23 Small Habits to Build the Life You Deserve

We always feel that we can do better. And we want to do better. But somehow circumstances and our lives make us think as if we cannot bring a change, at least not without monstrous efforts.

This is not true.

This article is about 23 easy and small habits that we can adapt today without taking a lot of trouble. 

Even though I workout regularly for an hour, sometimes my routine breaks. I cannot go back to exercising as I want to work out for an hour and nothing less, even though I don’t have that much time.

My friend stopped meditating after her ten-day Vipassana course as she couldn’t take out the prescribed one hour in the morning for meditation. 

Another friend left journaling as she started working double shifts at the office. She told me that she needs at least half an hour to write about her day in the diary, and she doesn’t have that much time anymore.

Some of our old and new habits, that run at least forty percent of our daily life1 on an automated mode, need a larger chunk of time than we have. But in spite of how heavy some of these practices sound, they all need a starting point that could just be a few minutes.

A one percent growth can make anything 6 times better in 180 days (1.01^180). But you need that one unit to start with.

And do you know that this same one percent increment can make anything 37 times better (1.01^365) in 365 days?

From 1 to 6 to 37 you can clearly see the power of compounding.

graph-one-percent-incremental-growth good habits.png

This magical compounding is you consistently doing something working in your favor2.

As Jeff Olsen said in his brilliant book The Slight Edge, “Anytime you see what looks like a breakthrough, it is always the end result of a long series of little things, done consistently over time. Hoping for “the big break”—the breakthrough, the magic bullet—is not only futile, it’s dangerous, because it keeps you from taking the actions you need to create the results you want.”

We don’t have to wait for an ideal one hour. In fact, waiting for that one hour is delaying us from getting to our goal.

I can jog for 10 or 15 minutes.

My friend can meditate for 10 minutes instead of an hour. The other friend can journal 2-3 times during the day whenever she gets a ten-minute break.

You might feel that these ten minutes run or meditation sessions aren’t as impactful as an hour practice but that is an illusion as you are looking at an individual day.

If I run for 10 minutes for 25 days, I have run 250 minutes, more than four hours, in a month. When my friend meditates 10 minutes for 30 days, she has meditated 300 minutes, or a total of 5 hours, in a month.

When we look at the same activities done steadily for a small amount of time over a larger time frame, we see how powerful their aggregate can be.

aggregated graph showing an activity done over time as a good habit.png

 

Ten minutes might not make my friend as mindful as an hour but this small-time duration would help her develop a meditating habit. A ten-minute run would help me get back to my habit of running.

We can either expand these habits to fill into larger time periods or we can keep doing them for the same time duration — whatever we do we still have these daily habits working in our favor throughout. 

But how do we get started? How to leave our bad habits? How to build good habits?

All our habits — drinking water, having a cup of tea in the morning, journaling, showering daily, exercising, driving, eating evening snacks, time blocking, scrolling social media before bed— were built day by day.

We started doing all these activities so small that we never noticed we are getting habitual.

I don’t recall building a showering habit but I remember that going to school meant going to the bathroom first. We got used to scrolling social media because we harmlessly picked up our phone to check Facebook, and before we knew, we were scrolling our feed for thirty minutes.

Start small and in no time you will have a habit3.

We have to start so small that we find it very easy to do that thing. Now the problem with this approach is that we would also find it very easy to not do that same thing.

  1. Drinking 10 glasses of water every day. Easy to do but easy not to do as well.
  2. Getting up every hour to stretch our legs. Easy but also ignorable.
  3. Calling up a friend after work. Easy to do but easy not to do as well.
  4. Reading five pages of a good book every day. Easy to do but easy not to do as well.

As you cannot see instant results with these tiny habits, you might as well not do them.

But do you know what is the difference between people who get things done and the ones who don’t — Doers believe in a vision and pursue it relentlessly no matter how much time it takes, while the rest only complain about not getting any output. 

It is in our hands to decide which one we want to be. And this guide on good daily habits comes into picture right here for it makes doing these small good things easy – so easy that you might not even do them and you wouldn’t know the difference.

a girl running as a daily small habit.jpg

 

But what if you do these easy things?

Someone wise once said, do the thing and you shall have the power.

If we keep our head down and do our thing, soon enough, the universal amplifier — the magical time — takes over and rolls us right into our goals.

You won’t see immediate results for you are focusing on tiny things. To succeed, you will need to believe in what you know rather than what you see — something done regularly adds up to bring amazing results over time.

As Jeff Olsen said, “You supply the actions; the universe will supply the time. The trick is to choose the actions that, when multiplied by this universal amplifier, will yield the result you want. To position your everyday actions so time works for you, and not against you.”

With the power of habits comes the great responsibility of choosing the best habits that work as a lever in improving our lives.

What can you change today?

