ML MEMO: Habits and Happiness
We might be less than two weeks away from Autumn down here in Australia, but Summer isn’t going out with a whimper! Some of us are loving the heat, the gorgeous blue skies and stunning sunrises. Perhaps a few more of us are grateful for our electricity, housing and air conditioning.
We’re far enough away from New Year’s now to talk seriously about creating new habits. From a brain science perspective, habits are great for our brain because they reduce energy consumption (something our brain is always keen to do) and free-up some of our precious (and limited) conscious mental processing capacity – because we don’t have to consciously think about a habit.
The time it takes to embed a new habit, ie. the point at which it’s harder for us to not do that action that to do it, varies greatly and for most of us is dependent on a range of factors, such as cognitive bandwidth, emotional connection, triggering factors, competing priorities and our energy. General consensus 50 years ago was that it took 21 days to form a habit, although that drifted out to 30 days by the turn of the century. A 2009 study led by Phillippa Lally at University College London showed that some people could form a new habit in just 18 days, while others were forecast to need 254 days for their new habit to ‘stick’. The median suggested in the research article was 66 days – which today remains the benchmark for creating a new habit.
Regardless of how long it takes, here are a few simple yet powerful tips for creating your own new habits:
- Start with just one habit. Creating a new habit is very energy intensive for our brain. Trying to create several new habits simultaneously almost always ends in disappointment – and often our failure to embed all of these habits leads us to simply give up… it’s too hard.
- Find a Habit Success Buddy. Someone you trust, so you can share your new habit with them and they can keep you motivated and accountable.
- Celebrate every small step towards embedding the habit. The first time you perform the new action, give yourself a mental hug; do the Happy Dance. Celebrate every single step. Celebrating helps your brain link the associated dopamine hit with the new action – making it more likely your brain will want to repeat that action.
- Schedule new habits for the start of the day, wherever possible. This is when we have most willpower (mental energy) available.
- Can you link the new habit to an existing habit? For example, if you brush your teeth every morning and want to improve your health & fitness, plan to do (say) 20 push-ups against your bathroom vanity immediately before you brush your teeth. If you want to feel more grateful, commit to feeling gratitude for three things in your life (people, pets, experiences, material things) every morning when you wake up – before you get out of bed. If you want to exercise more regularly in the morning, put your running shoes where your slippers would normally be.
- Be kind to yourself. If you don’t do that new action, smile and remind yourself you’re playing the long game. This is short term pain (creating a new habit) for long term gain (the benefits that new habit brings you.)
We’d love to hear about the new habit you are committing to embedding.
Until Next Time,
The Magical Learning Team
Podcast episode 145: Habits and Happiness
How can having good habits lead to happiness? What do good habits look like? How do you start a new habit?
In this episode, the team breaks down when they have had successful habits, what relationship they see between them and how you too can build your own successful habits.
Listen to this episode here on Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Book Review: Time Wise — Powerful Habits, More Time, More Joy by Amantha Imber
Reviewed by Danette Fenton-Menzies
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“Winners make a habit of manufacturing their own positive expectations in advance of the event.“
Magical Learning acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.