zenhabits : breathe

Bad Habits Slap Us Down, but a Theme Encourages

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Karl Staib of Work Happy Now.

Productivity books and websites talk about creating habits that support a better life.

The problem is creating the habit. It’s easy to read something that sounds good, but it’s infinitely harder to implement. We have trouble creating good habits because it’s easier to keep doing what we are doing.

If you keep doing what you are doing you will probably live a decent life. That’s what most of us want anyway. So why make the choice to create new habits?

Routines, Arrrgh

When someone is having a bad day, they go home and deal with it in their way then wake up and start a new day, usually a better day. Even when the bad day carries over, eventually the string of bad days end because a person’s mood will change. People become happy again and they forget about improving their lives. They won’t make major changes unless the bad days keep stringing together and making their life miserable.

I’ve heard countless people complain about their jobs, but they never do anything about it because the pain isn’t strong enough. They don’t want to work at changing their habits because all they see is more pain. They see a pile of lifelong behavior patterns that aren’t worth changing. They are used to the emotions that they’ve dealt with for 10, 30, or 50 years. They don’t want to dive into their emotional mess and probably come out disappointed in themselves.

It’s this outlook that I understood for many years, until I began to make one small change in my work perspective. I stopped trying to erase bad habits. All it did was show me that I wasn’t as strong as I wanted to be. Instead of trying to eliminate the way I reacted to a bad experience, I added a tool that changed the way that I looked at life.

Theme of the Day

I gave myself a theme of the day. If I was struggling with the fact that I needed to attend a two hour meeting, I stopped worrying about the email box that would pile up or the potential waste of my valuable time.

“I will find ways to enjoy the meeting.”

I would still struggle to enjoy the meetings, but now there was a twist that I couldn’t ignore. I was empowering my curiosity.

The thing is a theme needs a hook, so I gave myself a goal to make enjoying a meeting I didn’t want to attend into a reality. Could I find three things to enjoy about a boring meeting? I could and I did.

Here is the list from my meeting:

  1. Jane’s crooked smile.
  2. Laughing at Mike’s joke about the cloudy tap water. (You had to be there.)
  3. Alex’s idea for reaching out to the community

I made sure to write down whatever popped in my head. The next time a similar meeting occurred I noticed myself looking for something cool to enjoy.

When I stopped trying to improve myself by eliminating a bad habit and just added a new emotional tool, the old habit eventually got pushed to the back of my conscious. My new awareness gave my thoughts direction and encouraged productivity.

Every job is going to have annoying people and tasks, but it’s up to you to extract as much joy out of the situation as possible.

Do you prefer to use a theme or definite goals you can cross of your list? What “theme” could you add that will improve your outlook?

Karl Staib writes about unlocking and kicking open the door to working happy at his own blog: Work Happy Now! If you enjoyed this article, you may like to subscribe to his feed , follow him on Twitter or read one of his most popular articles, Creating A Project Ritual to Encourage Happiness.



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