The concept of habits became extremely popular in the recent years, mostly due to the personal development wave brought up by the Gen Z culture.
Also, due to the books that appeared in the recent years, out of which, the most famous and a favorite of mine, Atomic Habits.
Mostly, all this movement is about is taking control of your life. People were living on autopilot for so long, adhering to standards imposed by society, doing what needed to be done, without keeping track on how they spend their time.
As mental health became something people took seriously, it was inevitable that we would go to the cause of these issues and analyze what we do with our lives, and that is tracking habits.
The unrealistic habits movement
The huge talk about habits and attention spent on it, sparked a lot of analysis into high performers, celebrities, CEOs, entrepreneurs, investors and any personality that is even remotely famous or has a following.
Out of these podcasts, books and YouTube videos, there appeared a multitude of habits and routines that are not only unsustainable and unrealistic, but they might cause anxiety and strain on the body, which defies the purpose of having them in the first place.
So let me tell you something once and for all:
You don’t have to wake up at 5am, if that doesn’t work for you
You don’t have to do anything. The one thing you have to do is listen to your mind and body, and choose from these habits only what works for you and brings you a certain benefit.
The 10 habits that improved my life
What I planning to give you today is a list of the habits that I have personally picked from the thousands that are popular, implemented, tested and adjusted into my life.
The order is completely random. So let’s begin:
Have a good sleep hygiene
In my own personal development journey, I was working on multiple aspects of my life: fitness, relationships, nutrition. But I was always leaving sleep as something to tackle on down the road.
I was always choosing having fun, partying, watching Netflix, movies, going out, reading, instead of sleeping.
While being in a plateau with my gym goals and nutrition, I got a dog. As some of you might know, dogs go to sleep pretty early and don’t tend to sleep in. This forced me to leave parties earlier, prioritize sleep and go to bed earlier because I was woken up pretty early in the morning.
They key takeaways here are:
- Go to bed relatively earlier and wake up earlier (follow the natural circadian rhythm of your body)
- Sleep for 8 hours (at least 7, at most 9)
- Wake up at the end of a sleep cycle. Sleep cycles usually take 90 minutes. So set your alarm at the end of a multiple of 90 minutes.
- Keep your bedroom a bit cooler than the rest of your house
- Keep your bedroom dark while you sleep
Exercise / Workout every day
There are countless studies on the benefits of exercise on your body, both physically and mentally.
What I observed with my training was that it gave me a few valuable things:
- Stress and Anxiety relief
- A purpose / Goal
My training / exercise routine includes 3 or 4 strength training sessions that are no longer than one hour, once a week boxing class / swimming laps and 10.000 steps a day.
A great suggestion here based on my trials as a busy individual and studies from other specialists such as Andrew Huberman, it’s best to have these sessions in the morning, before work. This will help keep your energy levels high, avoid the afternoon energy drop, avoid over-caffeinating, keep your motivation high for the day and improve your mood.
Whenever you have time to do it, make sure to include it within your habits.
Don’t drink coffee for the first 1–2 hours after you wake up
Coffee is probably your favorite morning ritual, your go to energy source, and I am the same. Giving up coffee is just something I would not do ever.
However, over-caffeinating is a real thing and a detrimental one at that. To avoid needing another coffee at lunchtime or in the afternoon, drink your first one 1–2 hours after you wake up.
As Atomic Habits describes amazingly, each habit has a cue. Usually, waking up is our signal to go get coffee. To add or remove habits, you need to play around with the cues.
For example, I am using the waking up cue, to get dressed and go to the gym. After that, I come home and get ready for work. At 9:00 when I turn on my laptop, that’s my cue to drink my coffee. Usually I wake up at 7:00–7:30 so I have between 1 and 2 hours before my coffee.
Use to-do lists to plan your day
Whether you do this in the morning, before starting your day or in the evening when you finish your day, this is a very helpful tool.
The main benefit I observed about this is that it offloads a lot of mental pressure from myself and I feel less stressed.
