“What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.”
– Gretchen Rubin
You know the value of establishing sustainable habits.
You’re told how regular habits will make your life a breeze, and by the power of repetition, you’ll achieve amazing results over time with virtually no effort.
But what if you struggle to start and maintain a set of behaviors that you know would help you along your path? What if you tried and failed many times before?
It wears you down. You’re tired of feeling like a failure each time you don’t stick to yet another good (but perhaps unrealistic) habit.
That is definitely what happened to me.
I’ve never considered myself a good habits person. Looking back on my life, I would often judge myself for being lazy. When I was younger, I would stay in bed as long as I could, sometimes my feet not hitting the ground until lunchtime on weekends.
Then once I was at college, I decided to make something of my life, and for that, I needed to manage myself better. I felt I was ready to make a serious effort to get into good habits and change my life. I learned about the importance of routines, exercising, and the 21-day rule. So I fluttered in and out of trying to establish good habits.
But after many years of good intent, trial, and failure, have I achieved what I originally set out to do? Not exactly. I could never truly stick to them permanently. Even after I was on a strict eating and exercise regime for over two years and lost considerable weight, I gradually unhooked my established behaviors.
I was not consciously aware at the time, but deep down I lost faith with myself. I let myself down again, and I lacked the discipline to change my life for the better.
Only later did I realize that my purpose for wanting to develop desirable habits was wrong. I admired others who were seemingly perfect, and I wanted to be just like them. I was after an unattainable illusion for me at that time with the mindset I had.
On reflection, my problem was I couldn’t instill those habits until I had some others in place. I wasn’t motivated and focused enough to actually keep new behaviors going. I was blindly following others without truly knowing which habits would help to support my goals.
After that breakthrough realization, I began to focus on a different set of habits that bring me success now and provide the foundation for more ambitious habits.
1. Set an intention for the day.
Every day it’s all too easy to get distracted and entangled in life’s apparent challenges. In order to manifest lasting long-term changes that reduce the obstacles in your life, why not set a tiny commitment for each day that you can easily achieve?
You could put in your calendar (or make a mental note) the night before the one thing you’d like to achieve the following day. Set the scene for tomorrow. Promise to do something important for you, and make it so vivid in your mind that you can’t possibly break it.
This can work especially well if you’ve been putting something off for a while. Make that the main intention for the next day. It gives you drive to push through with the activity and silence the excuses.
2. Spark your motivation daily.
Taking consistent and sustained action to reach your goals can be a tough challenge. It requires discipline, a lot of will power, and perpetual tripping up. But one trick you can implement every day is to pump up your motivation.
In fact, you can awaken your motivation by the simple act of getting inspired. And you’d be surprised by how easy it is to do. You can do this by scheduling time each day (preferably after you first open your eyes) to get fired up for the day ahead.
Read books, listen to podcasts, or watch videos on a particular subject you are deeply interested in. This will boost you mentally, increase your overall energy, and can also help you achieve point #1 — your intention for the day. Remember the feeling when you happen upon a new insight that fires you up to take action? You can make that happen every day.
3. Do one thing only.
Focus on one task at hand as an antidote to multitasking. The common rationale is to do more things at once to get more done in less time. What is emerging in studies, however, is quite the contrary; multitasking harms productivity. The mind is only really capable of attending to one task at any given moment.
Have you ever tried talking to someone on the phone while checking your email? Chances are you could not pay adequate attention to either activity. The only way you can save time when you have a multitude of stuff going on is by setting processes up that take care of themselves while you attend to something else.
Focus on one project for a short burst of time to achieve more. Time is not wasted when you give your undivided attention to something. And it’s not just people with ADHD who have trouble concentrating for a sustained period. Realistically, we all struggle to focus for longer than approximately 20 minutes at a time. Take this into consideration, plan short segments of work or study, and take a break as soon as you catch yourself getting distracted.
4. Ask questions like a tireless four year old.
Kids drive their parents crazy with their constant stream of questions. Especially girls around the age of four who are very inquisitive – some asking as many as 300 questions a day. They want to know about everything, and no question is stupid. It helps them learn about the world and develop their brains extremely quickly.
After a while, the questions lessen though. They grow into teenagers wanting to fit in, so instead of continuing to discover for themselves what goes on around them, they accept a set of rules and rigid habits to live by. And it’s easy to stay that way into adulthood. The pressure to conform and to fit in stops many of us from stepping out of our comfort zones and reaching new levels of awareness.
