I have been hearing about the idea of “30 days to a new habit.” The concept is that it takes 30 days of doing something new, every day, to create a new pathway in your brain and have it become a habit.
Just a little bit on brain function – the brain creates pathways with things that we do regularly, like brushing our teeth, driving, washing the dishes, playing a sport, etc. As we do these things over and over, the pathways becomes cemented, and you can do them almost automatically, without even thinking about it. Try brushing your teeth with the other hand, and see how that feels. It’s not automatic. But if you did it every day, within 30 days or so, it would become easier.
So more than a month ago, I tried to make some changes and went on the 30 day plan. I tried three new things concurrently, which was too many….OK lesson learned. In the end, one of those new behaviors stuck, and I am doing quite well with it.
When I think about new habits, I mostly think about diet and exercise. So I thought about how I could use this idea in my practice, with regard to people, relationships and being present with what we are doing in the moment.
What are 30 day habits we can try with regard to our happiness and how we interact with others?
Do kind things for others, performing random acts of kindness. Do one small thing for another person every day. You might do that already, but be conscious of it and notice it. Buy a family member’s favorite ice cream, or make their favorite recipe, change the light bulb that went out yesterday on their side of the bed, pick your spouse or partner up at the train, bring someone a hot cup of coffee or hot chocolate, make real popcorn for after-dinner TV watching.
Say thank you to your spouse or partner for something they did today. It doesn’t have to be big. Thank them for doing the dishes, cooking a nice meal, bringing in the paper, or buying stamps for you. Thank them for listening when you had a problem to discuss. Thank them for being quiet when they got up in the morning and you were still asleep.
Give someone a compliment every day. “You really did a nice job with that.” “I’m proud of you for working so hard.” “What a great smile.” “Good job on that project.” “I really like how you played with your friend.” “Nice job finishing your dinner.”
Make one empathic comment to someone every day. Put yourself in their shoes and reflect to them how they might be feeling, and they will know that you are tuning in with them. Such as, “that sounds like it was hard for you.” “Wow, you look so happy about that.” “I bet that was disappointing.” “You must have felt proud.” Make it about them.
Ask a salesperson, restaurant server or your mail carrier how their day is going. “How’s your day today?”
Pick a time of the day, say 6 pm to 8 pm to put your cell phone away and give full attention to others around you, or to yourself. Model that behavior and see if you can get your family members to follow suit.
Say hello to one person you don’t know. Just look up when you are walking and make eye contact with someone who is passing, and say hello.
Keep a journal and write down one thing that you noticed about your day that made you happy. One sentence. I am happy it was sunny today. I am happy to see some tulips start to come up. I am happy that there was no traffic on the highway. I am happy they had that sweater in my size. I am happy to see my kids come out of school with smiles on their faces.
Start a new tradition at your dinner table….everyone says one word about how their day was, or how they are feeling today. One word is not too hard, and it will invariably lead to conversation. Certain words are not allowed….fine, OK, normal, nice. Model more descriptive words like happy, frustrating, overwhelming, satisfying, productive, difficult. Maybe you have to guess why each person said the word they did.
Pick how many sources of news you want to get each day, and turn off the rest. The news of late has been causing a great many people much stress. We have the daily newspaper(s), the news on TV, and then who knows how many notifications we get from various sites about breaking news. If this much news is causing irritability, then decide which sources you will get, and stick to that for 30 days. If you feel less annoyed by cutting back on that information, your interactions with others might be more positive, and you will feel better too.
Add one item each day to a “give-away” bag, and then bring it to GoodWill at the end of the month. Someone will benefit by the contribution and you will have a few less things in your house.
With all these activities, while we make others feel good, we will make ourselves feel good too. It’s actually much easier to be friendly than to feel frustrated.
By the end of the 30 days, see if you are feeling happier or calmer. Perhaps you are seeing the glass more half full than usual. Maybe you feel like you are adding to a positive climate around you at home, at work, and in your community. Maybe someone in your immediate circle has noticed what you are doing and has started doing it too.
And let me know if this works! Send me an email with what you did, and what effect it had on you. Thirty days to a better world and happier self has to be a good thing.