Humans are creatures of habit. In The Story of Philosophy, Will Durant explains some of Aristotle’s most memorable thoughts:
“…we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit…”.
Even studies like the one conducted by researchers at the Media Lab of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology revealed that 90 percent of what people do every single day follows a routine.
So, what do you do with all this information? You use it to understand and appreciate the power of habit in reaching your goals. How do you do that?
Take a close look at what your average working day consists of. Just how many hours do you spend habitually scrolling through social media, responding to emails, taking on fruitless tasks, and plain old procrastinating?
All that time could be put to better use, and the only way to do it is by creating new habits like the ones explained here.
1. Waking Up an Hour Earlier
Having an extra hour in the morning for yourself will give you time to reflect, meditate, make breakfast, and even get work done without distractions. I know this to be true because it’s a simple change in habit I made that had the most impact on my productivity and well-being.
And when speaking about well-being, a study by researchers from Toronto found that morningness is associated with positive mood and subjective health in both young and old. So, if you’re noticing a lack of a positive outlook and low levels of well-being, you just may be waking up too late.
2. Making Schedules and Sticking to Them
Most of us are guilty of wasting–or ineffectively using–the most valuable resource that money can’t buy: time.
Luckily, with a bit of careful activity planning and sticking to a schedule, you will be able to create a habit that can help you manage your time more economically.
Start by picking a tool that usually works best for you – pen and paper, Google Calendar, or a printable planner template. Set a time when you’ll be scheduling your activities (beginning of the week, for example). And always list high-priority activities first.
A schedule that lists all important activities for the next day, week, or month will help you stay on track and keep you closer to your goals.
3. Setting Specific Goals
Almost everyone has a goal in life. Some people want to become rich and set that as their main goal. Others see personal and financial freedom as the ultimate goal in life. But those goals are fairly nonspecific, and you’ll forget you even had them once you get stuck in a rut.
The golden rule of real goal setting is making it specific.
For example, doubling your income while reducing your work hours for your next two years is fairly specific. Investing, outsourcing, and delegating your work is a specific plan for achieving this goal. Take it from there until your goals are specific to the last detail, including what hour of the day you’ll work on achieving your goals.
4. Practicing Mindfulness
Take a moment and reflect on your habitual mental processes, you’ll notice your mind is either ruminating over the past or arranging future scenarios.
Mindfulness, on the other hand, is bringing your attention to experiences occurring in the present. It takes practice to make mindfulness a habit. And the reward for being mindful of the present? Being alive in the true sense and knowing it. If anything is going to change your life, it’s being aware you’re already living it.
So don’t let yourself be at the mercy of your mind, and practice mindfulness for a life truly lived. And if you need more convincing to start practicing mindfulness, a study from the Clinical Psychology Review concluded that mindfulness enhances well-being, reduces psychological symptoms and emotional reactivity, and improves behavioral regulation.
5. Prioritizing Everything
Your daily to-do list is likely overflowing with things that won’t make a difference in your life. The only thing that creates is heightened stress and time wasted.
Unfortunately, prioritizing things that need prioritizing is a skill that needs to be learned and a habit that needs to be created. And truth be told, prioritizing also requires a lot of discipline.
How do you know what a priority is? According to Christer Idhammar, President of IDCON, INC, “the priority of the work is based on the consequence of not doing the job…”.
Not checking your social media feed likely won’t lead to major consequences in your life. However, not prioritizing a time-sensitive project or your health can have some major consequences.
6. Saying No
Once you learn to prioritize, you also learn another valuable skill that you’ll turn into a habit – saying no. But if you were groomed to be a people pleaser, you’ll need to put more work to learn this. People pleasing is not good for you or those around you – so learn to put your foot down. Otherwise, you’ll be wasting away your short time on Earth.
Here are some tips to help you from giving in to every little request: be firm and direct, know you’re turning down a request and not a person, understand that unnecessary guilt doesn’t serve your life’s calling and always be true to yourself. But most importantly, learn about boundaries; no one made exceptional accomplishments by prioritizing other’s goals above their own.
7. Practicing Gratitude
While setting goals and self-improvement helps you achieve whatever it is in your life that you’re lacking, it’s important to remind yourself of the things you already have. Getting caught up the rat race and a never-ending list of wishes won’t make your life any more fulfilling. It’s ok to have goals and wants, but that needs to be balanced with a healthy dose of gratitude.
What should you be grateful for today? Health, family, a roof above your head, and food on your plate are things we often take for granted.
Having freedom of choice and endless opportunities is something our ancestors did not have and fought for us to have. Once you realize this, you’ll see you’re already living in abundance, and that will give you enough reason to continue striving.
8. Separating Wants from Needs
A need is something you must have in order to survive. In other words, you could die if your needs aren’t being met. Wants are things in life you desire to have but can live without. Food is an example of a need. A gourmet salmon dinner with a glass of wine isn’t exactly something you need in life, although it is nice to have.
The main reason you need to learn the difference between the two is frugality. If your hard-earned money is being spent on wants while you’re struggling to meet your basic needs, you need to start understanding the difference between these two.
Being level-headed is important when it comes to money matters. You may get to a point in life where you can satisfy wants with no risk or guilt whatsoever. But for now, keep your focus on needs.
9. Following a Healthy Diet
A healthy diet is a diet based on real food and that studies show supports health and functioning.
Government healthy eating meal plans are based on plant-based diets, but recent people are looking for keto meal plans and other low-carb diets to improve their health. Whatever you choose to be your diet of choice in pursuit of good health, make sure to educate yourself as much as possible and make healthy eating your priority.
But why should you do that? Because a healthy mind in a healthy body is not a hackneyed old saying, it’s a simple truth. You can’t expect too much if you’re fueling your brain and your body with poor choices. Make your health a priority. Without it, everything else loses value.
10. Quitting Multitasking
You may think you can multitask, but can you really? A paper recently published in Psychology Research states that the human brain cannot process two tasks at the same time. Furthermore, a study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine states that multitasking is not possible except when behaviors become completely automatic, meaning you’re running on autopilot.
Since science shows multitasking is a myth, best to give up on the idea you can do it. Start focusing on one task at a time for now and become a master at what you do best. This will help you become more productive and give you an opportunity to learn by working mindfully.
Scheduling, mentioned earlier in this text, will help you stop multitasking and completing work on autopilot.
11. Limiting Screen Time
A lot of people are addicted to their screens. The moment they lay down their laptops, a phone ends up somehow in their hands. It’s completely compulsive, and it’s a habit that needs breaking. Too much time spent online will make you lose perspective on what’s real in your life.
So, replace this habit with less time in front of screens and more time doing something worthwhile.
Go for a walk, meet up with friends, read a paperback book, make dinner, take up painting. The point is, there are so many things you are missing out on due to too much screen time. Another downside of this is that it disrupts your sleep when done before bedtime according to dozens of studies.
You are what you repeatedly do. Filling your hours with activities that actually bear fruit will make a huge impact on your life. It could be small things, like waking up at 6 Am. Or it could be a big project like scheduling your next months’ worth of work.
One thing is for sure: even a small change in your habit will make a big impact.