You make hundreds upon hundreds of smaller and bigger decisions about your life and your future every day. A lot of those decisions are more or less the same every day. They’re called habits and we are creatures of habits. Our habits are what defines us most, especially in the long term; because they accumulate.
There are actually two ways of succeeding in your life or messing it up:
- You make one big right or wrong decision (for example what you study, who you marry, the friends you choose, the markets you operate in, etc.)
- You make right or wrong small decisions each day (for example you go for healthy or junk food, how much money you spend, do you watch TV or prefer to read etc.). Let’s now focus on these small decisions you make every day, called habits.
Positive habits, like brushing our teeth regularly, exercising, reading, trying new things, analysing ourselves, etc. lead to our constant improvement and evolution, and thus increase our capacity for productivity, creativity, longevity, income and so on. On the other hand, a lack of positive habits or negative habits like smoking, drinking, clinging to anger or depression, watching TV and so on, decrease our capacity to create, truly enjoy life and contribute.
Don’t get me wrong, we all need to relax and release some tension from time to time, just let it go. That isn’t a habit, that’s perfectly normal and it leads to better long-term performance. For example, resting and doing “nothing” one day per week makes other six days of the week much more productive, especially in the long run. We all need to give ourselves a break from time to time.
The problem is a lack of daily positive habits, since for some people they don’t even exist at all. Not doing things that improve your body, mind, emotions and spirit on a daily basis means going back, not forward. It means throwing away your potentials. It means lagging behind and making your position worse. When you take a very passive approach to living in that kind of way, life kicks your butt from time to time – you know, you lose a job, you break up etc. – but it’s usually not enough to really change. It’s just a reminder that you constantly have to struggle, fight and push yourself.
As already mentioned, positive daily habits accumulate through time. You become a little bit better every day and in the long run, it makes a huge difference. With a new positive habit, you can become a completely new person in a few years. With a new positive habit, you can upgrade your body, mind, emotions and spirit in the long run, and that’s what really leads to a better performance and happiness.
Of course the big challenge is developing a new positive habit. It’s usually true that motivation gets you started and habit keeps you going. That’s why you first need a strong why and then follow the process through which you also develop new habits.
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Nevertheless, developing habits really is very hard, so let’s look at a few tricks for developing a new habit. Before we even begin with the tricks, remember that you can’t implement too many changes in your life at once; and habit is change. Thus you should implement one new healthy habit at a time. One positive change usually represents an early win and that will motivate you to implement even more new habits. For example, when exercising gives you the first results, you will automatically also be more motivated to eat a healthier diet.
But now, let’s look at the tricks. Every habit starts with a reminder, a trigger. After the trigger, the routine starts, your subconscious autopilot. At the end, there is the reward. The reward brings you pleasure; but the key question is what kind of a pleasure you’re focusing on. There’s usually a conflict between short-term gratification (immediate pleasure) and achieving long-term goals (true pleasure). If you change focus from the former to the latter, your life will change dramatically.
Here are three tricks you should do:
The first one is having a “why” that’s so strong it puts instant gratification to shame. Your long-term pleasures must dominate your short-term appetites. You have to see instant gratification as pain, and following your true goals as pleasure. Let me give you an example.
Let’s say that you want to eat a really unhealthy meal and it’s right in front of you. You can get instant gratification from eating it. It smells so good, it tastes excellent and your cravings are strong. The short-term reward you get from eating a fast-food meal is immediate. The pain of getting fat and getting a medical condition is somewhere in the future. And when we’re hungry, our brain couldn’t care less about our long-term goals and our future.
Now let’s turn things around a little bit.
Let’s say your goal is to train your body and become really fit. You’ve found the sports you like and the diet your body best responds to in the search mode, you’ve decided to follow and trust the process; and the process doesn’t include eating fast food.
You have a greasy, unhealthy meal in front of you. With your goals and process in mind, that meal should represent pure pain for you, not pleasure. You should see how not eating that meal is a reward for you and eating it is a big misery. By having a strong enough “why” (why you want to become fit, in this case), that should be easy. But you’re still hungry… and that’s how we come to the second trick.
