“Good habits are worth being fanatical about.” ~John Irving
Your habits are directly related to the quality of your life. Good habits lead to joy and fulfillment in your life, while not-so-good habits leave you yearning for your life to be different.
I think I always knew that, I just wished I took it to heart sooner. Better late than never, right?
Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits, says that “Habits are the invisible architecture of our daily life. We repeat about 40% of our behavior almost daily, so our habits shape our existence, and our future. If we change our habits, we change our lives.”
I’ve spent far too much time in my life languishing in worries and regrets, wondering why life had to be so hard. I looked for outside sources to come in and save me. No rescuer ever came, at least not one that made a permanent difference.
I’d always wind up on the same boat: wondering why others seemed so content with the lives they were leading while I continued to have a burning desire for something different—something I really couldn’t even name, though I tried in vain to do so.
I set big goals and made big plans that I was certain would make all the difference for me. Usually, my big goals and big plans wouldn’t live beyond the next new moon. Even when they did, though, the things that I thought would make me happy didn’t. The things that I thought would bring me peace only annoyed me for their utter lack of peace-creating properties.
By profession, I’m a strategist. I look at all the many things that contribute to situations being a certain way and explore ways to move the situation toward where I want it to be. Turns out, sometimes you don’t have to overhaul anything; sometimes, small, simple tweaks can make a big difference.
As the saying goes, it takes large sails to move a large ship, but the captain need only make a small adjustment to the rudder to change the direction. The other part of the saying is there’s no point in adjusting the rudder if the ship is not moving; you won’t go anywhere.
Your daily habits are the small rudders that can help you move your life in the direction you wish. Choosing good habits day after day is the movement required to experience the positive life changes you’re seeking.
I like to think of myself as an intelligent person, but what I neglected to see in my own life is that the smallest tweaks done day in and day out have the power to move the mountains I want moved. When my eyes opened to the power of small changes practiced daily, miracles began to unfold in my life.
Below are some of the simple daily habits I’ve worked to incorporate into my life that are making such a huge difference for me.
Yeah, yeah, I know. Everyone says meditate, but did you ever consider that maybe all those meditation-lovers are offering an you an insider’s tip (pun intended) that in fact is actually priceless?
I have an overactive mind, as many people do. It loves to tell me about all its worries and warn me of threats that in reality aren’t all that threatening—nothing more than a mouse posing as a monster most of the time.
My mind loves to relive situations and conversations over and over and over; it’s so tiring! I’ve found that the antidote to my endless chattering mind is daily meditation.
I don’t do anything complicated. I just sit in a relaxing position, tune into serene instrumental music on Spotify, and focus on my breath. Anytime I notice that my mind is wandering (as it always does), I return my focus to my breath. In times of silence answers seem to arrive to incredibly insightful questions I didn’t even know I should ask.
2. Kind, loving self-talk
In the past, my inner dialogue wasn’t all that friendly. In fact, I was my own worst enemy, a relentless bully whose malicious words would leave me disheartened and unable to face the world with any sense of self-worth or confidence.
I didn’t come by this demeaning self-talk accidentally. Its roots go back to my childhood.
I grew up in a Roman Catholic home with seven children (another sibling died before I was born) and two overworked, exhausted parents who were flat broke all the time.
My father struggled with alcohol addiction and mental illness. This, along with my mother’s enabling patterns plus her own low self-esteem and depression issues, defined how the house was run.
The focus of the entire household was on managing life around dad’s issues.
Growing up, it seemed to me that nothing I ever did was good enough for my dad, though I tried so very hard to please him. I craved his love and positive attention. He either ignored me or criticized me, and when he criticized me he often did so in the most brutal tone.
I took to adopting that brutal tone in my inner dialogue and kept up the cruel inner monologues for years and years. I rationalized that I was just keeping my standards high, because who wouldn’t want to have high standards, right? A father would only criticize his daughter to help her improve, right?
So I kept criticizing myself; it never occurred to me that dad lashed out at me because his whole life seemed like a mess, so by God, the one thing he would have control over was his children.
There I was as an adult, using unrelenting, vicious self-criticism as a way to be perfect so I could get the love and attention I sorely wanted from the people in my life. It was a strategy that was never going to work; it had to go.
After examining my bitter, demeaning inner voice, I realized that I would never treat another human being this way, so why was I permitting this type of untenable talk go on inside me? I deserve better—we all do!