You may struggle to grapple with critical thinking and questioning initially if you’re used to taking most things at face value and accepting others’ viewpoints as facts — like I once did.
And yes, you need time for it to become an automatic response and to examine the validity of what is presented before you. Keep asking, “Is it true?” to help you quickly assert whether to believe some ideas and perceptions or not. Sift the truth from the rubbish, and make more informed decisions for yourself.
5. Give your brain space.
Most of the activities above are thinking related and advance your long-term self-development. But, too much thinking can lead to all sorts of problems, especially when you buy into your mind’s ultra-sensitive alert system. It constantly tries to make you believe you’re in some kind of danger. This can then pull you into a downward spiral.
To balance it out, try grounding yourself in the present. Just for five minutes a day, leave your brain to rest. Instead, check out what’s happening around you; feel what’s going on in your body. Can you sense that tingling in your toes or your heart beating? Maybe a cool breeze just brushed across your face. How does it feel to sneeze? How many different noises can you distinguish from a seemingly silent space? I hear a perpetual buzzing in my ear when I really pay attention.
We place far too much importance on constantly doing things, so much so that we forget about what it’s like just to be. As we are. Without judgment or yearning to be different.
Quietening the mind regularly has been proven to reduce stress and increase long-term happiness. By putting thoughts to one side and focusing on other elements, you can feel more calm and peaceful, thereby contributing to your overall well-being. Start practicing today.
Good habits are for life.
Positive habits worthy of cultivating are many.
Numerous other habits certainly make your life easier; a good morning routine, a healthy exercise regime, or even tidying up your space regularly.
But if you strive to develop habits, you might as well begin with the ones that you can build momentum around. Stop setting up yourself for failure. Work on the habits that will serve as a foundation for all others.
There’s a reason people say, “Life is too short.” I don’t want you to wake up one day to find you wasted half your life on habits that didn’t work for you.
Think, grow, and be. That’s all you really need.
Photo by Don Christner
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49 thoughts on “5 Easy Daily Habits that Manifest Profound Long-Term Changes”
Andrea, Well written post. I need to start now on #5- my brain is overloaded with many things to do which leaves me worried……………thanks for the reminder.
Thanks for the compliment. And I agree; it’s so easy to get overloaded if one is not careful. I tried many different tricks over the years to calm my mind, but the only one that seems to work is by giving it a small daily rest. Preferably in the morning, just as when the thoughts are about to stream out. :)
Great post and writing Andrea. I’m trying out number three at the moment – I’m a big multi-tasker, but when I get into overwhelm, I ‘flutter’ (love that!) between tasks and never get anything done. So one thing at a time it is, thanks for the gentle kick!
Hey Ellen, we’ve been so conditioned to believe that to be productive, we have to be multitasking geniuses – and I know how hard it is to break away from that mindset! I used to have a competition with myself – to see how many different things I could do at the same time! Needless to say, after a while this experiment only left me with stress and anxiety.
Thanks for commenting!
Hi Andrea – I really like ‘do one thing at a time!’ I multi-tasked (very badly) for a number of years until i realized doing one thing at a time allows you to do a better job (and stand out ) and actually ENJOY the task. Great post
Cheers Mark – it’s so true, you can immerse yourself better in one task by giving it your full attention and actually produce something of quality. Thanks for stopping by…
Oh yes Andrea…it used to be I’d try and have a conversation whilst fiddling around on my laptop…problem was…the other person ‘knew’ they weren’t getting my full attention. Not cool. Not respectful, so I put a stop to that habit.
It’s making those tiny changes in our day that make up big changes in our life. Thanks for the reminder.
Hi Elle, this point seems to be resonating with most people. For most of us, it’s very hard to break away from the multitasking habit; especially when it’s so much encouraged around us! The only time I do more than one thing at once is when clearing out the garden for instance, and I listen to podcasts. But even then, I would often notice afterwards – only half the content reached my brain! Thanks for reading :)
Funny how the right post pops up just as you need it. I can certainly relate to all of these (especially 2,3,and 5).
My days are packed full of all kinds of activities that drain my focus and energy. Every day I take a “nap” – but I’m not always sleeping. I call it “resetting” – but others may call it meditation or veggin’ out.
I get in my recliner with my 2 pups (Chihuahuas), put on my headphones, pull my beanie hat over my eyes and try to focus on nothing but floating in the chair. I stay as long as I need to. Sounds kinda weird, but I get up refreshed and ready to go.
