Why don’t people stick with new habits they know they need to be happy?
That’s a complicated question and there are many answers. Occam’s Razor suggests the answer is because new habits are uncomfortable, so we stop doing them.
This brings me to something I call the Happiness Change Curve. It’s a chart shape that I always keep in mind whenever I pursue some new activity or project in order to make myself happy or to accomplish a new goal. Clearly it’s not an actual curve, but it could be drawn as one. It’s as simple as it is accurate.
The Happiness Change Curve shows that you start at a state of discomfort, just enough to want to change. Then you make a change to better your condition. Examples of this change could be a divorce, starting a new business, starting to exercise to lose weight, going back to school, etc. It doesn’t matter what the change is, the Happiness Change Curve will still be accurate.
When you first start into the change, it suddenly gets very painful. Your happiness drops. However, if you stick with it, you start to see results, your life starts to improve, and you get happier.
Soon, when the habit or system becomes second nature and the new results become part of who you are, you are now at a new level of happiness, higher than when you started.
Let’s say you look in the mirror and see a huge pooch where your flat stomach used to be. You are dissatisfied. Unhappy…about a four on a scale from one to ten. For the first time in your life, you decide to start running three miles every morning to lose weight.
Over the next week, you’re running through your neighborhood, your fat bouncing up and down, panting like a dog. Are you happy? No. You’re actually less happy than before you started exercising. As a matter of fact, you might even be miserable. Your happiness level was at a four, but now you’re a two. It sucks.
It’s possible you might quit because of this unhappiness. Then you’ll snap right back to a four and stay there.
But…if you push through the low point, soon a few things will happen:
1. You’ll start losing weight.
2. You’ll start hating running less.
3. Making the effort to run daily will seem like less work as the neurons in your brain make the proper connections to instill the habit at a biological level.
Over time, your new habit and the results of it will boost your happiness to seven or eight, where it will stay. I’m using exercising / losing weight as an example; but again, it applies to just about any new habit or project you’re going to undertake in order to better yourself.
Some of you more well-read folks might note this is very similar to Seth Godin’s The Dip. It is, though the Happiness Change Curve is a much simplified version. (And I promise you I came up with this idea many years before Seth wrote about his dip in 2007).
Any time I start a new endeavor to achieve some new goal or make some positive change in my life, I always, always remember the Happiness Change Curve. I know that I will be very UNhappy for a while before I start feeling happier than when I started, and I make damn sure not to quit when the unhappiness is at its worst.