Let’s face it. If you don’t find a way to create positive habits, it’s going to be incredibly difficult for you to reach your full potential in life. Habits are quite literally the fundamental building blocks of who you are. According to researchers at Duke University, habits account for 40% of the behaviors you engage in every day. Yep, that means close to half of the actions you take every day are unconscious behaviors you perform on auto-pilot
Each time you perform a certain behavior, the connections between neurons in your brain grow stronger so that the particular behavior takes less energy to perform in the future. Through continuous repetition, the connections become so strong that your brain can perform the desired action on auto-pilot.
Think about the last time you drove home. Did you have to analyze every decision that you made behind the wheel? Of course not! If you’re like most people, you probably spent 95% of the time thinking about other things while without missing an exit or skipping a turn. Because of the fact you’ve driven home a thousand times before, your brain didn’t have to drain energy thinking about how to make it home safely. This is where the nature of habits become a blessing and a curse.
When applied to positive actions, this is an incredibly beneficial process because it allows you to repeat positive actions without depleting your willpower. However, when this process is working against you, and you may find yourself unconsciously repeating negative actions that self-sabotage your life. This is how most people get to be 50 or 60 years old and think, “How in the world did I end up here?”
When attempting to build good habits, most people adopt the “complete overhaul” approach. We tell ourselves that we going to start writing 3 hours per day, or start lifting weights for an hour every day. What we don’t realize is that drastic changes like this require a tremendous amount of will-power to maintain.
The key to building good habits to make them easy. They need to be so simple to do that it doesn’t take a lot of effort to accomplish them. Because at the end of the day, changing our behavior is about changing our identity, and the only way to create an identity shift is to do something every day until it becomes an unconscious behavior we perform on auto-pilot.
So, without further ado, here are five incredibly easy, but powerful habits that will have a positive impact on your life.
Habit #1: Meditate for 5 Minutes Per Day
At this point, it’s almost pointless to explain the benefits of meditation because you’ve probably heard them repeated a million times over, but I’ll put a few of them here anyway. Meditation has been scientifically proven to:
- Reduce stress
- Reduce anxiety
- Lengthen the attention span
- Improve sleep
- Increase Focus/Concentration
And what does it take to achieve all of these benefits? Yep, only 5 minutes per day sitting down anywhere in your home/apartment. Now, you’ll obviously want to work your way up to 10-20 minute sessions because the severity of these benefits are dependent on how long you meditate for.
However, when you are starting out, 2-5 minutes a day is all you need. Remember, your goal is to first build a habit of meditation. A habit must be built before it can be optimized. Start small, then work your way up to larger time blocks.
Habit #2: Perform the Three Good Things Exercise Every Morning
Oftentimes, we slip into the habit of focusing an unnecessary amount of energy on what’s wrong with our lives.The money we don’t have. The job we don’t like. The car we don’t have. We’re constantly searching for the next “thing” that’s going to bring us happiness. The problem with this mindset is that it blinds us to the positive aspects of our lives that are sitting right in front of us.
Most people don’t appreciate what they have because they are so focused on what they want. Luckily, you can start to shift your mindset towards one of thankfulness and appreciation with a simple exercise called the “Three Good Things”.
This is an exercise that was popularized by Martin Selligman, who is the father of positive psychology. Performing the exercise is fairly simple. All you need do is take out a journal or a sheet of paper and write down three things that went well in the last 24 hours, or three things that you are currently grateful for. Keep in mind that if you focus your prompt on experiences that have recently happened to you, the events you write about don’t have to be life-changing. Literally anything that made you feel positive emotions throughout the day is worth noting. Here are some examples:
- waking up on time
- getting lunch with a friend
- something a friend said that made you laugh
- the class you actually enjoyed sitting through
- something funny you say saw happen on the street
- the workout you performed at the gym
By spending a few minutes performing this exercise at the start of every day, you will inevitably develop a bias toward positivity and your brain will start naturally looking for reasons to feel happier.
Habit #3: Waking Up When Your Alarm Goes Off
You may think that hitting the snooze button only impacts whether or not you get out of the house on time, but that’s untrue. Hitting snooze and choosing comfort over discipline actually has a tremendous impact on your brain and body.
When you start to fall asleep after hitting the snooze button, your body begins to naturally release hormones that trigger deep sleep. Inevitably, that snooze button is going to ring once again, which means that your sleep cycle will be interrupted. Now as they say in the game shows…but that’s not all.
Here’s where it gets really bad. Eventually, after the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th snooze, you’re going to have to get your lazy ass out of bed and start your day, and every time you get up in the morning you experience something called “sleep inertia”. Think of sleep inertia as that 10 minute period at the beginning of every day when you feel like a zombie. It’s simply the natural process of your body and brain waking up and getting prepared to start the day.
The problem with waking up after hitting the snooze button is that you are always waking up at the beginning of a sleep cycle. Waking up at the beginning of a sleep cycle prolongs sleep inertia for another 2-4 hours. This means that the true price of hitting the snooze button is 2-4 hours at the start of your day with decreased concentration, less energy, and decreased motivation.