Here are my 23 easy but daily good habits that you can start building today to live a better life.

1. Say something nice to your loved one when you wake up. Acknowledge their presence in your life – Undervalued but one of the best habits to have.

Earlier I used to jump out of the bed right after waking up without hugging my partner or having a conversation with him. But with time he has taught me to slow down. Now we first smile at each other, give a hug, and tell the other person how much we appreciate them.

I feel positive about the day for I have spoken calmly to my most important person. Happy relationships can keep us happier than we can imagine.

Plant a kiss on his or her cheek. Smile. If the person you love is not nearby and you only have a lousy roommate, send a message to your special one and keep your phone aside.

Say a nice thing and express your love. (Only takes a few minutes)

Score: Easy to do, but easy not to do.

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2. Make up your bed as soon as you get up. Or after that quick bathroom run – Tops my list of best daily habits

After years of being coaxed by my mother into folding my duvet and straightening my pillows as soon as I got up, I have come to a point where I can’t leave my bed without fixing it.

Making up your bed is a habit that has the power to start a chain reaction.

A clear and organized bed — organizing your desktop folders — feeling that everything is under control — happier mood — better results.

Making your bed every morning has been proven to be correlated with better productivity and a greater sense of well-being — such habits that act as levers to other good things in life and overflows in all parts of life are called Keystone habits.

Do note down this keystone pillar but don’t try to organize your entire room while making the bed. Else, the activity will take longer and you wouldn’t want to do it the next day. ( Takes 5 minutes)

Score: Easy to do, but easy not to do and just leave for work.

make your bed in the morning good daily habit (1).png

 

3. Irrespective of the time you wake up, exercise for fifteen minutes. Do ten if you can’t do fifteen.

I have been regularly exercising for many years now. While the immediate effects of exercises are better mood, feeling light and happy, the long-term impact of exercise has been a fit body, healthy mind, and more confidence in myself.

Apart from keeping us fit, exercise reduces stress and improves our mood. The uplifting effects of exercising overflows in every part of our day making everything seem a bit better. 

Don’t wait up for your partner or a friend or a yoga teacher or a gym instructor. If stretching feels overrated, go for a run. Do push-ups. Don’t exercise for more than 10-15 minutes in the beginning, otherwise, you will detest exercising the next day. (Takes 10-15 minutes)

Score: Easy to do, but easy not to do.

4. Sit silently for five minutes. Don’t have five minutes? Keep everything aside, and calm yourself for two minutes – One of the easiest habits

Even though a wandering mind is an unhappy mind, research shows that 47 percent of the time people are thinking about something else other than what they are working on. But what has meditation got to do with focus? It is proven that long-term meditators can bring their focus back much more easily than non-meditators. 

I did a ten-day Vipassana meditation course last year, and I came out completely cleanse and calm. While I struggle to find a whole hour to meditate, I sit for 2-5 minutes of meditation every now and then to keep the practice going.

Give yourself two minutes of quietness. Don’t think about anything. Meditate. Focus on your breathe. Oh, meditation doesn’t mean that you are not thinking about anything else. Meditation means that you try not to think about anything else and bring your focus back to your breath every time your attention goes away. Focus – wander – focus – repeat. (Takes 2-5 minutes)

You might not feel right now but a few minutes of meditation every day would help you become more mindful.

Score: Easy to do, but easy not to do as well.

good habits to have such as meditation.jpg
A taxi driver in Mumbai once told my partner that all we need to do meditation is a tree.

5. Feeling heavy from the last night’s meal? Want to lose weight? Skip breakfast. Practice intermittent fasting.

Over the years, people (including me) have said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But that is not the most thought-provoking information on the internet anymore. 

Have you heard of intermittent fasting — staying hungry for long intervals, entire 24 hours, alternate days, etc? Your body starts burning fat 10 hours after your last meal. If you don’t eat after ten hours, the fat stored in your body is broken down into energy. As a result, you cut down on body fat and lose weight. 

Amongst the many science-proven benefits of intermittent fasting, prevention of health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancers, and weight loss are the major ones. 

I have started intermittent fasting recently. I don’t eat anything after dinner, and I skip breakfast. I am already light, feel more energetic, and can eat freely during my eating window( 12 noon to 9 pm mostly). 

If your dinner was at 9 pm, eat at 11 am. Or have an early lunch at noon. You will feel hungry for the first few hours of the day, but you will feel lighter, too. Fourteen-Sixteen (14-16) hours-long fasts have proven to be the most effective. 

When we feel light, we are more confident about our appearance and we feel better. So skip breakfast, save some time, and eat a heavy lunch and dinner. You might feel hangry for the first few days or even a month, but soon you would get used to this new diet. (saves 15 minutes at least) 

Intermittent fasting is an immediate solution to good health. I will write about this more in the next articles. 

