“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Photo by Jorge Sanmartín Maïssa
These first few weeks in January are a precious time for setting getting ourselves on a path toward more joy in the year ahead. But that can be a surprisingly tricky task–too often, we pursue happiness in ways that don’t actually bring us greater joy, fulfillment, or satisfaction. So how do we set out on the right path?
To answer that question, I recently spoke with one of my all-time favorite happiness experts, Buddhist teacher James Baraz, author of Awakening Joy. (He teaches a great online happiness class by the same title, which I highly recommend.)
Here is a condensed version of our conversation. I hope it spurs some ideas for happiness habits you can pursue in 2015.
CC: What are some common “happiness mistakes” we often make at this time of year, and how can we avoid them?
JB: Our intention to change backfires when we make too many resolutions, or when we make resolutions that really aren’t achievable.
Unrealistic expectations create a pass-fail test that is too easy to fail. Initial enthusiasm quickly disappears with the thought, “Who was I kidding?”
Changing a habit takes time. It’s important to realize that most resolutions are an ongoing process.
I find it helpful to really take in the good feeling that accompanies each (even minor) success. Take a few moments to let a minor win register fully in your body and your mind. Then build on that success. Instead of thinking, I’m someone who will never be able to change, it’s much more effective to think of yourself as someone who’s in the process of learning a new way to do something. Believing that you can change is crucial.
CC: What are some of the best habits we can establish to experience more joy?
JB: I have five favorite ways to “awaken joy,” but the most important is to not try too much at once. Find the one that really speaks to you.
There are many more I could add. The Awakening Joy course focuses on 10 different ways to cultivate true well-being in your life.
CC: What role do you think learning about your own happiness plays? Or about learning to be happy?
JB: If you don’t get clear within yourself about where true happiness lies for you, you’re at the mercy of what everybody else thinks, including the advertisers and the Joneses.
It helps to ask ourselves: “What do I need right now for my well-being, or to really thrive?” The answer will often be different in any one moment. We might need to reach out to a friend, or take a break, or recommit to a goal.
Often all we need is a little time to connect with what’s true for us in the moment. But we typically don’t pause to ask ourselves what we need, and so we look outside ourselves for happiness. The wisdom and truth we’re looking for is always already inside us.
CC: There is a big difference between knowing what to do to be happier and actually doing those things. What advice do you have for people who know what to do but have a hard time doing it?
JB: Get in touch with your intention. Intention is different from wishing and hoping, and it’s different from having a goal.
Everything issues forth from the power of our intentions. Start with a vision, and then make a heartfelt decision to do your part. Let go of any timetable you might have in mind. Take what steps you can, then allow yourself to experience the well-being you create, recognize it when comes. Savor it. Do it in baby steps, which means noticing even the littlest successes.
Be kind to yourself in this process. Self-judgment just gets in the way. Be aware of the thoughts and beliefs that sabotage you, and hold them with great compassion–as you would a child who doesn’t know any better.
CC: I think my most important happiness habit is a daily practice of acceptance and gratitude. What is yours?
JB: Remembering how blessed I am is also my top practice for well-being. Expressing my appreciation makes the benefits of gratitude even stronger. I often reflect on the fact that there are a finite number of moments in my life and this one has never been here before and will never be here again.
A daily mindfulness meditation practice is a big help. As my colleague Jack Kornfield likes to say, the signs in Las Vegas casinos read, “You must be present to win.” And it’s the same in living our life. The more I’m present for my life, the more alive I feel.
If you need more support creating positive change in your life and crafting achievable resolutions, sign up here for my online class, Cracking the Habit Code. I’ll send one helpful daily email each day for 21 days–a short tip, and a worksheet you can complete in a few minutes.
|Happy New Year! As we count down to the release of my new book, The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work, on January 20, I’m excited to offer early copies to my readers. Enter below for a chance to win an early copy.|
Photo by Tom Fahy
Sign up to receive my weekly Happiness Tips emails and we’ll send along a link to download a beautiful printable version of this list – “7 Easy Things You Can Do to Enjoy Today (and Tomorrow) More.”
