In this season of new resolutions and mapping out new goals and plans, it’s important to also remember that the ‘little things’ in our lives are ultimately the things that will enable us to achieve our grand plans and resolutions. Our daily life habits lead us to our goals. As Sean Covey so insightfully said: “Depending on what they are, our habits will either make us or break us. We become what we repeatedly do.”
Depending on what they are, our habits will either make us or break us. We become what we repeatedly do.—Sean Covey
While bad habits hold us back from achieving our goals, the good habits help to take us towards the life and dreams we envision.
If only it was that easy.
Set your goals, establish the supporting good habits, eliminate the bad habits, and voila! You’re done. If it was that easy, everyone would be a superstar. But good habits are hard to establish. Life gets busy, you slip up one day, and suddenly you’re back to square one, demoralized and depleted, feeling like it’s hopeless and just easier not to even try.
Read on for tips on ways to make sure your new habits stick, and 25 ideas for simple daily habits that can transform your life for the better.
The steps to creating a new habit
Luckily a lot of experts out there have studied what it takes to successfully adopt a habit and stick to it. There is a science to it, resulting in some hacks that can help us succeed in establishing cornerstone good life habits.
Start Small. Ridiculously Small. The smaller and simpler your new habit is, the more likely you are to keep it going. And the specifics of what the habit actually is are much less important than the momentum you build from creating a new habit.
- It doesn’t matter that you are only burning 10 calories with a 5 minute walk, or that you’re only flossing the top half of your mouth — the important thing is that you are building the habit of walking, or flossing, or whatever.
- Once you’ve established the habit, you can ramp up / expand the difficulty. Make it so ridiculously easy that it would be laughable for you not to do it.
- Staying with the flossing example, the ridiculously simple first step is to cut your piece of floss every day (ie don’t even do the flossing at first, just get a piece of floss ready) — once you’ve established the habit of getting the floss ready, you can expand to flossing a couple teeth, then a few more, etc.
Pick one habit at a time. Change only one habit at a time. Research shows that when people change a single behavior at a time, they are 80% likely to keep that habit over the long term. If they try to change two behaviors at once, the chance of long-term success goes down to 35%.
- The problem with trying to implement multiple habits at once is that the attempt to change is so overwhelming that we end up not changing any of our habits at all.
- The irony is that focusing on one habit at time, with success after success on each one, we achieve our goals more quickly than trying to tackle them all at once.
- So pick one small first habit (eg 5 minute walk), do it for a month, and then expand it (10 minute walk). As you build a new habit, it will also make future new habits easier to adopt too – you gain momentum.
- Research shows that it takes 21 times of doing something new to establish it as a pattern — to make it easiest on yourself, shoot for a month of your new habit before moving on to expand it.
Anchor your new habit to an existing habit. An “anchor” is an existing behavior that you will attach to the new habit you’re building. For example, the habit of brushing your teeth is anchored to waking up in the morning.
- Great anchors are things you already consistently do each day or each week. Waking up and going to bed are great examples, which is why morning and evening routines can be so powerful.
- Other potential activities that you already do as habits that can serve as anchors: showering, getting dressed, making coffee, eating meals, getting home from work, checking the mail, checking Facebook, …
- Pick the anchor for your new habit that occurs at the frequency you want to start your new habit (eg once a day, twice a day, etc), and write down your new habit as a committment along with your anchor “After I eat dinner, I go for a 5-minute walk”.
- Then, start doing the new habit along with your anchor.
Consider variety your enemy. Trying for variety in any activity takes extra effort and motivation, which makes creating new habits even harder.
- Pick one anchor + new habit and stick with it in the same way until the habit is totally ingrained and natural in your routine.
- In the case of establishing new habits, there is power in being boring and eliminating too many options. Use the same glass to drink your added glass of daily water every day, or take the same 5-minute walk route each morning, as you establish the new habit.
- Eliminating any decisions around the new habit will make it easier to keep it regular and keep at it.
Allow yourself imperfection, but don’t miss two in a row. Don’t expect all your attempts to instill a new habit to be successful right away. Try your best, but expect a few challenges along the way.
- If you need to go out for your walk at a different time because your day got screwy, and thus you rushed through the walk, maybe making it just a 2-minute walk up/down the street — don’t beat yourself up about it.
- At the same time, don’t throw all caution to the wind — one day missed won’t tank your efforts, but two days can — two days can become 30 before you know it. So make it a mantra to not miss two in a row.
Eliminate temptation and ‘screw it’ moments. New habits are typically fragile as we get them established, and thus it’s important to remove any source of friction that can lead us off course.
- These “ah-screw-it” moments (credit to Derek Halpern for the term) are those moments that make you say, “Screw this, it’s not worth the effort!”.
- To avoid any ‘screw it’ moments, examine your new habit closely, and figure out exactly how it starts to break down — it’s rainy out and you don’t have your rain gear handy… “Screw the walk”. Or you forgot to set out your water glass for easy access next to the bed “screw the morning glass of water”…
- Restructure your environment so it won’t tempt you in the first thirty days — remove the soda from your fridge, stock an extra supply of dental floss, or get out a handy set of rain gear / snow gear / boots / hats for your varying weather walks — so you won’t need to struggle with willpower later.
