Who hasn’t had a few habits they want to change to improve their life? I know I have. I, too, have experienced the challenges of incorporating new routines into my daily world. So, you are not alone. The good news is, you can change habits, and you can make the changes stick. First, we need to understand how habits work in our minds. Then we can work to choose and develop any of these 7 habits; they are all life changing!
Let’s begin with the fundamentals, most habits consist of three key components:
- Habits are typically unconscious thoughts or actions, which I will call “behaviors” moving forward.
- Over time the habits become hard wired with repetition.
- And, there are typical triggers in our environment that instigate the habit to kick in and take over.
The Science of Habit Changing.
We all have experienced some habits that make our lives better, such as a habit of brushing our teeth—running the gamut to habits that make our life less easy, such as a pattern of negative self-talk that overwhelms us.
One of the reasons that habits are so difficult to change is that your brain is a hungry machine when it is learning new things. So, your mind works very hard to learn new things well enough not to need massive brainpower. Once it’s learned something, your brain habituates that behavior, so it doesn’t take much energy to do the thing.
It’s the body’s way of conserving energy. It’s a little like why we turn off house lights in empty rooms. Nobody wants to spend money, i.e., “energy” on things we don’t need to. Your brain operates on the same philosophy.
Quick side note here, this is also why when you’re learning new things, you may find yourself tired and/or hungry. Brains need fuel to learn.
Elements of Change.
Several elements support our ability to change. First, you have to want whatever is on the other side of the habit. Second, you need to become aware of the new habit you want to begin. And third, there needs to be some sort of reward attached to the change.
The reward could be anything. Maybe the prize is losing weight or getting higher scores on your employee satisfaction surveys. If the goal is sleep, perhaps feeling rested or having more energy, or fewer days with bags under your eyes might be the prize. Really, the reward is anything that speaks to what you will get from accomplishing your goal.
There are several techniques that can support habit change. I personally like Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg. At its core, Tiny Habits is about linking a well-established habit to a new one you want to foster. Take a habit that you like and that you do consistently and unconsciously, like brush your teeth, and then add a new one that you want to incorporate into your life. You are linking to a habit that you already do well.
Example of Habit Change in Action.
You decided you want to learn to meditate. Only you’re discovering it’s difficult to find the time, and as much as you want to meditate, you keep forgetting. So now, let’s take something you do effortlessly, like sit down on the toilet when you’re going to the bathroom. I know, I know, crazy example, yet, it’s something we all do.
Now link the new habit to the effortless habit. For instance, you might link sitting down on the toilet, with closing your eyes and focusing on your breath for two minutes.
The more you practice these two behaviors together, the faster the habit of breathing will form. Mostly because of your attention to creating a new repetitive pattern. The more you practice these 2-minute meditations, the faster you will create new wiring in your brain.
7 Habits that Will Change Your Life.
Now that you have an understanding of habits and a framework for making sustainable changes in creating new ones let’s take a look at some habits that can change your life. These are life-changing because, over time, they help you to reduce cortisol and adrenaline that you get way too much of, from sitting in anger or anxiety.
1/ Remind Yourself Daily about Your Life Purpose
I’m putting this habit first because, well, I think it’s important to begin with the end in mind. What is the purpose of your life? If you find yourself having difficulty answering this question, it probably means it’s time to get clarity.
I often talk to clients about their behaviors on all the thoughts, actions, and self-talk, that take them away from their goals. Consider what you’re about to say, think, or do, and ask yourself, “Does this take me one step closer to my goal or one step farther away?”
If you don’t know what your life purpose is, how do you know if your unconscious behaviors will help you manifest that purpose?
A life purpose is more significant than a life goal. I may have a goal of having a particular lifestyle. Yet my life purpose is probably going to be bigger than my lifestyle.
Life purposes tend to fall into categories of our most deeply held values. Consider what your most deeply held values are in the life that you want to lead. Once you speak your life purpose, put it on post-it notes and sprinkle it around your house in places where you’ll see it. This will help remind you how you want to be in the world.
2/ Read 10 pages (Listen to 10 min) of a Business or Self-Development Book Daily.
I am a big believer in getting information from outside my own head. So, while I don’t expect others to consume books at the rate that I do, getting external ideas is still incredibly useful. While fiction is fantastic, we could have a long conversation about my love of sci-fi, it typically doesn’t get you to self-reflect quite the same way as self-development books do.
So the invitation is to find a couple of self-development books that you would be interested in reading. I’m not a big paper book reader anymore. Nowadays, I prefer to listen to most of my books. Listening and reading works precisely the same, honor your process, read or listen, both will work. By committing to reading each day, you can read a book in a month, and generate new ideas and ways of thinking into your experience. Not everything will resonate or stick, but it’s a great practice, and you can learn along the way.
3/ Practice Some Form of Mindfulness Daily.
Practicing mindfulness daily is crucial. One of the concerns that I have is that we often make mindfulness difficult. If it’s going to change your life, let’s make it easy, changing our life is hard enough.
