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A lot of people developed new habits and routines during the pandemic. For some, it was learning to set boundaries during their workday so they could go for walks or spend time with family. For others, it was just the opposite — they found themselves working longer hours and unable to disconnect.
If you’re part of the group that developed habits that aren’t healthy or that you would like to change, you may be looking for way to adopt a better diet, sleep more or use technology less.
A new book, “How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You want to Be” by Kathy Milkman, may hold some answers.
I’ve interviewed Milkman before, and as a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, she often delves into the “why” of human behavior.
In this latest book, she discovers that in order to develop the consistent habits we want (exercise more, have better work/life balance), the key is not being so strict. In other words, you don’t have to visit the gym at the same time every day in order to make that habit stick. If you become an “inflexible automaton,” then if you can’t make it to the gym at that time, you are unlikely to go at all.
But if you have a more flexible mindset, and work out at different times, then you are more likely to have that habit stick. You learn to adapt to various circumstances in regards to exercise, and so focus on getting your exercise — instead of the “time” of the exercise.
The lesson here is that instead of focusing on answering your email at a certain time of day, be more flexible. The research suggests that by rolling with whatever life throws at you — and still answering your email — the “autopilot” becomes stronger to answer your email. You’re not bound by a rigid schedule that can easily be thrown off, but rather the task you want to accomplish.
“I remain convince that by deliberately building good habits, we can harness our inherent laziness to make positive changes to our behavior,” Milkman says. “The most versatile and robust habits are formed when we train ourselves to make the best decision, no matter the circumstances.”