Does the idea of improving your wellbeing leave you feeling completely worn out? Raise your positivity levels, discover your strengths, practice compassion, find meaning and ignite hope, all sound like great ideas but just when are you meant to fit them in?
As someone who works full time teaching positive psychology whilst juggling a family and trying to finish a PhD, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to try and embed the science of wellbeing into my everyday activities.
And while you may not like the sound of this at first, the one thing that has enabled me to consistently flourish – no matter what’s happening in my life – is to build small wellbeing habits that guide me through my days.
Why do habits make flourishing easier?
Can Habits Improve Your Wellbeing?
William James, the father of modern psychology, cautioned: “All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits —practical, emotional, and intellectual— systematically organised for our weal or our woe, and bearing us irresistibly towards our destiny, whatever the latter may be.”
In fact, Researchers at Duke University estimate up to 40 per cent of our actions each day – that’s a little more than six hours – are not conscious choices but mere habits.
Six hours a day! Imagine the kind of wellbeing improvements you could create with that kind of time on your hands.
The challenge of course is finding a way to direct this time towards the kind of positive wellbeing habits you actually want to create, rather than spending it in a mindless haze.
Professor Ann Graybiel at MIT has discovered our habits run on a simple loop of cue, routine and reward.
- A cue can be almost anything, from a visual trigger to a certain place, a time of day, an emotion, a sequence of thoughts, or even the company of particular people. It lowers the amount of activation energy it takes to get your wellbeing habit started.
- A routine can be physical, mental or emotional, and it can be incredibly complex or fantastically simple. It all depends on the wellbeing outcome you’re trying to achieve.
- A reward can be anything that produces a natural rush of dopamine – the feel good chemical in your head – that gets you craving more of the same behavior. Preferably nothing involving alcohol or chocolate when it comes to improving your wellbeing.
For me the secret to being able to exercise, meditate, laugh with my children, connect with friends and appreciate others around me each day has been to apply this simple habit loop into a busy-proof 11 minute formula. In this episode of Chelle McQuaid TV, I’ll give you the step-by-step guide to creating easy wellbeing habits that last.
What Wellbeing Habits Are You Creating?
If you had the gift of 11 minutes a day to invest in your well-being where would you start? How would you cue up the habit? What would you do for your routine? And most importantly, how would you celebrate your success?
For example, when I wanted to start using my strengths – those things I liked doing and was good at – more in my work each day I created the following habit loop.
- A 30 second cue – I find it easiest to anchor my cues to a regular time of day, embed them in my environment and use when/then statements to prime my brain. So I anchored my strengths habit of curiosity to turning on my computer each day. I embedded it into my environment my placing whatever book or article I was reading across my keyboard so I had to pick it up to get to my computer. And I used a when/then statement on the way to work. ‘When I get to work, then I will read one new idea.’
- A 10 minute routine – this was simply a matter of reading new research about positive psychology at work.
- A 30 second reward – I wrote down what I’d learnt and any questions it prompted about how we working together. On a Friday I used to send this to my boss with the heading three things I learnt this week.
Not only did this curiosity strength habit start to become the highlight of my work day, but the email to my boss became instrumental in positioning me as an expert on the subject of positive psychology and soon resulted in better and better and better career opportunities. All because of an 11 minute, daily wellbeing habit.
Charles Duhigg, a reporter for the New York Times and author of the Power of Habits has done a wonderful job exploring the research on habit creation and you can watch him present what he discovered here and see a simple flow chart for creating habits here.
What wellbeing habits can you create to help you flourish? If you’d like a little help creating your habit loop feel free to contact me.