for 21 days straight will become automatic in the way required to qualify it as a habit.

The way to success, then, seems simple. Form some positive habits using the formula and then keep building that repertoire of positive habits using one 21-day block at a time.

Yes, it sounds simple. As the old saying goes, though, simple is not necessarily easy. Research tells us that willpower is not all that it’s cracked up to be. We each have limited supplies of it. That’s one reason new habits are hard to form, old habits die hard, and why habits are so darn important in the first place. The powerful nature of habits is that they don’t ask us to expend lots of willpower. Their purpose is quite the opposite: to save that particular form of precious and limited energy. But it turns out that the process of developing the habit in the first place is quite a drain on willpower.

So, what can you do about this all-too-human phenomenon? Just practice the 20-Second Rule. Use the activation energy—the energy leading up to the execution of any behavior—to your advantage. In the case of a positive behavior you want to make into a habit, reduce the time to activate the behavior to under 20 seconds. In the case of a negative behavior you want to stop doing, increase the activation time to over 20 seconds (the longer the better). So, for example, if you want to work on exercising more, place your exercise equipment—clothes, tools and the like—where you can reach it quickly and easily. And for the potato chips you would like to stop eating, leave them right where they belong: on the shelf at the store (or, at least on the shelf in the pantry).

What would you like to change in 21 days? Are you suffering from bad habits that keep you from being happy? Are there good habits that could boost your happiness and your success?

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