Making tiny changes to your daily routine can impact your mood more than you might think, says Georgie Browne
Whether you are a productivity hacker or an avid self-love enthusiast you’ve heard about the power of morning routine. The intent is there, yet all too often, control is swept away by the demands of the day. Often before we even leave the house. Tasks are completed subconsciously with one eye on the clock as we rush towards the ever mounting list of impending chores. Hopeful that before the next phase of the day begins we will grant ourselves a brief moment of pause for that faithful “But first, Coffee” juncture in our busy morning. A calm moment of happiness.
What role do habits play?
In his book The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor looks at how each of our daily habits have an important role in creating our lives. Everything from making our beds, to brushing our teeth. He notes: “If we had to make a conscious choice about every little thing we did all day, we would likely be overwhelmed by breakfast.”
Achor builds on the acclaimed research of William James which seems more relevant today than when published in 1890. James said: “So far as we are thus mere bundles of habit, we are stereotyped creatures, imitators and copiers of our past selves.”
Mere bundles of habit is an interesting way to look at a human being, but it makes sense. We are a collection of what one could label as “good” and “bad” habits. Therefore, tweaking some of these habits can have a profound effect on how our days play out. If life is moving at a pace outside of your control; adjusting some small daily habits can lead to enhanced control. And the added bonus of finding hidden beauty in the seemingly mundane.
The trillion-dollar marketing industry wants you to believe that happiness is related to what you don’t have. That it’s something which can be increased by having more of whatever it is they are selling. In fact, in recent years a great deal of scientific research has been carried out into the factors affecting happiness and shown that daily habits are responsible for a huge chunk of our happiness.
Can you change your happiness levels?
In 2001, happiness guru Sonja Lyubomirsky discovered that there was very little empirical evidence backing up the long-standing assumed notion that permanently increasing happiness isn’t possible. Prior to Lyubomirsky’s research, it had been thought that you could make short impermanent changes to happiness but you would ultimately go back to your predisposed baseline. Along with her colleagues, she carried out a meta-analysis of 225 scientific studies into happiness. Firstly (in-case you are thinking this whole ‘happy’ thing is a bit mushy), they found that happier people are more resilient, better leaders, more creative and live longer. Then they identified three clear factors which determine human happiness;
- 50% is predetermined by our genetics, from our biological mother or father, or both.
- 10% of our happiness varies depending on our life circumstances, whether we are rich/poor, healthy/unhealthy etc.
- The final 40% is made from our daily intentional activities (habits/choices).
Lyubomirsky’s discovery of the intentional 40% puts you in the driving seat, it allows you to be the master of your own destiny. It’s terrific news.
And now to coffee
Even if you are utterly sceptical about meditation, or an experienced practitioner this simple and but very effective intervention is going to level up your morning.
Thich Nhat Hanh, the world’s best known Zen master, introduced me to the magical practice of tea meditation. Regardless of your religious beliefs or preference for tea or coffee, this practice will change everything about your day. My advice is to do this practice every morning for at least one week. You will need to include a few more minutes for your morning coffee/tea break, I promise you it will be time well spent.
Start by choosing when you would like to do this practice, it could be first thing in the morning at home, in your local coffee shop after dropping the kids to school or sitting in the car with your take away coffee before you walk into work. It doesn’t matter where – what matters is you do the practice!
How to practice tea meditation
Become very conscious of where you are, and what you are doing. Take your cup in both hands and notice the weight, the smell of the beverage, feel the touch of the steam. Bring your full awareness to the present moment.
Think about the journey all of the ingredients have been on to get into your hands. Each person who made it possible for you to have this cup of tea or coffee. Reflect on the people involved in the processes of harvesting, packing and shipping. Bring yourself all the way from the seed, right to the person who perhaps just served it to you.
Before you take a drink notice how you are feeling, let go of feelings of happiness or unhappiness and just be.
In the words of Thich Nhat Hahn “Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.”
Sit in silence and start to notice things coming into perspective. When you relax your creativity expands. Solutions for problems start to appear. Aches and pains start to disappear. Pretty soon you will see this as a vital part of your day where your productivity peaks and your stress diminishes. Watch Thich Nhat Hanh show Oprah the practice here.
Something else to try
The second part of this morning practice comes from a popular positive psychology intervention by Martin Seligman called ‘The What-Went-Well Exercise’. After your cup of coffee or tea take a moment to write down three things that went well in the last twenty-four hours. And write why they went well.
If possible dedicate a small notebook for this part of the practice, or if you don’t have one create a folder on your phone or laptop. It’s important to keep a physical record. Write down three positive events, they don’t have to ground-breaking, they can be small, or significant. What matters most about this exercise is that you think about why it is a blessing.
It might feel a little odd at first but keep up both practices for at least a week and you won’t look back. If you forget one day don’t give up – restart the next day. In a few months’ time, you will look around and notice everything has changed.
If you stayed with me till the end thank you – I know how precious your time and attention is. I will leave you to Sonder, mindfully.
Georgie Browne is the founder of Find Your Mindful. For more information visit georgie.ie