Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative. My book, Better Than Before (can’t resist adding, bestseller) describes the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits.
I spend a lot of time thinking about questions such as, “How do we change?” “Why is it so hard to make ourselves do things that we want to do?” (for instance, why is it so hard to make myself go to bed?) and “How can we stick to our resolutions?“
I realize now that a big challenge is clarity. Often, if there’s something that I want to do, but somehow can’t get myself to do, it’s because I don’t have clarity. This lack of clarity often arises from a feeling of ambivalence–I want to do something, but I don’t want to do it; or I want one thing, but I also want something else that conflicts with it.
Lack of clarity, and the paralysis that ensues, seems to be common. Here’s a list of aims in conflict that I’ve heard.
- I want to eat healthfully. It’s wrong to waste any food.
- I want to give 110% to work. I want to give 110% to my family.
- I want to work on my novel. I want to exercise.
- I want to spend less time in the car. I want my children to participate in many after-school activities.
- Making money is not important. Making money is important.
- I want to be very accessible to other people. I want time alone to think and work.
- I want to be a polite guest. I want to avoid sugar.
- I want leisure time when I come home from work. I want to live in a house that’s clean and well-run.
I have to admit, I’d been researching and thinking about habits for a long time before I grasped the significance of the Strategy of Clarity. It’s very, very important.
A version of this post originally appeared on Gretchen Rubin’s website, where she writes about her experiments in the pursuit of happiness and good habits.