If this list resonates with you, I hope you’ll consider pre-ordering my new book, The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work. In it, I go into a great deal more detail about overcoming overwhelm and other stress.
May you be happy,
Photo by Carrie Eberhardt
If you are setting New Year’s resolutions this year, whether or not you are able to keep your resolutions will depend on how detailed a plan you make for your new behavior.
A large meta-analysis of eighty-five studies found that when people make a specific plan for what they’d like to do or change, anticipating obstacles if possible, they do better than 74 percent of people who don’t make a specific plan for the same task. In other words, making a specific action plan dramatically increases the odds that you’ll follow through.
Take Action: Take a minute to write down a specific plan for your resolution. What exactly will you do?
Join the Discussion: What do you find most challenging about starting a resolution or habit? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Need support for your resolutions? Be sure to sign up for my free online class — you’ll get a worksheet and an email every day for 21 days that will support you in keeping your New Year’s resolutions.
Making changes in the new year? Here’s why you’re more likely to succeed if you start now. For more support with your resolutions, be sure to check out my free Cracking the Habit Code class.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent,
but the one most responsive to change.”
Photo by Snapshooter46
Know what one of my very favorite things to do is? I LOVE coaching people through making New Year’s resolutions. Sign up for Cracking the Habit Code (free when you order The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work) and we’ll enter you in a random drawing to win free coaching with me, Christine Carter!
Cracking the Habit Code: 21 Days to Keeping Your Resolutions will help you keep your resolutions in 10 minutes a day or less. We’ll send you a worksheet and a short email every day for 21 days that will guide you through the process of getting into a good habit.
You already know this: More than half of people who make New Year’s resolutions give up on them by June. Don’t join this failing 50% in 2015! Instead, follow these three research-based strategies for making resolutions that stick.
1. Make your resolution a habit, not a goal.
Your goals for 2015 might include losing 10 pounds, or totally clearing your house of clutter, or finding a new job. All of these might be goals worth setting, and they all involve a lot of different behaviors–and, therefore, a lot of opportunities for failure.
Simple behaviors that can become habits that automatically help you achieve your goals make better resolutions than grandiose goals. For example, resolve to eat an apple every afternoon instead of a cookie, or spend 10 minutes each weeknight before bed cleaning out a shelf or a drawer, or send one networking email every morning before you leave for work.
For something to become a habit, there needs to be something else that triggers the new behavior–a regular, uniform stimulus that tells you its time to perform this behavior. My morning meditation is triggered by my alarm going off at about the same time every day.
If you have a habit in mind that you don’t want to do every day, choose a trigger that occurs only occasionally–ie, at the times when you want to perform that new behavior regularly down the line. For example, “Do a 30-minute yoga video twice a week” isn’t a habit. It’s a to-do item for your task list because there’s no clear trigger, and therefore no clear way to make it a routine for you. If you want to squeeze that twice-weekly yoga into your schedule, a better approach would be to say, “I’ll pop in my 30-minute yoga video after dropping the kids off at soccer practice on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.”
2. Bake a reward into the actual behavior, rather than holding out until you’ve achieved some far-off goal.
We human beings may say that we are pursuing happiness, but really what we tend to pursue is reward. Anything that we might desire could count as a reward: a cashmere sweater, a pretty little cupcake, attention from a mentor, a sense of accomplishment, some affection from a loved one.
When our brains identify a potential reward, they release dopamine, a feel-good chemical messenger. That dopamine rush motivates us toward the reward, creating a real sense of craving, wanting, or desire for the carrot that is being dangled in front of us.
Fortunately, we can make dopamine work for us rather than against us as we build our habits. To get into a good habit, you’ll need a really satisfying reward–ideally one that’s immediate or, even better, intrinsic to a routine.