Wanna know something funny? Every time I lay down, I hear that old Scottish lady from the Ben Stiller movie “Duplex” saying, “Shameful. A grown man napping in the middle of the day. Just shameful.” :)
Wow, Blaine! ‘Resetting’ – that’s brilliant. I think a lot of people shy away from the idea of meditation, but in reality it doesn’t matter what you call it! I used to think I could only get away from it all by going on a vacation – but now I just have a few minutes brain rest and seems to take care of things. If I’m going through a more stressful day, I do 3 or 4 of these mini breaks. That movie sounds great, though I haven’t seen it yet. I should imagine the Scottish lady’s catchphrase would get stuck in my head too! :)
#5 Give your brain space – it’s one I find myself turning too more and more in today’s switched on world. Thanks for sharing Andrea.
Thanks Helen, great to see you here! ;)
Thanks for the post, it is interesting! I’d like to add that, on the road to self-improvement, it is important not to punish oneself when one fails. Instead, one should learn from one’s mistakes and thus behave constructively. It may seem evident, but still, unfortunately, lots of people who are into self-improvement tend to be too hard on themselves.
Absolutely Alex, couldn’t agree more. I’ve been doing the ‘beating self up habit’ for way too long, it’s time for a change! Thanks for reading and for sharing your insight.
LOVE the idea of setting an intention for the day! Just did it now and will continue it.
Hi Sue Anne, great to see you here! I came up with this when at one point, I was so overwhelmed by the amount of tasks I needed to do, it was literally paralyzing. I wanted to do everything at once, and I couldn’t decide what to start on first – I ended up doing nothing! So that’s when I set the intention for the day after to just pick one of those tasks and get it done. It worked…
Hi Andrea. Your No. 4 on curiosity speaks to me. I have learned that staying curious and finding the new learning in every situation is empowering because it opens up more options and opportunities. Thanks for your thoughtful post.
Thanks Linda, I appreciate your comment! :)
Great post, Andrea! All of these apply to me, but the first one is most applicable for today. With kids home for the summer, I have not yet finished what I set out to do. Time to stop multi-tasking and focus on the intention I set this morning. :)
Hi Angela, I hope you managed to finish some of your tasks. To me it always feel like a juggling act, and I’m happy if I’m able to complete a few of them at least.
Thank you Andrea. This is what I needed to hear today. Especially the part about giving our brains a break. Isn’t it so easy to get entirely caught up in just going, doing, running mode?
Hi Julia Kristina, I’m glad it resonated with you. It’s also funny how easy to dismiss the importance of taking that break and just keep going until one day we are forced to do so!
Thanks for reading…
Thank you for this Andrea. This is hard to admit but I struggle with multitasking…It’s good to be reminded about the multitasking myth!
Cheers Cylon, I’m with you on that one… still struggling some days to resist the urge to multitask!
Love it! It’s so easy to fall back into bad habits and it’s always great to get a little wakening up (in the shape of a blogpost for example) to help us get back on track!
Hi Linda, life seems to go that way sometimes – fall off the wagon… back on the wagon… Thanks for reading!
Hi Linda, Glad you took up this important topic. I would have handled it much differently. I believe that the most important aspect is not just setting an intention every day, but determining what is your purpose in life (goal), what is your vision (to be achieved in 6-12 months), and then the habits must be process-oriented. See the work of James Clear. You need to chose a habit that is a keystone–one that will make others easier in the future. Your initial statement: “You’re told how regular habits will make your life a breeze, and by the power of repetition, you’ll achieve amazing results over time with virtually no effort,” is not true,vis-a-vis number 2. The 21-day rule for establishing habits has been shown to be incorrect. This figure is quite variable and depends on many things. Best wishes to all in ending bad habits and getting good ones!
Hi Don, I think you meant Andrea ;)
Thank you for your comment. Certainly, there are many different ways of approaching the topic of habits and I chose to explore it from this angle.
Thanks for a great post. Practicing the 5 Habits is a great foundation for instilling long term positive change. The biggest piece for me is trying to create too may habits at once or trying to create habits that are too large to tackle at once. I have found that if you break down a desired habit into smaller pieces your chances of being successful increase dramatically.
Thanks again for the inspiring post.