- Make the new habit easier to do by removing steps that are needed to complete it, or objections/difficulties that will tempt you to ‘screw it’.
Find your big why. Find the bigger reason behind why you’re working on a new habit.
- You’re not just drinking more water, you’re detoxifying to lose weight so you can look great on the beach for your honeymoon.
- You’re not just dragging yourself out of bed early to take a walk, you’re fostering your energy so you can have more quality time with the family instead of being dead tired every night.
- Identifying your big reason for establishing the new habit helps you step back and recognize its value when the going gets tough.
Plan for obstacles. You’ll reap great benefits if you do a little bit of scenario planning before you start your new habit.
- The basic idea is that you can plan what you will do in certain specific challenging situations during your first 30 days with your new habit.
- Plan for what you’ll do during your birthday dinner out when the dessert menu shows up (eg have an espresso), or that morning when you have to call into an early work meeting (eg I’ll take my walk in the evening instead).
- If we don’t have a plan ahead of time, we tend to simply go back to old habits — so it’s crucial to prepare yourself, anticipate, and plan your response to these scenarios that will undoubtedly come up.
Track it. Without any accountability, we increase the likelihood of forgetting about our new habits altogether, as there is nothing to bring our behaviors into awareness.
- Having a tracking system helps us stay committed, and lets us notice when we have a dip that needs some course correction. So find a way to track your efforts and make others know about your new habit.
- According to the Hawthorne effect, we are much more likely to follow through with something if we are being observed by others. Post updates on your social media, use habit tracking apps, or work with an accountability partner. Whatever you do, make sure you get get reinforcement from others in support of your new habit.
- Don’t underestimate this one — just knowing that you have social accountability/approval will help keep you going and consistent.
Reward milestones. Make sure you take time to celebrate along the way, as you establish your new habit.
- What you do or choose as your reward is totally up to you — just remember to pick something. Your reward doesn’t have to be expensive — check out a new movie, enjoy a night out with friends, or just take an hour to do something you love.
- The power of having fun while building new habits is something we tend to underestimate. But having a clear reward for regularly executing your new habit will help you to stick with it.
Replace lost needs. If you are giving up something by adopting your new habit, it’s important to replace what you’ve lost in the process.
- For example, if you are cutting down on social media and it was your way to relax at the end of the day, replace it with reading or meditation in order to achieve that same relaxation need.
Best Life Habits
- Make time for exercise. Moving your body through exercise is one of the most effective ways to amp up your creativity, get energized, and also relieve stress. Exercise gets your endorphins flowing which are chemicals that improve your mood.. And exercising regularly provides the most benefit – people who exercise regularly are less likely to experience anxiety than those who don’t exercise.
- Drink 1 extra glass of water Drinking a lot of water every day keeps us hydrated and healthy. Water helps our joints, protects our spinal cord, and helps us detox by flushing wastes. One great way to make it easy to drink more water is by making detox water – read more about that here.
- Sit up straight / Improve your posture. Having good posture actually gives us credibility and confidence, and also helps prevent aches and pains. Leave a note on your computer monitor to remind yourself to straighten up, and make it a point sit up straight in meetings, as well as to walk with your shoulders back and head straight.
- Go to bed ½ hour earlier. Research shows that getting good sleep is related to good heart health. Solid sleep gives you more energy and also produces hormones that suppress appetite. And lack of sleep and stress go hand-in-hand, one affecting the other — regions in your brain that contribute to excessive worrying and anxiety light up when you don’t get enough sleep.
- Eat a healthy breakfast every day. Eat something high in fiber that includes protein to keep you full and energized. If you start the day out right, you tend to eat better overall. Try a green smoothie to really supercharge your day.
- Include greens in your meals. Add more greens and lettuce to your meals to add nutrients and water to your diet. The fiber in lettuce and veggies helps to fill you up, as well as provides necessary nutrients, and is highly digestible preventing you from feeling bloated. Instead of trying to cut out bad foods, try adding greens and veggies – you’ll be eating more but getting healthier.
- Digital detox, especially before bed. It’s called digital stress, and it happens more and more in our increasingly digital and always-on world. To ratchet down this digital stress, find a way to turn it off, if only just for a few minutes. Research shows that checking email puts people in a constant high-alert with heart rates that indicate stress. Shutting off email eases anxiety. The world won’t end – commit to no email for 15 minutes a day. Especially avoid device screens before bed — the light from your phone or laptop suppresses your body’s release of melatonin, the hormone that is key to helping you fall asleep.
- Take a lunch break walk. Using a few minutes during lunch to get outside can have amazing benefits — you’ll not only be moving your body which will give you more energy, clarify your thinking and creativity, but it will also provide you with a boost of Vitamin D which pumps up your mood and your immunity. It will also relieve stress and can be a form of meditation in motion — scientists have found that a brisk walk helps to trigger soothing neurons in the brain.
