Positive psychology expert Andy Proctor's The Four Connections: Daily Routines to Ritualize Happiness and Boost Productivity is a game changer if you’re struggling to start your day strong. While daily routines sound a bit boring at first glance, what if setting up smart routines could not only make you more productive, but could also make you happier? Here, Proctor shares some of his best tips for creating routines that feel good and help you live better.
How do happiness and productivity overlap?
Andy Proctor: There's a piece of research from Dr. Barbara Fredrickson called the broaden and build theory. Basically, if you're experiencing positive emotions, like laughing with your friends, or if you're doing yoga and exercising, those positive emotions tend to broaden our cognitive capacity and build our capacity. So with regards to productivity, a lot of times people think, 'Okay, I’ve got to be focused all day, and I have to get all this stuff done and be doing constantly.’ And if you just act like that task machine, sure, you're getting tons of stuff done. But making time for those things that bring you positive emotions might actually help make your brain function better and make those tasks go smoother. Some early research has shown that things like yoga and mindfulness meditation can help with improving memory consolidation — helping your brain reorganize stored information.
What does your morning routine look like?
Andy Proctor: Everyone has to find what works for them, but what I really love doing right now is starting my day by bouncing on this little mini-trampoline as a bit of exercise. It helps me feel better and whether it's cold outside or raining, I can always do it. I do love walking outside and I’ll do that when I can, since being in nature is also hugely beneficial, but being able to just quickly bounce on the trampoline and do a bit of yoga is super efficient and really gets me excited for the day. I have a little playlist of songs that just make me feel happy. I highly recommend having a playlist that you love that boosts your positive emotions. When I do my short exercise routine, I just feel clear, I feel happy.
Any tips on starting a morning routine?
Andy Proctor: Keep it simple and in plain sight. My office is kind of ugly, because I have this trampoline right in the middle of it, because if it's there, I’m more likely to use it than I would be if I had to get it out of my closet and set it up every day. If you want to go for a walk in the morning, sleep in your gym shorts. By making things like this just a few seconds easier to get started, your likelihood of actually getting up and sticking to that routine increases hugely. Make it as easy as possible to engage in the things that are going to really make your happiness increase.
How else do you start your day?
Andy Proctor: Another prompt I like to use is asking myself where I will leave a positive mark today. That can be as small as going online and donating to an environmental nonprofit or volunteering at a local animal shelter or something. It can be really simple, or it can be really big. But asking, ‘How can I make a positive mark today?' increases your sense of meaning and purpose.
Are there any quick rituals people can do throughout the day?
Andy Proctor: Mindfulness and meditation are skills, and they take practice. You never get perfect: Nobody's perfect. But everybody can practice. If you're trying to learn how to play the guitar, you figure out where you put your fingers, and you eventually develop little calluses and it becomes more automatic. Then, you move on to learning chords and strumming and different rhythms. It’s the same thing with all these different positive routines and habits. You just have to practice. If you do a few mindful breaths each day, where you just pay attention to your breath without judgment, that’s a start.
What about for people who say that they have no time to add any of this into their busy schedules?
Andy Proctor: A few breaths doesn’t take much time, first of all. But I would also suggest picking up your phone, going to the Settings, and seeing exactly how long you're spending on text, email, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, or TikTok, whatever you spend the most time on. It’s often surprising how much time you’re spending on your phone without even realizing it. I totally get it, too. I'm about to have a baby in a couple of weeks, and I know that my schedule and routine is going to completely change. Everyone is busy, but at the same time, everybody has a moment to breathe. You're breathing all day anyway: Just focus and pay attention to the breathing, and that’s a start.
You also talk about how values can help develop routines. How can we harness that?
Andy Proctor: Being aware of your core values, and trying to align what you’re doing with them, can change how you’re viewing the world. I have people make a list of the things that make them happy and that are meaningful to them. Then, they make a list of things that they actually spend time doing most days and weekends. It’s interesting to see how they line up. Most people find that they need to shift some things around, subtract some things and add others, to better align their lives to their values. Doing an inventory like that every few months makes a big difference.
Subtracting things can be tough. Any tips for people on how to say no?
Andy Proctor: Telling someone “no” is hard! There’s a strategy that allows you to say no to the thing without saying no to the person: It's called “yes, no, yes.” For example, if a friend invites you to go fly kites in the park but you don’t want to go, you could say:
"I love that you invited me. You're just such a friendly person and I'm so grateful for you.” (Yes)
“I don't really like flying kites. The wind just gets to me.” (No) “But I'd love to get together doing something else.” OR “Thanks again for inviting me.” (Yes)
Any evening rituals you recommend?
Andy Proctor: When you’re in bed and trying to shut off your mind, ask yourself the question: Who did I connect with today? How close did I feel to them? How in sync did I feel with them? It reminds you why connection is so important, and prompts you to make time for it. Connecting with people is so important. And thinking about those connections oftentimes can help you get to sleep better, feeling grateful for the people who you're connecting with.
When it comes to social connections being part of happiness, do introverts and extroverts differ?
Andy Proctor: In general, there are lots of individual differences from person to person in terms of our desires for connection. Introversion doesn't necessarily mean that you don't want to connect with people, it just means that maybe you’re overwhelmed by big social gatherings, or that you don’t get energized by them. But there are different types of connections. People who are introverted often don't enjoy the small talk, or having to perform at social gatherings. But they can still have deep friendships. That’s what’s important: Finding connections with others where you can be vulnerable and comfortable sharing with someone. Those kinds of more intimate, positive, consistent relationships are the ones that we should hold on to.