In order to make the meaningful, lasting changes that invite better tomorrows, you must work on two fronts: Developing the right mindset, and developing better habits.
Habits are merely the things we do every day that, cumulatively, have a big impact on all parts of our lives. Whether it’s taking five seconds to make the bed in the morning, making to-do lists at work or committing to a healthier diet, each habit you adopt contributes to something to your life.
You get to choose what kind of contribution that is by selecting good habits or bad ones.
As with most things, the right path is the harder one. It’s easier to leave a bed messy, to skip morning task planning, to opt for ice cream over spinach.
But the right path starts with a single step. Here are five helpful tips that will show you things you can do today to get on that path and start folding better habits into your daily life.
1. Tackle tasks one at a time.
Much to the chagrin of job description writers everywhere, our brains were not built for multitasking. So, whether you have a big project at work or a kitchen that needs organizing, take it one task at a time.
“You can do one thing really well or three things poorly,” the team at Power of Positivity says. “Focus on one task at a time so you can apply your brain’s full potential to solving that problem before moving on to the next problem. Don’t divide your mental energy among several things, but instead focus like a laser on one to the exclusion of everything else until it is accomplished. In this way, you can maximize your brain’s efforts for the best outcome.”
2. Carve out 5 minutes of quiet time in the afternoon.
Afternoons can be messy. Just about every working parent knows the frustration of having a boss dump a time-sensitive project on their desks 15 minutes before they have to leave to pick their child up from school.
You can’t stop things from rolling downhill onto you, but you can prepare yourself by finding 5 quiet minutes sometime in the afternoon. Chicago-based entrepreneur Nicolas Cole says this is one of the best positive habits a person can adopt
“Once our days get started, we push and push and push until we land on our couch at 9 p.m. and say, ‘Wow, I am exhausted.’ Life is not a sprint. Life is a marathon.
“… Whatever it takes, make those five minutes happen sometime in the afternoon. You’ll be amazed at what five minutes of quiet can do for the rest of your day.”
3. Find ways to link your everyday tasks to larger goals.
The daily tasks we do often feel like obstacles that distract us from what we should (or at least would like to be) doing. That feeling is a real a motivation-killer.
But Kristin Wong at Lifehacker has an excellent trick, courtesy of bestselling author Charles Duhigg: Turn a chore into a choice. This will make you feel more in control of your bigger picture.
“For example, let’s say you’re writing a paper and you’ve set aside an hour to research one of your points,” she writes. “If you’re struggling to find the motivation, you first want to give yourself a choice so you feel in control. Maybe that choice is which publication you’ll start your research, or even where you’ll work (a coffee shop, your local library?). These choices work subtly to put you in the driver’s seat.
“Second, you want to link those decisions and your task to a larger, meaningful goal. Maybe you’re completing the research paper because you want to ace the course so you can become a pro at the topic. Maybe you’re just doing it to get a good grade, get your degree, and find your ideal job so you can do something you enjoy for a living. The link doesn’t have to be direct; it just has to remind you of your larger goal.”
4. Take a moment each day to express gratitude.
Sacha Strebe at My Domaine recommends taking a few minutes at the end of every day (or the beginning of the next one) to write down things that went particularly well, and things you feel grateful for.
“There’s always something to be thankful for,” she says. “Maybe it’s your health or something as simple as the roof over your head, even the fact that you have a job is something to appreciate. Life doesn’t have to be a Rihanna song of ‘werk, werk, werk, werk, werk.’ Take a mental break from the hustle and reflect on the things you are grateful for; then write them down. We promise it will inspire happiness and good vibes even on your worst days.”
If you prefer to record these expressions of gratitude in a dedicated place, here are two options:
5. Commit to one good habit, and others tend to follow.
James Clear — an author, photographer and student of behavioral psychology — has an excellent post on his blog about The Domino Effect, an interesting phenomenon in which one new habit reinforces any subsequent good habits you develop.
In other words, if you start by making your bed in the morning, you’re much more likely to get into that groove of writing to-do lists and making better dietary choices.
He offers a three-point method for tapping into this effect:
- Start with something small that you’re especially motivated to build into a habit.
- Carry that momentum into your next task. “With each repetition, you will become more committed to your new self-image,” he says.
- Break tasks down into manageable chunks when you need to. “The Domino Effect is about progress, not results. Simply maintain the momentum. Let the process repeat as one domino automatically knocks down the next.”