I’m taking a Coursera course called The Science of Well-Being. The course is wildly popular, and I can see why. I’m about five weeks in, and it’s given me several good, practical ideas to live a little better. To be more grateful and positive, and even to meditate.
For me, the weekly “rewirements” (the one or two new habits that you are supposed to try) are the highlight. I look forward to seeing what the week’s rewirement is every Sunday. This week’s rewirement is meditating every day.
The weekly rewirement program is a great example of thoughtfully designing behavior change. It sets the learner up for success by focusing on achievability and a spirit of experimentation.
It’s Just a Little Habit
Crucially, it’s targeting the right unit of behavior change: habits. Not big life or personality changes, but everyday actions. As shown by James Clear’s tremendous success with his book Atomic Habits, habits are something people can work with. They’re small units of behavior change that you can fit into your life as you see fit.
And the habits in the course are always small, practical ones, like meditating for ten minutes a day. Or writing down three things you’re grateful for every day. Things that people will be able to do consistently for a week.
It’s Just a Week
And it’s easy to do it consistently when you’re only committing to a week. It’s a long enough time to try out a habit, without being so long that it feels like a big commitment. So you try it without overly high expectations, as a small experiment, not a big life change.
The great thing is, the small experiment can grow into a big life change in the end. There’s a lot of upside and limited downside in this experimental approach to behavior change. You’ll probably discard most of the habits after a week, maybe even sooner. But the short trial period means you get to try out a lot of behaviors, so there will probably be a few that will stick, and appreciably improve your life.
A Stream, not a Deluge
The Internet is awash in new ideas. You can lose yourself in them. But this program measures them out at a slow, steady pace and gives you a clear time boundary around each one. You’re in control, you’re never overwhelmed, but you’re also getting plenty of fresh ideas to try out. It’s a great balance between challenging oneself with novel efforts, but never overcommitting and getting burned out.
So try it! Or maybe just try collecting a list of habit experiments to try, and taking one on each week. There’s much to gain, and little to lose.