Now when those critical thoughts come up I’m patient with myself without buying into the scolding voice that’s offering up the hypercritical self-assessments.
I look at the scared girl behind those ugly comments and extend my deepest love to her. You see, while I refuse to allow my inner critic to talk to me in vile ways anymore, I also recognize the only reason I ever talked to myself that way was out of a deep need for belonging and protection. There was a call for love behind those ugly words, and now I simply acknowledge that deep desire for self-love without chastising the hurting girl who was trying to get my attention in the only way she knew how.
3. Follow the five-second rule
I love Mel Robbins, and the day I learned about her five-second rule was a very important day in my life. (And I’m not talking whether it’s still safe to eat food that’s only had five seconds of contact on the floor—that’s a whole different discussion!)
In a nutshell, here is Mel Robbins’ five-second rule, in Mel’s words: “The moment you have an instinct to act on a goal you must count five-four-three-two-one and physically move or your brain will stop you.”
So, you’re not a “morning person” but you have a goal of getting up earlier in the morning? Then the moment your alarm clock goes off, count five-four-three-two-one and jump out of bed. No more hitting the snooze alarm.
Yes, in the moment of those early morning hours, of course you’d rather stay in that warm comfy bed—who wouldn’t? But staying in bed doesn’t align with your bigger goals, and getting up does. If you move within five seconds, you’ll move toward your bigger goals. If you don’t move and allow your clever mind to talk you into staying in bed for “just a bit more,” you’re sunk.
If you want to change your life by getting up earlier so you can write that blog you want to write (a-hem, what I’m doing now) or do that exercise you know your body needs, then make those goals your priority over an extra thirty minutes of sleep and use the five-second rule to help you get your body out of bed.
Adopting the five-second rule is one of the best habits I’ve ever taken up. For the sake of full transparency, I admit I’m not always successful at sticking to the rule, but the more I try, the more I succeed.
“If your habits don’t line up with your dream, then you need to either change your habits or change your dream.” ~John Maxwell
4. Feed my mind
I’ve always considered myself to be a learner, though in actuality I get lazy about learning. It’s hard to improve your life if you’re never giving your brain any new information. Feeding my mind on a regular basis has become a top priority for me.
My “feeding my mind” goal looks something like this: one retreat a year, one book a month (that I can either read or listen via audio), one podcast a week, and one smart article on something I want to learn about each and every day. I’ve found that starting the process builds momentum; I often crush my minimum goals!
Feeding my mind in healthy ways also means giving up some unhealthy habits. I’m extremely careful about how much news I watch nowadays. While I don’t want to keep my head in the sand, I find it’s important to limit the number of negative messages I allow into my mind, and news channels are notorious for going over the same disturbing stories again and again. I make time in my days for my extra reading and personal growth activities by getting up earlier and limiting my Netflix and HBO time.
I’ve also modified my budget so I can afford the audiobooks and retreats I want to buy. My clothing and dining out budget is about half of what it used to be, and it’s a trade-off I’m happy to make.
The habit of feeding my mind is opening up whole new worlds for me. I can’t tell you how often I’ve read about something and the perfect opportunity comes up for using what I’ve learned in both my professional and personal life. Louis Pasteur said, “Fortune favors the prepared mind,” and I couldn’t agree more!
5. Do something outside my comfort zone at least once a week
If I were a more ambitious soul, I might put a “once a day” rule on this habit, but for now once a week works nicely for me. The habit of doing the same things the same way every day is life draining, while the habit of stretching outside your comfort zone regularly is life expanding. I’d rather see my life expand rather than to contract and shrivel, thank you very much.
Today, I regularly practice being brave—allowing myself to be seen, allowing myself to be vulnerable and unskilled at new things. I don’t tiptoe outside my comfort zone anymore; I’m even willing to take huge leaps.
I quit a job that I’d been in for twenty-two years without having the next job lined up. I moved 2000 miles from family and friends to live in a beautiful part of the world where I’ve always dreamed of living.
I now work in freelance, consulting, and coaching roles, which means my income fluctuates a lot. I’m not always certain how much money I’ll earn each month; I could have never tolerated that degree of uncertainty before.
It’s surprising how much your life can transform in miraculous ways once you’re willing to not be perfect in your own little world but instead actively choose to be imperfect in a world that might judge you. When you take risks that might leave you flat on your back, they also might enable you to soar.
I’ve found that bravery is rewarded, maybe not always in the moment, but always in time. I encourage you to be brave; it’ll change your life!