Hi Mike, I think we’ve probably all fallen for the ‘trying to change too many habits at once’ type of thinking. Even though we know it doesn’t work – we cannot help ourselves! It certainly happens to me a few times each year, and when I notice that, I change down gears and determine what’s most important at that moment. Thanks for your thoughts!
Mike–I think that if you can determine which habit is most important and work on that, the others will fall into place easily. Check the work of James Clear.
Great post, Andrea! I especially love the Give Your Brain Space tip. One thing I’ve learned as an author is that you have to not only have the time, but also the space in which to write. And studies have shown that boredom enhances creativity :) Now, that’s something I can practice!
Just love this. Thank You!
Hi Susan, I haven’t heard of that study yet. Though I must admit, I rarely have time to be bored… And that could explain why I’m not as creative as I’d like to be :)
Love the daily bite-sized thoughts and actions approach to building an enduring habit. You’ve nailed this so clearly. And #4 totally shouts out to me. I think not questioning is one of the biggest reasons we fall off our new habit wagons – we’re torn in different directions with every new bit of advice or information and then our resolve is no only diluted but incredibly confused. Thanks Andrea, this is a great inspiration.
That is so true about being torn between different kinds of advice. I struggled with that for such a long time. I finally feel like I’m starting to discern what info is worth taking in, and what I can safely do without.
Thank You for this inspiring post!
Glad you liked it Lisa!
Andrea, I couldn’t have said it any better. The important thing here, for me, is to always make a visual, be it a picture or something in writing and to place it where I will see it first thing in the morning and help to remind me throughout the day. I spend about 15-20 minutes each morning with a cup of coffee on my back porch, in solitude, and plan my day to include anything NEW to add in. It seems to work fairly well for me and helps me to increase my productivity. I focus on the NOW which increases my ability to see things through to completion to include those new habits that I am attempting to include into my life!!! Thanks so much for the blog and lease, keep them a coming!
Wow Thom, I really like that idea about using pictures to envision particular goals! That’s just reminded me of being inspired by creative people on YouTube who went back to using ‘old fashioned’ organizers like Filofax, and jamming them full of quotes and pictures to keep them motivated. As a result, I did get a Filofax, though I haven’t quite got to decorating it with inspiring material yet. You’ve given me a timely nudge. :)
I have been practicing No. 3 for awhile now. I write a task on a post-it note. I find that if I accomplish one task, I am apt to accomplish others that fill it’s space. Otherwise, if I have too many things on my agenda, I just procrastinate and everything gets lost in the land of overwhelm and I accomplish nothing. On the topic of ‘the downward spiral’, I think you would enjoy reading ‘The Art of Possibility’ by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. This is a great post.
Cheers Chas, I added it to my reading list. I like your advice about writing one task on a post-it note; I’ll definitely have to try that!
Ooh, this is so true. An inch or two of progress each day gets you to another town over a lifetime. I am reading a book right now that helps identify your core values that helped guide me on what I focus on each day. Thank you for writing this great post Andrea!
Hi John, thank you for commenting – would you mind sharing the book you’re reading on identifying core values? I’m always curious what books others learn the most from… :)
Andrea, you have the most restful way of approaching a topic that makes your writing such an enjoyable read! The truths you share are ones you’ve tested and know work – and how if you don’t lay a foundation with smaller, good habits the larger ones aren’t possible.
Too often we focus on making our personal big picture happen and get tripped up by the small gaps that we’ve never dealt with.
Thanks for the reminder!
Great advice, particularly focusing on just one thing. Dead on about it being hard to focus for more than 20-25 minutes, which is why the pomodoro technique is one of the greatest habits I ever implemented into my work life.
Enjoyed your post, Andrea. And I wanted to highlight what Chas said about starting with one. For me it’s all about momentum. If I can organize myself to get one significant thing done–significant as in important to me; not earthshaking–I’m going to go on to the next one because the sense of accomplishment feels so good. Over time, it becomes a habit.
I’m the same as the old you – get behavior changes going and then stop dead. I really like setting an intention in the am. That will definitely help.
Good points, Andrea. Particularly enjoyed reading about setting an interntion for the day and achieving only one thing. Used to do that and probably time to re-instate a good habit (last time I used it, it worked like a dream).
Love these strategies! When I try to revamp things in my life, it’s a hundred changes at once. It’s never sustainable, at least not for me. It makes so much more sense to make smaller changes and build on those successes. Like you suggested, I can set a purpose to complete one task for the day without getting overwhelmed. Thanks, Andrea!