When people think about changing their habits, they often think of the diet-and-exercise family of habits.
Also, as much as I personally love habits, I know that many people associate habit-change with having to make a lot of effort.
But habits don't have to take a lot of time or energy to form, and they can help us with any aspect of our lives. I have to admit, even now, after spending years thinking about habits, I'm astonished by how much a truly tiny habit can boost happiness.
For instance, here are some examples of a few quick, easy habits that I've adopted to strengthen my relationships. They're all practically effortless, they all make me happier.
These kinds of habits are particularly helpful to me, because the truth is, I can get lost in my own head, and become so focused on crossing something off my to-do list that I neglect to make time to connect with the people who are most important to me. In the tumult of everyday life, I find it all too easy to overlook what really matters.
So I've made these habits:
1. I kiss my husband first thing in the morning, and I kiss him last thing at night.
It might sound silly to schedule kisses -- but for me, if it's on the calendar, it gets done, and if not, not. That's the power of the Strategy of Scheduling!
2. Our family gives each other a real "hello" and "good-bye" every time one of us comes or goes.
When our two daughters were little, they’d greet me and my husband with wild enthusiasm whenever we walked in the door, and often cried miserably when we left. Then we went through a period when barely looked up from their own games or homework or books when we walked in or out -- and I was a major offender in this area, myself. So we made a family resolution to "Give warm greetings and farewells." For instance, instead of letting my older daughter yell, “I’m leaving” before she disappears out the door to go to school, I call, “Wait, wait,” and hurry to give her a real hug and a real good-bye. As a consequence, each day, several times, we have moments of real connection among all members of our family. (Want to read more about this? Check out my book Happier at Home.)
3. With my parents and sister, I do "updates."
This was my mother's idea. We've all noticed that when you see people all the time, you have a lot to say to them; when you talk to them more rarely, it's easy to fall into a "What's new?" "Not much, what's new with you?" type conversation. So the four of us do "updates." Every few days, we send an email with the subject line of "update," we give the most basic details of what we're doing, and we rarely reply to each other. Our motto is "It's okay to be boring." Elizabeth and I discuss it here. We've heard from so many people who have started this habit!
4. Before my daughters go to bed each night, I spend some time with each girl, holding her in my arms and talking about her day.
It's interesting: growing up, my family wasn't at all demonstrative, and I never thought about it, or doubted that my parents loved me. But my family now is super lovey-dovey. Which I very much enjoy. I like having a habit that means that I get some time, each day, to be close both physically and mentally with each of my daughters -- a time that's just for the two of us.
5. I send an email whenever there's any possible reason to congratulate or compliment a friend.
I used to be very lax about this, but now I make it a very deliberate habit to reach out whenever I have an excuse. For instance, I walked by a friend's townhouse the other day, and it had a gorgeous arrangement of pumpkins--so I sent an email. A friend's book got an award, so I sent an email. These little gestures make a difference, over time.
The thing is, we have can have the very best of intentions -- but never get around to giving that good-morning kiss or sending that friendly email. And that's where habits can help.
Habits are freeing and energizing because they get us out of the draining, difficult business of making decisions and using our self-control. When something's important to us, and we want it to happen frequently, making it into a habit means that it does happen, and without a lot of fuss.
What habits have you adopted, that have strengthened your habits?
To get more ideas about some helpful habits to follow, and even more, to get ideas about how to change your habits, check out my (bestselling) book, Better Than Before. Everything is revealed! It turns out that it's not that hard to change your habits -- once you know what to do.