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21 (or 66) Day Positivity Challenge

Choose Joy by Bekka Mongeau

You can change your thinking, change your communication,

change the pictures you hold in your head (your images of the world),

and you can change your behavior (the things you do).

That’s all you really have control over anyway.

~ Jack Canfield

As an avid reader, I often enjoy juggling multiple new books at once, but I recently decided to re-read a few impactful old favorites. One of those is Jack Canfield's Success Principles: How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be (2005, 2015). As I came across the lines quoted above, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a colleague today about communication while we were in a professional development session.

We were discussing roles we play in various settings and reflecting on our own ways of being in team meetings. I shared my belief that while we intellectually know many of the points being discussed in this training, we don't always apply that knowledge or set of skills regularly.

Similarly, as the quote above from Canfield states, I think we all know that we are in control of our emotional responses; that we cannot rely on others to provide for our emotional well-being. However, in the day to day busy-ness of life and work, we often find ourselves reacting emotionally to external stressors in ways that cloud our thinking, zap our energy levels, or generate negative responses. Or, at least, I do.

It's easy, I think, to exist for extended periods in a state of overwhelm and/or exhaustion since we live in a world where the predominant models of success correlate to achievement as "more," whatever that more is for you. After a full day at work, we go home to limited time with loved ones and a media onslaught of negative messaging about very real global concerns.

How do we stay informed without being inundated by the negativity? How do we cultivate positive responses that edify our thinking, increase our energy, and generate and radiate happiness and support?

To answer this question, I went back to two favorite texts: Success Principles, cited above, and Shawn Achor's The Happiness Advantage (2010). A Harvard researcher, Achor spent the first part of his career delving into the causes and the impacts of happiness. He states:

"When we are happy - when our mindset

and mood are positive - we are smarter,

more motivated, and thus more successful. Happiness is the center, and success revolves around it" (p. 37).

That says to me that happiness creates those positive effects we want in our work and our lives; happiness is not a by-product of success, but a way of being. So how do we cultivate more positivity and happiness in our lives?

Apparently, we cultivate it slowly. With practice. Repeated practice until it becomes habit. . . a subconscious way of being.

How long exactly does it take to form a new subconscious way of being? How long will it take to automate a new (positive) response to external stressors?

I've heard 21 days, 30 days, never, and a few months as responses. In order to filter the responses friends gave, I turned to Dr. Google. A search for "how many days to form a new habit" returns 131,000,000 results! That number alone causes overwhelm.

Achor indicates 21 days. However, in looking at a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Lally and colleagues found the number of days to be highly variable but placed the average at 66.

66 seems fairly reasonable for me to internalize new behaviors. I've done 30 day challenges successfully, and although I know I can do 30 days, at some point thereafter the "habit" wanes. Who knows where I would fall along that continuum in Lally's control group. . . . Nonetheless, to fight that cloudy thinking, zapped energy, and negative default reaction, I'm undertaking a Positivity Challenge to reframe by model of happiness.

Good decision. But how do I (we) DO that?

According to Achor, there are six keys to cultivating happiness. If you aren't sure you're with me on this, I encourage you to look to Canfield or Achor directly. Achor has a hilarious TEDTalk - with over 20,000,000 views - that will break it down in twelve minutes.

In short, his research has found that "reality doesn't shape us, but the lens through which we view the world shapes our reality." Societal perception is that our external world is predictive of our happiness. Achor's research, however, has shown that 90% of happiness levels are predicted by the way's in which individuals' perceive their external experiences.

Based on these texts, I am using Canfield's work as the impetus for undertaking the Positivity Challenge. As well, I am using Achor's research results (five steps) to shape my next two months. Here's the summary of my Positivity Challenge in six steps:

1. Identifying three new things I'm grateful for each day,

2. Journaling each morning,

3. Fifteen minutes of exercise daily,

4. Ten minutes of meditation before bed, and

5. Random acts of kindness

I've got random acts of kindness down because I think that's fun and I love surprising people. Check. The other four, for me, require more conscious attention to slowing down and making space in my life for reflection and gratitude. And, admittedly, exercise is by far the area I most struggle with. . . but I'm approaching the five steps as a package deal.

If you care to join me in this journey, I would be excited to have a partner! I hope to hear your goals in the comments section below.

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