Great habits for 2013

I was recently asked by Australian Women’s Weekly to write an article on my top tips to get people out of a rut. It got me thinking about new years resolutions and how very few people stick to them. One of the reasons is that we often feel daunted by the goals or actually we struggle to accurately set effective goals. Rather than set goals this year could you focus on introducing some new behaviours. Here are some behaviours guaranteed to raise your mojo in 2013.

Be Accurate.

During our day our brain is constantly trying to make sense of the world. When something happens to us we tend to explain it on three levels. How permanent it is (Always happens or Rarely happens), how much of our life it affects (affects everything or affects very little), Who is responsible for it (Due to me or due to others). People who suffer from anxiety and depression often make BAD events permanent (that always happens), make it affect everything (my life is ruined) and their fault (I am hopeless). In contrast they make GOOD events temporary (that rarely happens), affecting very little (so what that went well they rest of my day sucked), and external (wow that was lucky).

To improve your happiness you need to ensure that you explain the world in an accurate, realistic and optimistic way. If you fight with your partner rather than say “We always fight and this relationships sucks and it’s all your fault”, explain it in a healthy way “We fight more than I like, this relationship has lots of good points but we have stuff to work on, we both contributed to that argument”. 

Practice Gratitude.

It sounds a bit lame but a number of psychological studies have shown that when we regularly reflect on what we are grateful for we see huge increases in happiness and optimism. Make it part of your routine to practice gratitude, you could even get really crazy and keep a gratitude journal.

 Move it.

Some studies have shown that exercise can be more effective than anti-depressants in the treatment of depression. When we exercise our brain chemistry shifts so that we feel happier. In addition regular exercise has also been shown to help us regulate our emotions, cement learning and be more strategic. If you want to get out of any rut, regular exercise is an essential part of your plan.

Be kind to yourself.

Researcher Brene Brown has shown that the emotion of Shame can strip the joy out of our life and destroy our self esteem. In contrast the emotion of guilt can be healthy and help us move forward. What is the difference? The language we use. Guilt is explained as “I did something bad”, shame is “I am bad”. Guilt is about the behaviour, shame is who we are as a person. If our child does something careless we could say “That was a very dangerous and silly thing to do” (guilt) or “You silly, stupid boy” (shame). When we feel shame we shrivel up inside. Be careful how to talk to yourself.

Optimistic Mindset.

The new science of positive psychology shows us that when we regularly reflect on what has gone well for us we get a burst of happiness, become more optimistic and exhibit greater levels of resilience. One study in particular had parents ask their children three questions at the end of every day. “What went well today?” “What did you enjoy today?” “What are you looking forward to tomorrow?”. After the families regularly practiced this the children had healthier thinking patterns, better self esteem and bounced back from set backs easier. 

Get over yourself!

A study was conducted where people were given a sum of money and asked to either go buy something for themselves or for someone else. Afterwards, the group that bought a gift for someone else had much higher levels of happiness than the group that bought something for themselves. When we do things for others we get a much bigger happiness bump than doing something for ourself. Same goes for the workplace, when we help others improve and develop their skills, our happiness is far greater than if we just focus on getting ahead. 

Forget the Possessions.

While we certainly get a bump in pleasure after we buy something beautiful for ourselves, the effect is short lived. What gives us a bigger and longer lasting impact on happiness is when we spend money on great experiences. A holiday, a concert, hot air ballooning. If you want to use money to get you happiness, spend it on experiences rather than possessions. 

Sweat the small stuff.

Major positive events such a promotion, a new relationship or house or even winning the lottery may provide a boost of happiness but they do not always promote long-term happiness – we eventually return to our previous level of happiness. Research shows that few positive experiences affect our happiness for more than three months.

The frequency of our positive experiences rather than the intensity of our positive experiences is a better indicator of happiness.  A person who experiences a number of good things in one day is likely to be happier than another who has one great thing happen. It really is the little things in life that matter.

 Get Engaged.

We often think that relaxing and not working hard or cruising in life with no pressure will make us happy but the truth is boredom equals discontent. Communities with high youth crime rates often cite the root cause of crime as boredom in kids who then look for trouble to overcome the boredom.

Matthew Killingsworth from Harvard university has created an iPhone web app called Track Your Happiness, tracking more than 15,000 people in 83 countries. The app queries users at random intervals on their mood and what they are doing at the time, as well as their level of productivity and their social interactions.

His findings show that for 50 percent of our day our mind wanders away from what we are doing. He showed that during this time we experience our greatest level of unhappiness. Why? Because our mind tends to wander to unpleasant thoughts or personal concerns. He even showed that we are happier completely focusing on a task we do not enjoy, than day dreaming on something pleasurable while doing the task.

Practice being completely absorbed in each task you do.