We can do this by making the activities themselves more rewarding—more fun. This is what I did when I switched my silent, sitting meditation (a very serious, long vipassana—like eating kale for the mind) to meditating along with a Deepak Chopra recording (short, inspiring, and easy—like an iceberg wedge salad with bacon and blue cheese). I was getting a lot out of the longer vipassana meditations when I did them, but I wasn’t meditating regularly. Just as any salad is better than a diet without greens, I decided that at this stage in the game, any meditation is better than none. It might not be a sure road to enlightenment, but it’s closer than hitting snooze in the morning.
I’m also a huge fan of the “Yay me!” reward, which I learned from B.J. Fogg at Stanford. Even something as small as a short mental victory dance can trigger a little hit of dopamine, enough to tell your brain to repeat whatever you just did. So when I hear my alarm and sit up in bed, I congratulate myself. If you heard my running internal commentary, you’d think I was utterly crazy, what with the constant “Yay me! I did it again!” self-talk. But it works!
3. Prepare for failure.
Unless you are some sort of superhero, you will not be able to get into this new habit perfectly the first time. You’ll trip and fall and royally screw up. Research indicates that 88 percent of people have failed to keep a new resolution. In my experience as a human being and a coach, 100 percent of people starting a new habit lapse at some point. Faltering is a normal part of the process. It doesn’t matter if you have a lapse, or even a relapse, as much as it matters how you respond to that lapse.
So take a minute to think about what tools you need to embark on your new habit. What obstacles will you likely face? People who plan for how they’re going to react to different obstacles tend to be able to meet their goals more successfully. For example, research suggests that recovery from hip-replacement surgery depends in large part on having patients think through obstacles to their recovery and then make a specific plan for how they will deal with those obstacles.
What obstacles can you predict and plan for? Don’t forget to include the people in your life who (often unintentionally) throw up roadblocks. For example, my husband was not a fan of my morning exercise routine when he noticed how early I was going to bed, and I was successful only when I planned out how I’d respond to his attempts to convince me to stay up later with him.
In his fantastic book The Marshmallow Test, the celebrated psychologist Walter Mischel gives what I think is his best advice for responding to challenges: make an “implementation plan.” First, identify the “hot spots that trigger the impulsive reactions you want to control,” like your alarm going off while it is still dark, or seeing your favorite hot wings on the menu. Then, decide what you will do when the trigger goes off, phrasing your behavior plan in simple, “If-Then” terms. For example: “If my alarm goes off and I want to press snooze, I will immediately get out of bed and walk to the bathroom.” Or: “If I see hot wings on the menu and feel the urge to order them, I will immediately choose a salad to order instead.” This strategy may seem too simplistic to work, but lots of research proves it to be, as Mischel writes, “astonishingly effective.”
Finally, even with the best laid plans, lapses are still going to happen–probably over and over again. In those cases, what’s important is that you don’t beat yourself up for your lack of willpower but instead try to practice “self-compassion.” When we practice self-compassion, we recognize that everyone makes mistakes and falls short of their expectations for themselves at one time or another–in fact, our shortcomings are what bind us to the rest of our fellow humans. Pioneering research by Kristin Neff, of the University of Texas, has found that when people treat themselves with self-compassion–that is, they extend to themselves the same kind of understanding and kindness that they would show a friend who makes a mistake–they are actually more likely to bounce back from a failure and stay on track to meet their goals.
I believe, in my heart of hearts, that New Year’s resolutions are a fantastic opportunity to develop new behaviors that really can make us happier, healthier, and more successful in 2015. The key is knowing how to make resolutions that stick. If you need more support (most people do!) sign up to get one helpful daily email each day for 21 days–a short tip, and a worksheet you can complete in a few minutes–here.
Happy New Year!
We’re excited to offer a completely revised version of my most popular online class ever as a gift for ordering The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work.
Cracking the Habit Code: 21 Days to Keeping Your Resolutions teaches critical skills for starting a new habit and, importantly, keeping it.
The class is now easier and even more effective — just as much learning, but far less effort. We’ll send you a worksheet and a short email every day for 21 days that will guide you through making a resolution that you can keep.