The Key to Creating Positive Habits

UPDATED: May 23, 2024
PUBLISHED: November 13, 2018

What personal habits would you like to change? Be they home, work or health related, I’ll bet you would see value in instilling some automatic practices that help you reach your goals.

Related: 4 Powerful Habits That Will Change Your Life

Psychologists say the key to creating positive habits is to reduce your personal choices—the little excuses you make to allow yourself to wiggle out of exercise, for example, or ignore that gratitude journal you’ve been meaning to keep. The simple workaround is to set rules for yourself, taking your own capacity to make bad decisions out of your hands. You already do this all the time, probably without realizing it. Maybe your rule is that, if you’ve had two drinks, you don’t drive. Or that you don’t even look at your emails before 11 a.m. The results speak for themselves: In the former, you avoid making yourself a danger on the road. In the latter, you’re more productive in the mornings.

You can make rules to make yourself and those around you happier, too. I once worked with an account executive named Joseph who was, on the surface, a pretty reserved, somber individual. But on the inside, he wanted to spread positivity to his team. So he had a pair of rules for himself. First, before every meeting, he settled on a team member to say “thank you” to for one thing or another, and second, that “thanks” had to be public. He told me that these simple rules made it far easier for him to follow through on his goal of being a positive influencer around the office.

What about you? Can you make sharing your happiness with others automatic?

Related: 10 Clever Tricks to Trigger Positive Emotions

3 Apps to Track Your Progress

1. Perspective Daily Journal (Free; iOS only)

Aiming to provide greater insight and self-awareness for users, this journaling app’s entries can be viewed across a “life calendar” timeline meant to help you draw connections between your past, present and future.

2. Day One Journal (Free)

If you are trying to instill a journaling habit, the best place to start is the simplest. (Maybe that used to mean paper and pencil, but, hey, it’s 2018.) This app makes it easy with its elegant interface and reminders.

DREAM_JOURNAL_ULTIMATE3. Dream Journal Ultimate (Free)

Ever had the one where it’s the day of the big final exam and you haven’t studied? You’re not alone. Log your dreams and the app analyzes them for common themes and compares them to similar dreams from people around the world.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of SUCCESS magazine.

Shawn Achor is a Harvard-trained researcher and best-selling author of The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness. Get a daily dose of happy at Shawn's Facebook page.