Find the places you already do something (i.e., Tiny Habits) And attune yourself to your breath. If you walk your dog every day, choose to walk in silence for two minutes and focus on your breathing. If you love to cook, turn off all other distractions, while you chop your food or sauté it in a pan, focus on your breath
You can make anything you already enjoy doing a mindfulness practice. Gardening, taking a walk, dancing, taking photographs, doing any form of art, making birdhouses out of found objects, your imagination is your only limit. So, find something to do and then meditate as you go.
The key here is to do the practice often enough to develop new neural pathways.
4/ Once a Year Reevaluate Your 5 Year Goals.
Many of us reevaluate our goals annually. We may come up with an educational, business, career, or personal goal that we want to manifest in our life in the coming year. We don’t often create a five-year plan. If I were to meet you on the street in five years, what do you want to tell me you are doing with your life?
This five-year plan is about having clarity around a longer goal that you’re moving towards. You don’t need to look at it every single day, but it’s epically useful to reevaluate the plan annually. This allows you to make changes and clarify elements as you learn more and discover what you want for your life.
Taking the time first to create a five-year goal and then to evaluate annually will help you course-correct and stay on the path to change your life in meaningful and thoughtful ways.
5/ Radical Curiosity is Life-Changing.
I love this habit. This is one of the life-changing habits that I have really integrated into, not only my life but how I interact with everything in it. Practicing curiosity means that you take a breath, set aside your biases and judgments, and find out what you don’t yet know.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t see enough curiosity in the world around me. At least, not the kind of profound interest that I’m referring to here. Radical curiosity is about understanding another person’s human experience and in self-reflection of your reactions and responses to the world around you.
We may be curious about new tools that will make our life easier, or new gadgets we want to have in our house, but we are often a lot less curious about the people around us. Ask yourself, how much time have you spent looking for a new [insert your new thing here] versus how much time you have spent really getting to know your employee, your coworker, your neighbor, or sadly even your spouse and kids?
I know how much time I can spend looking for a new tool for a project, a new app for my iPad, scrolling through Pinterest, or looking at any number of new things that I might enjoy having. What I try and make sure of is that I spend more time being in relationship with my important people. It is these relationships that are important to us, where we most need to practice curiosity first.
By practicing curiosity, you can also avoid creating drama and conflict. So often drama and conflict come out of misunderstandings. When we misunderstand someone’s intention, we may be reacting and responding in ways that create more problems; then we have to clean those problems up.
I literally cannot tell you how many times asking a question versus reacting, has saved me time, energy, and emotional angst. By slowing your roll, and asking about what someone means, or what their intention or goal is, we can sidestep drama. And, frankly, if you do nothing else, sidestepping drama will change your life in profound and useful ways.
6/ Keep a Gratitude Journal.
Keeping a gratitude journal is so useful to remind yourself that even amid the swirl of life, there are still good things happening to and around you.
Taking a few moments each day to write down three to five moments that you’re grateful for is a way of anchoring the awareness. We don’t remember what we don’t anchor in our minds. So, the gratitude journal works by helping us name, claim, and remember what we are grateful for.
Allow yourself to notice all the beauty around you. It could be the sound of your children laughing, your funny fur baby frolicking, the beauty of a flower growing in your garden, an incredible meal made with love that you are eating, or it could be the fantastic rhythm of the song you’ve just discovered. All these moments mean that you are alive and have the ability to hear, see, taste, and experience the world around you. Please do not waste your time; it is life-changing when you find those moments to celebrate.
I created a gratitude journal; you can grab it in the article, Gratitude: Your Secret to a Joyful Love Filled Life
7/ Each Year Choose Something New You Want to Learn.
And, finally, each year choose something new you want to stretch yourself into learning. If we do not grow, we stagnate. And while your brain might prefer to stay unconsciously doing its thing, it’s good to challenge it with new learning.
I’m not going into it here, this article is long enough, but there is excellent research on the benefits of people continuing to learn new things. For instance, active minds are at reduced risk for things like Alzheimer’s, tend to have better relationships, and are generally happier overall.
Stretching your growth edges and challenging your mind is an essential key in building confidence, experiencing more success, being a happier person, and expanding your impact in the world around you.
Go Forth and Change Your Life and Change Those Habits.
Choose one or two habits that you believe will improve your life and help you move towards your important goals. Just choose one or two habit changes; there is no need to try and eat the whole elephant or drink the ocean. Break those couple of habits down into bite-size chunks and go out and be successful. You got this!
I would LOVE to hear from YOU!
- What new habit are you ready to grow?
- What would you like to tell people about how you are doing in five years?
Lyssa deHart, LICSW, MCC is a Leadership Confidence and Whole Life Coach, and the author of StoryJacking: Change Your Inner Dialogue, Transform Your Life. Lyssa works with confidence challenged high achievers who are ready to rewrite the internal narratives that slow them down. Her clients include executives, senior leadership, and managers at organizations such as Amazon, Boeing, Microsoft, the US Military, as well as with creative writers, actors, and artists.
What fires her up is working with smart people to trust their brilliance and develop the courage and confidence to believe in themselves and the work that is their purpose. If you are interested in meeting to see if you could benefit from working together, let's have a coffee and a chat.
All Photo copyright retained by photo owners, everything else ©2014-2022 Lyssa deHart
article originally posted on Dec 2, 2019. Updated April 23, 2023.