I was ecstatic when I found out that people who’d completed my online course, The Science of Wellbeing, showed a significant improvement in their happiness levels.
I shared the data from this study with you in my last newsletter. But I hope I didn’t leave you with the impression that just reading my work will automatically deliver the happiness boost many of us crave. It won’t. And here’s why… and what you can do about it.
To understand the problem, we need to go back to my childhood. If you grew up in the 80’s like me, you may remember sitting in front of the TV and watching a cartoon called G.I. Joe.
And if you remember the cartoon, you probably recall the famous public service announcements that ended each episode - in which characters like Ripcord, Snow Job and Mutt offered advice to kids in trouble. The PSAs explained why you shouldn’t pet strange dogs; how to stop a nosebleed; and even what to do if you catch on fire (!).
And no matter what the topic, all the PSAs ended the same way. The kids thanked their saviour for the gift of knowledge.
"Now we know,” they’d say gratefully.
“And knowing is half the battle,” the G.I. Joe team member would reply.
But the problem is that behavioral science shows that knowing ISN’T half the battle. The idea that knowing is all you need is a fallacy — the G.I. Joe Fallacy.
On one level the G.I. Joe Fallacy is pretty obvious. Let’s say you want to run a marathon. You read up on the lives of great runners, you research the ideal running shoes and learn about the best diet to fuel yourself for the big race. But if you never hit the road, day in and day out, for practice runs – the whole runner thing is not going to happen.
The same thing is true for all the happiness tips I share in this newsletter. If you want to see any benefits, you need to implement these behaviors in your daily life. And that takes more than knowing what you should be doing. You need strategies to actually do it.
So I thought I’d shared some of the strategies I’ve used to actually implement wellbeing practices in my own life.
Phone a friend. Research shows that social support can help us stick to our goals and habits. So find someone who wants to begin their own new habits and ask them to go on this wellbeing journey with you. I have close friends who share my workout goals – and who join me for yoga or on the hiking trails. Knowing I have a commitment to a friend helps me stick to my exercise schedule.
Remove the obstacles. It can be hard to stick to a new wellbeing habit in the early days, so why make it harder? If you want to have better sleep, then start leaving your smartphone in the hall and not right by your bed. If you want to exercise in the morning, leave your gym clothes out and ready the night before. If you want to maximize social interactions when you’re out in public, don’t have your headphones on with your music blasting. Whenever possible, try to think of ways to reduce friction to make happiness-inducing behaviors as easy as possible.
Repeat, repeat, repeat. One of the easiest ways to turn a new behavior into a habit is through repetitions. Even complicated things — like driving a car — can become automatic when we’ve done them enough times. So repeat happiness practices so they become as natural to your daily routine as making a morning cup of coffee or hanging up your coat.
I hope you’ll use tips like these to help you put new habits into effect. And I hope you’ll remember that knowing what you need to do to feel happier is only the first tiny step to becoming happier. Improving your wellbeing is possible, but it takes more than knowledge to do it.
So now you know about the G.I. Joe Fallacy, and knowing is half the… no, wait.