Goal Setting The Science of Well-Being

Creating Habits to Improve Happiness

Creating Habits

The last several posts have discussed concrete strategies to improve happiness. Now we will talk about creating habits. Here is a list of all 9 proven strategies, followed by how to be successful with these strategies and improve happiness by creating habits.

Proven Strategies to Improve Happiness

  • Spend more money on experiences vs. “things”
  • Practice and Express Gratitude
  • Reset your Reference Points, don’t compare yourself to unrealistic expectations
  • Use your character strengths, including finding a job and activities that allow you to use these strengths
  • Perform Random Acts of Kindness
  • Increase your Social Connection
  • Increase your Time Spent Exercising and Sleeping
  • Allow yourself More Free Time
  • Practice Meditation or controlling your mindset

Simply reading this list or going back and reading each of those blog posts is probably not enough to make us go practice and engage in these strategies. This concept goes back to the first blog post of this series, talking about the GI Joe Fallacy, “We think that knowing is half the battle but it’s not”. Simply knowing something is NOT enough to put it into practice, nor will it change your behavior.

Improve happiness by creating habits

  • Situational Awareness
  • Goal Setting

#1: Find situations that support you

Pay attention to the situations you are in and try to find ones that support you. It is easy to see this concept with food. If you have candy sitting on your desk at work, it is going to be more difficult to resist than if it were on the other side of the room. Both visibility and convenience in which you can engage your habits, actually matter.

Another example, when someone is wanting to eat healthier, you put the junk food in the dark corner of the pantry versus on the kitchen counter. We need to be aware of our situations, identify bad environments, and get rid of the temptations.

One other example to improve your situation could include phone free meals. This would allow you to make more social connections with your coworkers or family.

You can shape your environment to have less of the “bad cues” that are causing you to value the wrong stuff.

Other examples could include; putting a gratitude journal out on the kitchen counter or placing a note next to you bed to help you remember to meditate. These notes or reminders are simple things and may sound silly, but they caputre our attention, just like the candy jar does, but these reminders can make us do positive things.

#2 Goal setting

I am somewhat use to goal setting. In Physical Therapy we set SMART goals with our patients.

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time Based

Step 1 would be to figure out your goal. Step 2 is making your goal specific. How will you do this? What is your plan to enact the goal?

Example, you want to meditate 3 times a week. You need to figure out what are the details? When and where will you meditate? What days of the week? How long will you meditate for? Will you use external devices to help, like an app, music, pillows to sit on, etc.

When you make your goal specific, it forces you to figure out how you are going to do it. And figuring out how you are going to do it actually leads to better performance.

Whatever goals you are thinking about, make them incredibly specific. The who, what, where, when, why. Write them down. See them quantitatively.

Step 3 is to think about what your goal will actually give you and what are the problems you will encounter if you do not reach your goal.

It is helpful to think about your goals and what it would be like to achieve them. Indulge in that moment. But also imagine the obstacles that you may encounter along the way. This is mental contrasting.

Mental Contrasting

Indulge in positive thinking surrounding your goal and achieving your goal. But also spend time thinking about what could happen along the way. What would it be like to not achieve your goal? Now you have visualized both things that you need to succeed, and that is what mental contrasting allows.

Great, you have a plan to reach your goal. But what about those unexpected situations that come up without warning? How do you intervene when you body sort of has autopilot or an automatic way of acting, changing your situation, without your realizing it? You need to have implementation intentions. Or intentions that help to support your goal.

Implementation intentions

This is a strategy that you have in the form of an “if-then” plan that can help you lead to better goal attainment. If you create that plan, then instead of performing an action without realizing it, your automatic system can pay attention and be on alert for the situation you imagined. Our automatic system listens in so if you become specific with your goals you can stop your autopilot from turning you away from your goals.

For example, when you are trying to remember if you turned off everything; the stove, your curling iron, etc, before you leave for work. You can actually visualize and plan for when you touch your doorknob, that you will pause and think “stop”, allowing you to remember to take a second to scan through your head, imaging your home layout, and think about if everything is turned off.

I do something similar, I have a goofy, random word I say to myself each time I pull out of the driveway to make sure I close the garage door. Before this, I would have days where I was unsure if I had closed it or not which led to a lot of anxiety. Mostly because my great pyrenees can open doors with his nose and I imagined all 4 dogs roaming the streets while we were at work.

Another example, if you are trying to eat healthy and you go to a party where there is pizza, eating pizza is probably not a part of your goal planning. But if you had already imagined that this may happen and you created an “if-then” plan to eat the healthy food you packed in your bag. If you did not create that “if-then” plan then you would be more tempted to eat the pizza.

Research has actually found that using the “if-then” plan can increase your percentage of succeeding with your goals about threefold.

So much to remember when creating habits

Great, even more steps to remember, you might be wondering. Don’t worry just like SMART goals. There is another mnemonic to have in your goal setting tool box, WOOP.

  • Wish– take a few minutes each day to visualize your goal
  • Outcome– Imagine the best outcome
  • Obstacles– Identify your potential obstacles
  • Plan– what is your “if-then” plan

So we have 9 proven strategies to use to improve happiness. Today we have discussed how to use these strategies to improve happiness by creating habits: Being aware of your situations and goal setting. We can be more successful with our goals by making them SMART and by putting in some time thinking about these goals using WOOP.

What are some of your goals?

One of mine is to run the Appletree Marathon this fall in under 3 hours and 25 minutes. I won’t bore you with my specific details, my “if-then” plan, or my WOOP, but please let me know if you have any questions on where to start with your goals. Or if you need help in creating these habits.

And if you would like help with goal setting please reach out. It does not have to do with running, exercising, or meditation. It can be goals related to anything. We can chat and help you come up with a game plan, both with eagle vision (large picture) and mouse vision (day to day)

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