When it comes to building a happier, healthier lifestyle, leave it to a group of talented engineers to provide you with an effective guide to making real, positive change.

Over the course of about four decades, talented professionals and innovators have adopted a certain technique to being more productive in their professional lives and experienced great results. As it happens, this mode of behavior is also a great way to take control of the personal challenges you face in creating more positive habits.

Bernard Roth, a professor of engineering at Stanford University, is a pioneer of the institution’s acclaimed design school (“the d.school”) and author of the book The Achievement Habit. In the book, Roth explores a technique called “design thinking” to describe the ways you can turn your personal dreams and desires into affirmative goals and accomplishments.

He identifies strategies to combat negative habits on the way to instilling positive habits, such as ignoring distractions, reinforcing accomplishments and avoiding excuses. One key cog in the teachings of Dr. Roth is the concept of doing rather than trying. The key difference, he says, is the ability to overcome obstacles when they arise.

In a 2015 interview, Dr. Roth simplified the main purpose of his book for his audience by saying, “if you become mindful about what you are doing and how you are doing it, you can take more command of your life and have a more satisfying life.”

Design thinking is a decades-old approach used by scientists, engineers and designers to tackle issues. It has become a tried and true method of finding and implementing the best possible solution to a problem and benefiting from the results. There are many examples of the success this strategy has had on companies and businesses across different industries, from health care to bicycling. It all comes down to a five-step process:


1. Empathize

2. Define the problem

3. Ideate

4. Create a Plan

5. Test the idea


This five-step approach to design thinking is not only useful in matters of business, but it is also translatable to everyday life as a way to develop healthier habits, starting with the most important steps first.

Step 1: Empathize

You must have some idea as to how you wish your life can be made better. Being very open, honest and aware of the way you feel about yourself is the way to determine how you move forward with your new and improved lifestyle. Listen to yourself. Allow yourself to be open to the idea that it’s okay to be less than perfect. After all, no one is perfect.

Being fair with yourself about your current mood, state of mind and behavioral traits will put into focus what is most important to you and what you are missing in your life. Only then can you have a clear understanding of how to move forward with a happier lifestyle.

Do you wish to trim a few pounds to fit into a special dress? Why? Is there someone you wish to impress? Is the issue really with your weight or the confidence you have in your appearance? Making this type of honest self-assessment is the key to making meaningful change.

Step 2: Define the Problem

In business, this is a critical step for entrepreneurs and consultants as it will shape the way in which they create a product or service to alleviate a pressing issue. Though you have a good idea of what it is that dissatisfies you, take a step back, make some personal observations and make certain you have the right perspective.

For instance, when Stanford students traveled to Myanmar to help fix an irrigation issue natives were experiencing, they found that the problem had to do instead with the farmers’ access to lighting units. Once they fixed the lighting issue, the efficiency of their irrigation system was once again balanced.

At first, the troubling circumstances surrounding your habits for eating well, exercising regularly or saving money can seem overwhelming when they aren’t working out to your advantage. You will breathe a sigh of relief when you successfully identify what it is that ails you in your daily lifestyle.

Step 3: Ideate

Your next inhale will be a breath of fresh air. By defining the problem you face in your lifestyle, you can now clearly determine all of the possible solutions. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how many more options you have to create a happier lifestyle than you previously realized.

Now is the opportunity to determine which resolution presents the best outcomes. If your problem is that you feel your energy is drained throughout the day, there are a number of possible solutions for this. You could carve out 30 minutes each morning to make sure you plan out your day to get all of your tasks done and take time for yourself to meditate and exercise. Or you could make sure to go to bed earlier and get better sleep.

Take some time to weigh your options and choose what works best for you.

Step 4: Create a Plan

Consider what it’s going to take for you to successfully ingrain this new healthy approach into your daily routine. It will take effort to introduce new behaviors into your daily life after becoming accustomed to a certain way of living for so long.

The key is to start small, reward yourself and focus on sticking to the script. Research shows that the best approach to creating new habits is through a series of cues, routines and rewards.

Step 5: Test the Idea

By going through the first four steps of the design thinking process, you can rest assured that you have come up with the best possible solution to make real, long-lasting changes to your lifestyle. Does that mean that it will definitely be the right change? Not exactly.

You may find that the new gym routine you implemented is not leaving you with enough time to spend with your family. Or you are spending so much time at the gym after work that your eating and sleeping schedules are thrown out of whack. These are factors that you may not recognize until after you created your plan of action for new healthy habits.

Don’t be afraid to fail! No matter what, you will benefit from having tested your ideas for behavioral change. While it may be a process of trial and error to find the healthy habits that fit into your lifestyle, you will certainly figure it out quickly by using this approach.

Using a text-messaging behavior change program, such as Caterpilly, will help you to stay on target with your plan of action and gain positive reinforcement when implementing your new routine. This effort will greatly increase the likelihood that you will stick to your new healthy habits. If you want to rebuild yourself in the vision of the prototypical “New You,” you might as well take cues from some of the best and brightest designers in the world by utilizing the teachings of design thinking.

Just remember, making real change in your lifestyle always starts with the belief that you are the master of your own design.

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