So, that’s the scientific evidence that explains why hitting the snooze button is a terrible habit. As damning as this evidence is, it’s still not the biggest downside to this habit. In my opinion, the biggest problem with hitting the snooze button is that you are losing the first battle of the day. It’s not like you really need that extra fifteen minutes of sleep, you are simply giving into instant gratification because it feels better to curl up in your bed than actually get up and start the day.
Typically, I wake up at 6-7 A.M every day. However, I’ve had spells of days/weeks where instead of getting out of bed in the morning, I’ve fallen into the pattern of routinely hitting the snooze button. As an unintended consequence, some of my old, bad habits started to creep back in to my daily routine. I began drinking too much caffeine again, watching Youtube early in the morning, and skipping out on my morning routine, etc. The ripple effects were astounding. One simple decision at the start of my day was playing a huge role in how the rest of my day unfolded.
On the other hand, when I’m in the habit of waking up early and starting my day as soon as the alarm goes off, the difference in my behavior is clear. I’m more productive and less prone to distraction, but more importantly, I just feel better about myself. So, if your hand is glued to the snooze button every morning, I really hope that what I just said resonates with you and makes you think twice the next time you want to sleep in.
(Pro Tip – Move your alarm clock across the room and force yourself to get out of bed first thing in the morning)
Habit #4: Make Your Phone Inaccessible While You’re Working
Let’s face it, we’ve all been there. You’re cruising along on a presentation for your boss, or an essay for a class, and all of the sudden you hit a creative block. So what do you do? You pull out your phone to check Instagram, or read that text message you got 12 minutes ago, or see who’s trending on Twitter. Whatever it is, it has nothing to do with the task you were dedicating all of your attention to just a few seconds ago.
If you want to be successful, you need to master the art of focused work. When you are fully immersed in the task in front of you, it becomes much easier to achieve something called the “flow state”. This is a c concept was popularized by the positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, and if you’re reading this article there’s a good chance you’ve heard about the flow state numerous times before this. To put it simply, when you are in the state of flow you are:
- Completely immersed in the task at hand
- Losing track of time
- Feel happy and in control
- Forget about yourself, and the world around you
Most people call it the flow state, I just like to call this the “get shit done” state. Now, I know that these benefits may seem like feel-good, self-improvement nonsense, but the chances are you’ve actually experienced the flow state at one point or another. Anytime you’ve been intensely focused on a task without getting lost in your thoughts or distracted by external factors, you were most likely in a state of flow.
The problem with checking your phone while you’re working is that you erase your chances of ever getting into this heightened state of focus. Not only that, but constant interruption causes the task you’re working to take 2-3 times longer than it should have taken in the first place.
Personally, whenever I’m trying to get important work done, I turn off my phone and put it in a completely different room. That way, in order to check my phone I have to get up out of my chair, walk over to the room, and wait 30-60 seconds for the phone to turn on. When you do this, you’ll realize how little you actually need to check your phone by increasing the friction it takes to turn it on in the first place.
Habit #5: Develop a Morning Routine
“Win the first hour of the day and you’ll win the day!”
Ever heard that phrase? Well, it’s true. Studies routinely show that if you want to maximize your productivity and increase feelings of well-being, you need to harness the power of routine. As with many things in life, the true power of having a morning routine lies in the compounding effect that it creates for your day. When you are able to start your day with healthy behaviors that add value to your life, you are more likely to continue that trend as the day progresses.
Another reason why having a morning routine is important is due to a principle called cognitive load. Cognitive load states we can only exert so much energy into our working memory. This concept actually expands to touch on our decision making as well, because like our working memory, we have finite reserves of energy for making decisions or exerting willpower.
The more automatic you can make certain aspects of your life, the more energy, will-power, and decision making capability you’ll have to take on cognitively taxing tasks that actually move your life forward. To put it bluntly, you’ll have more energy to do the hard shit you know you need to. How you structure your morning routine is completely up to you. Here’s what mine looks like:
- 6:30 AM – Wake up
- 6:30 to 6:45 – Brush teeth, take cold shower, get dressed
- 6:45 to 6:50 – Meditate for 10 Minutes
- 6:50 to 7:00 – Stretch for 10 Minutes, Make Coffee
- 7:00 to 7:30 – Read for 30 Minutes
Now, obviously these timeframes aren’t exact, but the order of the behaviors never change. I encourage you to develop a routine that works for you and is built around your goals. I like to start my day with meditation because I’m currently trying to improve my focus and reduce the mental chatter in my mind. I also like to dedicate most of my morning routine to reading because that is the time of day when the brain is best able to absorb new information.
Your morning routine should be personal to you. Mine takes about 60-75 minutes, but you might feel like that’s too long and condense yours down to 15-20 minutes. There’s no wrong answer here, the only wrong answer is letting your morning get away from you