“Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product of a life well lived.”-Eleanor Roosevelt
I am a list maker. I can’t ever remember not being a list maker. Early in my marriage my husband expressed concern for my commitment to follow through with each list. Feeling they were party of my ability to be productive and effective, I ignored his chides. In time, I began to understand.
So often my level of joy in a day came from the number of items crossed of my list. Rarely would I acknowledge the value or time of a list item, they were all equal. And parts of my life that never made it to my list, like spending time with loved ones, helping someone when it wasn’t planned or quiet time, would become an annoyance! I needed to learn to appreciation for more than what was on my list.
We can run into similar behavior when striving to obtain a goal or create a new habit. How long does it take to create a habit? If we make a mistake, do you have to start from day on again? If you answered 21 or 28 days and yes, that is incorrect. Though commonly accepted as scientific truth, this idea is no more than an idea that has been promoted in multiple ways. In research from UCL, participants in multiple studies created new habits in as little as 18 days, while some took 254 days with the average being 66 days. Is this joyful or depressing? Is your reaction “I will never be able to create a new habit. I can’t go 66 days without making a mistake!” Good news, you don’t have to. The study further found that if you aren’t prefect in your endeavor but keep moving forward, you will succeed.
Like not taking in to account the value or time of the items on my list, if we treat all changes equal it can be discouraging when they are not. Do we expect to create the habit of daily meditation for 15 minutes to take the same amount of time as creating the habit of drinking an extra glass of water each day? If so, we could be setting ourselves up for disappointment. “The duration of a habit formation is likely to differ depending on who you are and what you are trying to do. As long as you continue doing your new healthy behavior consistently in a given situation, a habit will form.”1
By shifting our mindset to appreciate the value of the small wins we give ourselves permission to enjoy the process. This shift helps us to keep trying when we make a mistake and to be happy through the process of change.
Do I still make lists? Yes!!! I love them. However, what is on them has changed, how I organize them has improved but most importantly, the do not determine the satisfaction and joy I get in a day. My ability to start appreciating small daily wins while accepting there is more to me than what is on the list has allowed me to give myself permission to be happy. Even on the days when nothing on the list got done.