How to break bad habits with Dr Timothy Sharp of The Happiness Institute

dr tim sharpDo you remember when we were younger, before computers and smartphones dominated our lives, and we would have a whole bunch of different hobbies and activities to fill our time? Well, it turns out that most of us have forgotten all about the world pre-internet and we’re suffering as a result. Not only is our constant state of mindless scrolling making us dumber (admit it — when was the last time you remembered a phone number?) but it’s making us a whole lot less happy as well.

I am glad that I have two hours each day to sit and read my book because the second I get home and have dinner I’m a zombie in front of the TV. But lately I have noticed that I want to stop doing this and pick up a hobby — and it turns out I’m not alone. Officeworks recently commissioned a survey around our habits and with the help of Dr Timothy Sharp of The Happiness Institute created a three week plan for ditching those bad habits (click here to download your three week plan!). 

I had a little chat with Dr Tim about why we should all be putting down our smartphone and taking up a hobby again as well as some of the ways we can start busting those bad habits now!

What benefits are associated with engaging in hobbies?

There are many benefits associated with finding new hobbies; a centrepiece of this 3-week plan. Essentially, spending more time engaging in pleasurable hobbies enhances our mood and happiness which in turn creates energy and momentum to be more productive. Being more productive then, not surprisingly, leads to achievement and accomplishment which then brings pride and satisfaction, another form of “happiness”. As noted previously, as all of this leads to more happiness, more happiness also leads to better health and wellbeing, better quality relationships and even longevity. So over the long term the benefits of finding new and enjoyable hobbies are many and considerable.

What’s one way we can make sure we follow through on our plans/hobby activity? 

At the risk of repeating myself, I’d highly recommend trying and sticking to the aforementioned 3-week plan I developed in collaboration with Officeworks. Alternatively, the best way to achieve goals is to set (possibly another) plan and then stick to it by using reminders, rewarding yourself for any and all progress, involve others and have them support you along the way.

How long can it take to correct our bad behaviour and what’s one tip for making it happen?

This is a bit like asking “how long’s a piece of string?” and the reality is that everyone and every habit will be different. That being said, on average, a few weeks is what will be required to make meaningful changes and this is why we designed the program to be 3 weeks long.

Interestingly, and importantly, the research indicates that most people actually want to make such changes with 80% of people stating they’d like to use their spare time more productively. And although they might not realise why, taking up hobbies would help because the mood benefits that come from engaging in social and recreational activities provides energy and motivation to then engage in other productive pursuits. In short, happiness inspires us to be more and to do more.

What’s one piece of advice you like to give to people trying to make changes to their lives?

The most important thing to do is to set clear and specific goals, and then be prepared to work at it and stick at it over a prolonged period (sometimes through some ups and downs). But if going through difficult periods, remind yourself of WHY you started and of all the benefits that will come when you eventually achieve the desired outcome(s).

How can we start leading happier lives?

Many people know what they “should” do to live a better life, but many of these people don’t “do” all they think they should. This is what I call the “knowing-doing gap”. The 3-week plan, however, has been designed to help people bridge the gap and to make necessary changes slowly and gradually. For most of us, it’s unrealistic to expect all bad habits will be eliminated completely; but what we can expect and what we can aim for is a reduction of bad habits and an increase in good habits.

Officeworks’ 3-week plan provides a daily breakdown people can follow to slowly begin to break out of their bad habits (whether it’s cutting back on scrolling through social media for hours on end, for example) and swap them for more productive and meaningful behaviours.

The first week helps people break out of unproductive behaviours and identify how to live a more balanced life, doing more of what they enjoy. The second week focuses more on better using the additional time created from reducing bad habits and investing that time in newer, more exciting hobbies. And finally, the third week focuses on reinforcing and maintaining the positive changes made over the longer term.

How does lack of productivity and discipline negatively affect our lives?

Not surprisingly, wasting time in unproductive pursuits contributes to frustration and low mood, various forms of distress that can impact on all areas of life. If we’re not doing the best we can in one area it spills over into other areas which is obviously far from ideal. But the principles and strategies outlined in the 3-week plan can be used by anyone, for free, in any area of life!

Who should follow your 3-week good habit plan?

Anyone can follow the plan and anyone would benefit from the plan! It’s specially been designed for anyone who’d like to change their behaviours and for anyone who’d like to waste less time and engage in more productive time — and let’s face it, that’s essentially all of us!

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice what would it be?

There are so many things I’d like my younger self to know but if I had to limit it to just one piece of advice … it would probably be to enjoy every step along the way and to enjoy the company of all those people who were with me every step along the way.

What are some of your bad habits that you’d like to break? Do you have a hobby you’d like to get back into or an idea for a hobby you’d like to start? Tell us about your plans in the comments below!

Larissa Thorne (Deputy Editor)

Larissa Thorne (Deputy Editor)

When I'm not working on getting my first novel finished you'll find me buried under the great wall of credit card debt that I've collected over the years. I am a hoarder of shoes, jewellery, books and Disney DVDs and am physically incapable of restricting my chocolate intake.

1 Comment
  1. When I was young I love to write fiction but as I am getting older and older now, I am losing touch with my old hobby, felt like I am no longer as creative as before but I would love to get back to writing fiction 🙂