- Cut out one of: soda, coffee, alcohol, or sugar. These foods weigh you down, affect your clarity of thinking, and generally inhibit your health. Substitute them instead with some stress-relieving foods that you can eat fresh, or put in tea etc: mango, banana, honey, ginger.
- Listen to music. Music has power – it can calm us, and can elicit positive emotions and reduce our levels of stress hormones. Slow or meditative music with slower tempos in particular helps us relax. But the choice is very personal of what eases your worries – some people find that jazz or classical does the trick, or perhaps piano music, others prefer to blast their favorite rock tunes.
- Love yourself. In this crazy hectic, judgmental world, it can be so easy to fall into a pattern of feeling down on yourself. Constantly feeling inadequate wreaks havoc on your mental health, relationships, career, and even your physical body. In order to be our best selves, we need to consciously combat those feelings of inadequacy by developing habits that foster self-love. Take some time out for yourself each day to do something just for you, stop comparing yourself to others, and find ways to turn your thoughts towards positivity.
- Read Regularly. Reading is a great way to both relax, as well as keep you learning and boost your creativity. Reading improves our focus and has a calming effect similar to meditation, and can even make us sleep better.
- Learn to single-task. I’ve seen a statistic that only 2% people in the world can multitask successfully. Sure you will need to multitask on occasion, but multitasking as a way of life limits your focus and lowers your efficiency. Make it a point to single-task more often — make a list of things you need to accomplish in a day and work your way down the list, one task at a time.
- Surround yourself with positive people. As author and entrepreneur Jim Rohn says: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”. Take stock of who you’re spending time with, and let go of relationships that bring you down instead of lifting you up. Spending time with people who nurture and share a happiness vibe is one of the easiest ways to create positivity in your life — happiness is contagious!
- Listen to something positive every morning. Continuing with the ‘positivity’ theme, listening to a motivational podcast, or confidence-building TED talk during your commute will shift your attitude towards the positive — kicking off your day one step ahead.
- Prioritize your kids/family/relationships over your work. This can be challenging for driven, type-A people. But it’s absolutely your key to a happy life — your peeps matter the most, make it show.
- Get comfortable saying “no”. You will need to say ‘no’ in order to focus on the important things in your life — if you don’t say no, then others are ultimately deciding the course of your life. Learn to say “no” to what you don’t want to do, so you can have room for what you do want to do.
- Get minimal. Minimizing the junk in your life gives you more room for what’s important. Clutter is more common in the 21st century than ever before, and being buried in stuff increases our level of stress hormones. It can overload our senses and even impair our creativity. A messy home and workspace leaves us feeling anxious and overwhelmed, as it causes our senses to work overtime on all the stimuli (visual, tactile, olfactory). Clutter also constantly signals to our brains that our work is never done, and it keeps us thinking about what it will take to get through to the bottom of the pile. Declutter and reclaim your productivity and peace of mind.
- Meditate. Mindfulness and meditation anchors you to the present moment. It can help combat the anxiety-inducing effects of negative thinking. And you don’t need to do any major meditation retreat to see benefits – there is evidence that just 2 quick bouts of silent meditation per day can relieve stress. Meditation has countless variations — choose one and even just five minutes a day can make a difference.
- Commit to one cleaning or organizational task per day. Small tasks compound over time lead to great results. Throw out one thing from your messy office each day, or pick up one item from your cluttered kids bedroom — before you know it you will have a clean and organized home / workspace.
- Create a Zen space. After you have decluttered, create an environment that calms you. Aromatherapy can relieve insomnia, stress, and anxiety, and it can help you become more energized, relaxed, and present. Lighting a scented candle, bringing in some live plants, burning some incense, or using some essential oils will improve your mood. Commit to experiencing your zen space for at least a few minutes every day.
- Do Regular Random Acts of Kindness. The opportunity for kindness is all around us: your coworkers, your mailman, your kids teacher, your spouse. Use these opportunities to express a kindness as often as possible – once a day if you can. You’ll feel better, your day will be better, the world will be better!
- Create Something. Neuroscientists and other experts have long cited the therapeutic benefits of crafting. Studies have shown that hands-on hobbies like sewing, knitting, and painting will induce a meditative state, calm our senses, and make us happier. Crafting at its essence is an exercise in mindfulness. In addition to stress-busting benefits, doing arts & crafts slows down cognitive deterioration by as much as 50%.
- Practice gratitude. Showing gratitude has long-term benefits for your health and well-being. Expressing gratitude increases your optimism, and reduces stress, anxiety, and depression. Start a gratitude journal to find and record something you are grateful for every day.
- Smile. As we run at break-neck speed through our busy days, we often don’t take the time to smile at, or even really look at and see other people. The interesting thing is that smiling at people brings positive energy back to you — so simple and easy to do, it’s almost trivial — but super effective. Smiling at others also releases the feel-good hormones: dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin – to naturally boost your attitude. Try it and watch the magic happen.
And there you have it – a list of 25 simple yet life-changing habits to introduce into your life, that will help you move more successfully towards your goals and dreams. Pick one new habit, set a ridiculously easy first step for it, and get after it for 30 days.
Here’s to habits that support your big goals and dreams!