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A Little Happier: What’s the Best Way to Change a Habit?

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In my book Better Than Before, I write about the 21 strategies that we can use to make or break our habits.

Habits are the invisible architecture of daily life; research suggests that about 40% of our existence is shaped by our habits.

Sometimes people are dismayed when I tell them that they can choose from among 21 strategies. They say, “Twenty-one is too many! Give me the three that work best! Or just one!”

In fact, it’s helpful that so many strategies exist--because some strategies work very well for some people, and not for others, and some strategies are available to us at some times in our lives, but not at other times.

So when people ask me for the best way to change our habits, I explain that there is no best way, because people are different. We all have our own interests, our own temperament, our own values, and our own circumstances. So it depends.

But often people dismiss that explanation, and they ask again, “Okay, sure, but tell me, what’s the best way? If you had to pick one way, what’s the right way to change a habit?

For a long time, I was confounded by this response. I had no idea how to make my point clearer: that there could be no magic, one-size-fits-all solution to changing habits. There was no “best” way or “right” way because it all depends on you.

But finally I realized what I could say that would help people understand what I was trying to convey.

Now, when people ask, “What’s the best way to change a habit?” I reply, "What's the best way to cook an egg?" And then they understand: there can be no single best way to cook an egg, because it depends on you, and how you like to eat your eggs. Or maybe you don’t even like eggs!

The best way to change a habit depends on whether you’re a morning person or a night person, or an Abstainer or a Moderator, or a simplicity-lover or an abundance lover, and whether you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel, and countless other factors.

It turns out that it’s not that hard to change your habits—when you do it in the way that’s right for you. But you first have to answer the question, “How do you like your eggs?”

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