Score: Easy to do, but easy not to do.

 

6. If you don’t have a water bottle, buy a glass bottle or a flask. Fill it three times a day.

I have been drinking about four liters of water daily for eight years. I always stay hydrated and water helps recover from the muscle pain I get post-workout.

You need water to keep yourself hydrated and energetic. But if general sense doesn’t encourage you enough, let me quote research that shows that water enhances our cognitive abilities and mood states.

Please buy a water bottle. (one-time activity)

How will you remember to fill the water bottle three times a day? Let’s go to the next point. 

Score: Easy to do, but easy not to do.

7. Set three recurring alarms at four-hour intervals. Label them fill the water bottle.

When each alarm goes off, you fill your bottle.

But filling the bottle implies that you first empty the bottle by drinking the water. Though you might throw down the first few liters down the gutter, soon you would remember to drink up.

Set that alarm (1-minute one-time activity). Fill the water bottle three times a day (Takes two minutes three times a day so 6 minutes).

Score: Easy to do, but easy to ignore me and not to do.

8. Order an alarm clock. (one-time activity)

I will tell you why in the next point.

Score: Easy to do, but easy to ignore me and not to do.

9. Set a wake-up alarm on your alarm clock and disable the one on your phone – Not just another good habit but a crucial one.

Social media usage has proven to be directly connected to how depressed we feel. 

The alarm rings. You fling your arm to find the disturbance. You snooze the alarm once. The next time the alarm rings, you switch off the alarm. But you don’t leave the phone. 

Oh, Manika was in Dubai yesterday. Dick got married. Tina got a promotion. An unknown cat looks cuter today. That Panda hasn’t yet stopped chewing on the bamboo. Let me just watch this colleague’s Insta story. Boom. Baam. Boom. Baam. Too late.  

Before looking at what others have been doing, first, get a grip on your day. The millions of notifications on your phone can always wait. 

I don’t use an alarm clock because I never pay any attention to my phone for the first few, or sometimes even 8-9 hours, of the day.

But if you are getting distracted by your phone in the morning, wake up with an alarm clock and not with your phone. 

Set an alarm for every day. Your choice of time. (Takes 1 minute to set an alarm)

Score: Easy to do, but easy not to do.

social media anxiety bad habits.jpg

10. Switch off the notifications for the most disturbing apps.

If you still can’t resist picking up the phone later and checking the notifications, turn off the notifications of the most disturbing apps by going to Settings-Apps.

You can always check your messages on these apps by opening them later.

Disable the push notifications of social media apps. (Takes five minutes.)

Score: Easy to do, but easy not to do.

11. Appreciate yourself for the things you have done so far.

You are already a master of your day. Think good thoughts about yourself. Look at yourself in the mirror and smile. Say thank you.

Small wins like starting a day on the right note and taking care of yourself would convince you that bigger results are close by.

Thank yourself. (Takes only 1 minute)

Score: Easy to do, but easy not to do.

12. Having negative thoughts about something that happened or didn’t happen? Fix a time at the end of the day to write down your feelings or talk to someone about them.

An unresolved problem or an emotional upheaval can stay like a cloud in our head taking the attention away from important things.

I used to let my roommate issues hang in the background while failing to focus on writing. Then one day I send a message to my friend telling him that I would talk to him about my home problems at night. A simple reply from him that said, “don’t worry we will discuss” helped me stop thinking about the problem, and I could focus again.

So that is what I do now.

Fix a time to talk to a friend. Write. Or record an audio message and send to yourself. If your morning routine is getting disrupted because you are giving attention to how you feel, resolve this at the end of the day. But if your routine is getting disturbed because of how you feel, do something about the issue now.

Either assign a time to resolve your thoughts or clear them now. [Time taken depend on your thoughts]

Score: Though the time taken to fix the problem here can be more, this task is also easy to do, but easy not to do.

 

13. Avoid phone calls from people that agitate you at least in the first half of the day. Or avoid phone calls from everyone, especially unknown numbers.

Ignoring phone calls doesn’t take much effort, does it? Still, on most days we forget that we don’t have to talk to someone in our important work hours.

In a podcast, Gloria Mark, who is known for her research on digital distraction, said that, on average, humans take about 25 minutes to get back to a task after getting distracted and that we lose our focus from our computer screens in about 40 seconds. 

When bringing back our focus isn’t that easy, we should choose the things for which you want to break our attention carefully. 

It is now 5:08 pm as I write this and I haven’t checked my phone for about seven hours.

How do I implement this selective disconnectivity?

Tell your family and friends that you won’t be available on the phone in the morning. Return important calls from the morning later in the day. Keep your phone in the other room or switch it off.

Ignore phone calls. (saves a lot of time)

Score: Easy to not pick up the phone, but easy just to pick it up, too.

a woman agitated over phone.jpg
Better avoid this when we are on something important.

