Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going. – Jim Rohn
Much of what we do in any given day is dictated by our habits. In fact, social psychologists estimate that almost half (45%) of our daily behaviour is habitual. Many of these habits and routines are so automatic that we hardly think about them, such as brushing our teeth at night, or switching on the coffee machine as soon as we get up in the morning.
Changing our habits to get rid of unhelpful ones, for example staying up late to scroll through social media, and replacing them with healthy ones like exercising before breakfast, is often harder than we think. This is demonstrated by the rather depressing fact that 80% of people give up on their New Year’s resolutions by the second week in February.
But whether we like it or not, the truth is that the habits we choose to incorporate in our lives can help or hinder us. Cultivating the right habits will enable you to live a better and more positive life whereas the wrong set of habits can hold you back from fulfilling your potential.
Here we have outlined eight life changing habits that we believe will elevate your daily routines and empower you to achieve your goals.
1. Make your bed
It might seem like a small, insignificant thing to do, but making your bed as soon as you get up in the morning will set you up for a more productive day. Of all the life changing habits listed here, this is probably the easiest one to start practicing immediately.
Some people even claim that making your bed in the morning can benefit your mental health by giving you a feeling of accomplishment and a sense of calm that will remain with you for the rest of the day. Retired Navy four-star admiral William H. McRaven believed in the power of the bed-making ritual so much that he wrote a book entitled Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life… And Maybe the World
2. Savour the moment
Life is made up of a series of moments but all too often we fail to notice them because we are too busy looking at our phones or focusing on the next item on our to-do list. Practicing mindfulness to stay in the present moment is proven to relieve stress, lower blood pressure and reduce chronic pain.
It is not an easy skill to master but start small by committing to savouring at least one moment each day. For instance, when you make your first coffee of the day, focus fully on pouring the water, measuring out the coffee and then drink it without any distractions while really paying attention to the smell, taste and feel of your morning brew.
3. Start a gratitude journal
There are many benefits of practicing gratitude, including better sleep, improved relationships, and even a stronger immune system. Focusing on feeling thankful for what we have rather than obsessing over the things that we lack, can also boost our self-esteem by reducing social comparisons.
One of the best ways to practice gratitude is keeping a journal where you write down 3-5 things for which you feel grateful. Whether you write every day or once a week, the important thing is to commit to a regular time to journal. Try to be as specific as possible and take the time to savour the positive emotions that come from recording details about the good events, experiences and people in your life.
4. Think before you speak
This habit doesn’t apply just to verbal communication. Often we feel the urge to reply to emails, texts and instant messages as soon as we hear the notification ping. Not only does this does this habit distract us from whatever activity we’re engaged in, it can also result in ill-thought-out responses written in haste.
Instead of attending to messages the minute you receive them, set aside specific times during the day for replying to people. That way you can focus fully on the task in hand and ensure that your replies are appropriate and well-considered, without any spelling mistakes or grammatical errors.
5. Set healthy work-life boundaries
Setting boundaries is not an easy task but it is necessary if we want to preserve our physical and emotional health. With so many of us now working from home, the lines between work and leisure have become increasingly blurred. Thanks to smartphone technology, we are also more contactable than ever before and often remain ‘plugged in’ even in our free time and on holidays.
To achieve a healthy work-life balance, put habits in place that safeguard your personal time and protect you from burnout. These could include not checking emails outside of work hours, powering down your computer at a set time each day and taking a daily walk once you’ve finished work to reinforce the transition to leisure time.
6. Schedule your priorities
If you regularly get to the end of the day feeling that you have not accomplished what you set out to do, you may want to heed this advice from Dr Stephen Covey: “The key is not to prioritise what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities”.
Instead of looking at your task list and asking yourself “how do I fit it all in?” rephrase the question to “what do I fit in?” By identifying your long-term goals and scheduling the time to work on them, you can prevent your day being swallowed up by small tasks, distractions and other people’s demands.
7. Protect your me-time
American author Anne Lamont once said: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes. Including you”. In our modern world of overwhelming connectedness, it can be hard to carve out time just for you.
If you struggle to relax and recharge, it may be a good idea to ‘unplug’ for a short while. You don’t have to book yourself into a week-long silent retreat, just taking a walk in nature by yourself or doing some simple breathing exercises will leave you feeling more refreshed.
8. Invest in life-long learning
Embracing a love of learning is one of the most important life changing habits you can adopt. I’m talking here about gaining new insights and skills for self-development and personal fulfilment rather than accumulating factual knowledge in order to pass academic exams.
Whether you want to tap into your creativity through painting, writing or music or you want to boost your social skills or emotional intelligence, research shows that lifelong learning keeps our brains working at the optimum level.
A final word on habits…
We are not suggesting that you attempt to incorporate all of these life changing habits into your life immediately. The key to making habits stick is to start small and then build up as the new behaviour starts to become automatic. Trying to adopt multiple habits at the same time, is a bit like trying to carry half a dozen bags with one hand – you will feel overloaded and there is a good chance you will drop them all very quickly.
Make it as easy as possible to automate the new habit by putting cues in place. For example, if you want to write in your gratitude journal every night, put it on your pillow in the morning so it is there waiting for you at bedtime. If you’re determined to switch off your computer at 5.30pm on weekdays, set an alarm to go off five minutes before you need to power down.
While expert opinion on how long it takes to adopt a new habit varies from 21 days to more than two months, our advice is this: Be patient, be kind to yourself, stay positive and celebrate every small victory. Keep in mind these words by James Clear, best-selling author of Atomic Habits: “Small habits don’t add up, they compound. You don’t need to be twice as good to get twice the results. You just need to be slightly better.”