Gretchen Rubin, a happiness author and blogger whom we’ve featured on the blog before, has taken on a new challenge: figuring out what’s behind a habit and “how to make good habits and break bad ones (really).” Ms. Rubin will reveal her findings in a book due out in 2015. In the meantime, she has been blogging about her research into questions such as
- Sometimes, people acquire habits overnight, and sometimes, they drop longtime habits just as abruptly. Why?
- Do the same habit-formation strategies apply equally well to everyone?
- What are the overarching strategies that allow us to change our habits?
Ms. Rubin suggests that when in pursuit of a good habit, one of the most important things to do is to avoid deprivation. When we feel that we have been deprived of something, we often compensate by giving ourselves permission to break the desired habit, even if by just a little. For example, I’ve been known to say, “I was really good with my calorie counting this week, so I’m going to indulge in this brownie tonight.”
Ms. Rubin points to a recent study published in the NY Times. In the study, participants were split into 2 groups before going on a 1-mile walk and then eating lunch: 1 group was told that the walk was for exercise and that they should focus on their exertion; the other group was told the walk was for pleasure and that they should enjoy themselves. Afterwards, the “exercise” group reported feeling more tired and grumpy, and they ate more sweets at lunch. The study results suggest that if you view a habit or activity positively, you’ll be more likely to stick to it and less likely to feel deprived.
In several posts, Ms. Rubin refers to “the strategy of treats.” This is not about a reward system where you get a treat if you maintain a habit or reach a goal but is instead about giving yourself small, healthy treats on a regular basis:
“Treats help us to feel energized, restored, and light-hearted. Without them, we can start to feel resentful, depleted, and irritable. When we give ourselves plenty of healthy treats, we don’t feel deprived. And when we don’t feel deprived, we don’t feel entitled to break our good habits. It’s a Secret of Adulthood for Habits: When we give more to ourselves, we can expect more from ourselves.”
Some examples of treats that don’t cost much in the way of calories, money, or time are:
- Rather than saving them for vacation, reading “fun” books regularly
- Using spa-like hand soap in your own bathroom (not just for your guests!)
- Lighting candles during a regular-old weeknight dinner
- Twinkle lights every day of the year
- Flipping through vacation photo albums
- Keeping fresh flowers on your desk
What are your favorite treats?
Thoughts inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s June 9, 2014 post, “A Key to Good Habits? Don’t Allow Ourselves to Feel Deprived,” Image by Flickr user Morgan