The best way to develop a new positive habit is by exchanging a bad habit for a new, positive one. Every time a trigger comes into play, decide for a new routine, have a new personal reward system in mind. That’s the best way to develop a new healthy habit.
Every time a hamburger is put in front of you, just nod your head, and order a super healthy meal; eat a carrot or a banana or whatever. Every time someone turns on the TV, go read a book. Every time someone orders an alcoholic drink, order yourself a smoothie or a lemonade. Every time you want to buy an expensive latte, put the money in your piggybank instead. Every time you want to buy yourself a new fancy car you don’t need, go study investments you’re going to make.
The third trick are the cues, triggers. There are two points every day in your life that work great as triggers for your healthy habits. It’s when you wake up and before you go to sleep. Throughout the day, we’re all usually extremely busy, running from one activity to a meeting to another task and so on. Your phone keeps ringing, your inbox is filling up and you face many unexpected events. Daily challenges slowly take away your capacity for discipline and cognitive abilities. It’s quite hard to follow any new serious habit during the day (well, it can be done, for example if you have a no-interruptions day, but it’s harder to do something new).
But before 9am and after 9pm, everything is quiet and peaceful. They are the two time blocks of a few hours that you can really dedicate to yourself and your long-term goals. It’s even better if you connect the trigger of your routine for waking up and going to sleep with a healthy habit. Then you’ll definitely be a winner in the long run.
Your own personal rituals
Your morning and evening habits should be more than just habits. They should be your personal rituals, something, you never miss, no matter what. Your personal rituals for keeping inner peace, focus, personal development, life planning, health and happiness.
The best thing you can do in life is to first take care of yourself, and your personal rituals are the best way to do it. Because rituals are something divine and nothing should come in the way you of performing your rituals. You should put yourself first. Because if you’re happy, people around you will also be happy.
- You can call your morning rituals the kick-off routine and
- You can call your evening rituals your shut-down routine
Make sure you have visual aids that remind you and help you stick to your morning and evening rituals. Have a Kanban board, a checklist or whatever works best for you. Another very important thing is to have zero distractions when taking time to carry out your morning and evening routine.
Last but not least, your willpower is the strongest in the morning. That’s why your morning routine can be a little bit more demanding, and your evening routine should be more about relaxation and reflection and calming down.
Since your willpower is the strongest in the morning, you should also plan to do your most complex and difficult tasks right after your morning routine.
Ideas for morning rituals or kick-off routine
Here are some ideas for the best morning rituals you can introduce into your life:
- Be grateful for a new day and reinforce positive emotions, read a positive quote or two
- Brush your teeth
- Drink a glass of water first (with some lemon if that works for you)
- Meditate for 10 minutes or more
- Exercise or stretch if you don’t have time to exercise
- Eat a healthy breakfast
- Take a shower or a bath (end of the kick-off routine)
- Daily stand-up meeting for planning
Ideas for evening rituals or shut-down routine
And here are some ideas for the best evening rituals you can introduce into your life:
- Have an alarm on your phone to trigger your shut-down routine (9pm for example)
- Meditate or do yoga
- Read, read and, one more time, read (but not on electronic devices, exception being an e-reader); if you read right before going to sleep, read something lighter and not too intellectually demanding
- Reflect on your day
- Visualize your goals
- Take a shower or a bath (end of the shut-down routine)
- Be grateful for the day you had
You first make your habits and then your habits make you
Never forget that you first make your habits and then your habits make you. Your personal culture (values, beliefs, habits…) eats your strategy and goals for breakfast. An important part of your personal culture are also rituals. The more positive rituals you have in your life (in quantity and quality) the better; because you only have two options:
- You either take good care of yourself or you neglect yourself
- You either burn more calories than you consume in a day or not
- You either spend less than you earn or you’re probably accumulating debt
- You either improve and evolve, or you lag behind and waste your potentials
- You either go up or out
Make sure you have daily positive rituals in your life, as they will accumulate through time and lead to the things you want to experience in life. Having strong rituals is an important part of trusting and following the process that will lead you to your goal, your endgame. Strong rituals in your daily life are what prayers are to every religion; they are a must so you can stick to the process more easily.