This is because we are constantly trying to remember and not forget what we have to do. And we keep pressuring us so we don’t miss anything. So write them down, plan it ahead and you can just enjoy the ride and check out your next task.
I admit that my work and life doesn’t always make it easy to know ahead what I will do that day, but the solution I found it to add the tasks that I would like to do, that I have to do and I know about. I then use timeboxing to allocate time for them and then add buffer time in between for any ad-hoc things.
Use timeboxing to structure your to-do list
Timeboxing is a technique I have talked about in other articles and that many high performers use, such as Elon Musk.
It basically means allocating a timeframe for each task. For example, I read emails from 11:00 to 12:00. During that time, I am only doing that, and nothing else. This ensures that you will not do a half job, and will finish the task with your full attention involved. It will feel a lot more rewarding.
Multitasking is the biggest lie you’ve ever been told. Our brain can only truly focus on one thing at the time.
Have a self-care routine
I admit, this is something that I am struggling with as well. I don’t know if it’s a male thing, but studies show that men are not great at this habit.
However, having a self care routine in the morning and in the evening is a powerful habit, besides the skin, hair and wellness benefits.
A morning self-care routine will be your cue that the day it’s starting and you can link up another habit after such as going to the gym or running.
It will subconsciously prepare you for tasks and will make you feel ready which will increase your productivity, especially if you work from home.
An evening routine will be your cue that the day is coming to an end, and will subconsciously signal your brain to unwind and secret more melatonin because it means it’s going to bed.
This is a great habit in itself, but even more useful to link up more habits together.
Avoid bright light before bed
Your body is naturally programmed to follow a circadian rhythm. In pre-historic times, it used to follow the sunlight. In more modern times, we don’t structure our days based on sunlight, and we are exposed to bright lights from devices up until late at night.
As it gets dark and late, our body will start to produce melatonin, the hormone that helps us with sleep. If you watch TV or scroll on your phone before bed, your melatonin production will drop significantly, and it will cause sleep issues such as insomnia or restless sleep.
Read every day
I know you’ve heard this a lot but let me explain.
I don’t agree with other pieces of advices like this I read online that say “read a few pages a day”. That advice is not coming from avid readers. You should not do it for the sake of doing it, or for the number of pages or books read a year. You should do it for knowledge and development.
A more accurate advice is:
Read every day!
That’s it. Read until you understand the idea. Don’t read 20 pages because that might be half a chapter and you don’t get the idea. Don’t read 30 minutes as that might be a chapter and a half.
Read one idea. One chapter if that’s doable, or just one idea that makes sense. It might be just a page, but if you get the whole picture and that’s all you can do today, that’s great. You have something to think about and process.
Journal as often as you can
You will notice I didn’t say every day. And tha’t because I am not talking about the classic “Dear Journal, today I did this and that”. I am talking about expressing your feelings and diving deeper into yourself.
Journal when you feel like you need to. And try to clarify your thoughts:
- What is bothering me right now?
- Why am I stressed or have anxiety about?
- What am I feeling good about?
- What am I feeling grateful for right now?
- How I am feeling lately?
The purpose is to understand you better and process feelings and emotions.
Meditate every day
Now here’s a habit that I suffixed “every day” to.
However, find the meditation that works best for you.
The purpose if it is to be silent, slow down your mind, eliminate all the thoughts and just be. Don’t think, don’t do anything, just focus on your breath or something else.
Meditation can mean different things for different people. Can be transcendental meditation, yoga, breathwork, or simply a walk. Here are a few ways that I meditate:
- transcendental meditation
- a walk
- sit silently and eliminate any thoughts
- listen to music and focus on it
- take a shower
It doesn’t need to be hard. It just needs to slow you down, and get you inside of yourself, rather than focused on what’s happening outside.
These are some of my habits, but definitely the ones that brought the most value into my life.
Remember, it’s not a race. And it’s definitely not a path laid out that we all need to follow. Do what works for you, experiment. Something will stick. Be patient.