When I first started my study on joy, I asked the question: why is it much easier for people to stick to negative habits rather than positive habits?
There are two reasons:
- Most of the negativity we experience is unconscious while positivity requires an intentional, conscious effort.
- Most people are missing the plan for intentional and conscious positivity.
Using an emotional intelligence tool I created called the Positivity Cycle™, I helped people identify what their plan for positivity should be. But there was one problem . . . people still couldn’t stick to these positive habits.
That was when I discovered: the plan needed a plan.
After months of research, I developed the concept of Rules. Rules are simply one statement, that, if you follow, will help you stick to your positive habits.
If you want joy and positivity in your life, use the Positivity Cycle to identify what your needs are, and then translate those self-care actions into Rules.
In this article, I’ll break down the formula for the one statement that will help you stick to positive habits.
The Positivity Cycle
The Positivity Cycle is a pattern of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that compound our hope, joy, and sense of agency in the world.
Here’s how it works:
- First, you define a self-care action.
- That self-care action gives you a thought.
- Then, this positive thought produces a positive emotion.
- Finally, you label the reward of your self-care action, which reinforces the self-care.
But as I’ve said before: defining your self-care action, thought, emotion, and reward is not enough to help you stick to doing the action.
The next step is to translate your Positivity Cycle into Rules.
What is a Rule?
A Rule is an understood principle to guide action toward a positive habit. It has four parts to it:
- Frequency—how often you’ll do the action.
- Method—your plan for doing the action.
- Support—if the action is difficult, pair it with something you love so you’re more likely to do it.
- Agreement—how you’ll reward yourself for doing the action.
Here’s how a Rule would look if the self-care action from the Positivity Cycle was to look at the budget.
[FREQUENCY] Every Sunday night, [METHOD] my spouse and I will review the Debt Snowball plan [SUPPORT] while celebrating our wins for the week. [AGREEMENT] We will not watch television for the night unless we do this.
When positive habits are translated into this formula, they’re easier to follow.
Rules vs. Goals
Why is it called a Rule and not a goal? Isn’t a Rule technically a goal?
There are a few key distinctions between Rules and goals that are worth mentioning.
For one, when people create goals for happiness, they typically try changing their circumstances. But studies show our thoughts and actions are more influential for our happiness than our circumstances. Changing our circumstances without changing our thoughts and actions will barely make a dent in our overall happiness.
A Rule differs from a goal because it forces a person to not focus on changing the circumstances. Instead, it has them change the process.
Joy is about showing up and choosing hope, even if your circumstances don’t change. Rules help you do this.
Another key distinction between Rules and goals is that Rules are more fluid.
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, defines habits as the compounding interest of self-improvement. In other words, once a habit is installed, you create a new habit, then a new habit, so on and so forth. Habits build off each other.
But when researching negativity, I discovered that the way you experience negativity is always changing. Because your negativity is always changing, your positivity plan also has to change.
This is why I define The Joy Habit as once every month, you create rules for positivity. You take a look at how you experienced negativity in the past month, and create rules of positivity going forward. It’s fluid.
Michael Hyatt, author of the bestselling book, Your Best Year Ever, states that you achieve a habit goal once that habit is installed. James Clear would also agree with this.
But unlike goals, Rules are never “achieved.”
Rules allow you to be more fluid. After one month, you might need to change your Rule to tackle a new set of negativity. That’s normal! Rules allow for this flexibility, while a goal would interpret this as a missed goal (since the habit wasn’t technically installed).
The Four Parts of a Rule
To create a Rule, you have to translate your positivity plan from the Positivity Cycle into the four components of a Rule. Lets dive into each one.
This is self-explanatory, but each Rule statement starts with the frequency of the activity.
- Every week.
- Every day.
- Every Wednesday night.
When defining frequency, I try to stay in a timeframe that’s less than a month (since The Joy Habit is a monthly activity). I range from day to biweekly when it comes to frequency.
A method is a plan that makes doing the action easier. What I love about methods is that they’re everywhere. Follow any influencer today and they have a proven plan for achieving a desired result. Their plan is actually a method.
An example of a method today includes:
- Dave Ramsey’s Debt Snowball method (for eliminating debt)
- Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner method (for goal achievement and productivity)
- Chalene Johnson’s 131 Method (for healthy weight loss)
The reason many people don’t stick to positive habits is because they don’t have a process or system to follow. Creating this process can be overwhelming too.
But the beauty of methods is you don’t have to develop a plan on your own. Just research a proven process you can stick to.
A support is optional, but helpful. If your positive habit is something that’s difficult for you to do, pair the action with something you love.
For instance, if setting a budget is a difficult task that gives you negative emotions, you can ease the negativity of this experience by setting your budget as a place you love.
You can look for three types of support:
- Person—doing your activity with someone you have fun with.
- Place—doing your activity in a place you enjoy.
- Activity—doing your activity while doing another activity. For example: studying (the action you hate doing) while on the elliptical (the action you love doing).
If your positive habit is difficult, then look for a support in one of these three areas.
The final part of the Rule is the most important of all. An agreement is how you’ll reward yourself for doing an activity. This is the positive reinforcement that keeps you doing the activity.
Now here’s what makes agreements powerful: your reward should be something you already view as a reward.
In a Negativity Cycle, people often go to pleasures to give them a blast of dopamine whenever they feel the pain of a negative emotion.
Watching television as a way to escape feeling shame is bad. But watching television is not an inherently bad activity. It only becomes bad when the motivation is bad.
Because your brain already has a neural pathway that associates television as a reward, you just change the motivation behind the reward.
In the agreement part of a rule, you only get your reward for doing the positive action.
We will not watch television unless we review the budget first.
Look at the ways you currently reward yourself, and if they are healthy actions, shift them to be part of your agreement. Then, your rewards become positive reinforcements for your self-care activity.
Rules Can Change Your Life
The Joy Habit is simply this: once every month, create rules for positivity. This is what those rules look like.
When you translate your Positivity Cycles into Rules, you actually stick to your positive actions for the month.
And if you make this a practice every month, you can keep negativity at bay and build a life of joy.
Your plan for positivity needs a plan. Rules are your plan, and they can change your life.