“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