14. Carry a set of tissues or a handkerchief with you – One of the good personal habits

Carrying pocket tissues or a handkerchief has made my life much easier especially because I start sneezing like a pressure cooker as soon as I step out.

Have you noticed yourself struggling to find a tissue?

Then buy pocket tissues now and always bring them along. (Takes one minute to keep tissues while leaving from home.)

Score: Easy to do, but easy not to do.

15. Finish your day by writing down the priorities for the next day.

The day I don’t have the most important thing written down in front of me, I end up spending about an hour trying to figure out what I have to do.

Humans love control4. Having a sense of tomorrow calms us.

If you don’t have a task list, you would fumble in the morning while delaying your most important task. If you know what you have to do, you get straight to your work.

Having a task list is a keystone habit that will help you plan your other tasks before time, too.

Write down your to-do list for tomorrow today. (takes about 10 minutes)

Score: Easy to do, but easy not to do.

16. Play some nice music while going back home.

Many times I am too lazy to find some music and play it. But as soon as I get my hands on a suitable playlist and start listening to it, my mood gets better. 

Apart from doing some hundred thousand favors, music makes us happier and more positive.

Either you are driving back or are in the cab or are walking home, don’t be lazy to listen to some soothing music. You will be relaxed and happier by the time you are home. 

Get some music going. (Takes two minutes to play music.)

Score: Easy to do, but easy not to do.

listening to music make us like children.jpg
Music brings us our inner child out.

17. Check your kitchen cabinets or the refrigerator and throw at least one expired product – One of the smallest habits to change your life

My partner’s email inbox is as clean and organized as a Michelin star restaurant’s fancy entree. Email received. Email marked read. Email deleted or labeled.

Decluttering works in both digital and non-digital environments. When we declutter our environment, we declutter our minds.

While making dinner or in your free time, take out one item from the fridge or the cabinets that you no longer need or are expired or need to be finished today.

Then see how you feel.

Throw out an unnecessary or spoiled item. [Take about 5 minutes]

Score: Easy to do, but easy not to do.

18. Shift your dinner time every week by ten minutes to create a gap of at least an hour or two hours between your eating time and sleeping time.

For the soundest sleep, you need to eat at least two hours before you hit the bed. Else your stomach would still be digesting food when you try to sleep. It is not hard to guess that you won’t have a good sleep while the stomach does its job.

But how many times do we eat dinner two hours before going to sleep?

In India, families eat heavy dinner that is full of chapati, curry, salad, fruits, and sometimes even rice. When I went to South America, my Chilean host mother introduced me to the concept of once, a meal that Chileans (and other South Americans) eat by 7-8 pm that is lighter than dinner. Bread, cheese, salad, leftovers, tea, etc. 

Since traveling to Chile, I never have a heavy, late-night dinner expect on some occasions, festivals, or rare weekends. I have become so used to an early dinner that every time I eat late, I can feel my stomach rumbling up something acidic. But every time I eat much before sleeping, I never struggle to sleep like I used to before.

Shifting your dinner time is not easy and doable in one day. Change your dinner time slowly by eating ten minutes earlier every time. 

Score: Easy to do, but easy not to do.

sleeping with the cosmos (1).jpg

19. Shift your alarm time by fifteen minutes every week. Shift by ten minutes if you can’t do fifteen.

You might have decided that you will wake up at 5 or 6 am hundreds of times but you still find it hard to wake up before 7 or 8 am. Don’t feel bad as you are not alone – waking up early is one of the biggest, failed passion projects of us all.

While failing to wake up with the 6 am alarm clock every day, I gave up. Well, not entirely. Do you know what I did next? No, I did not keep the alarm in the other room and thrash it in the dustbin once and for all. I brought incremental changes in my wake up time.

If you sleep until 8 am today, sleep until 8 for this week. But set an alarm for 7:45 am the next week. And for 7:30 am the week after that.

Shift by ten minutes if fifteen seems like a lot. So 8 -> 7:50 -> 7:40 -> 7.30 … -> 6.00.

You need two months to shift your wake up time by two hours without feeling that you had to wake up earlier. Your sleep time would shift naturally, too.

It is alright if you are a real owl and don’t want to wake up early. As our body clock is biological, research shows that shifting our sleeping patterns might not help in improving our mood or give us a sense of better well-being – If you are an owl, you are an owl.

Shift your alarm time by 10-15 minutes. (takes one-minute)

Score: Easy to do, but easy not to do.

20. Keep the phone aside half an hour before you sleep.

Even though we can use social media dispassionately, a lot of people feel anxious after using social media apps. Seeing others’ feeds right before sleeping will disturb your sleep and affect your overall well-being even the next day.

Keep your phone aside ten minutes before you sleep, then increase this time to fifteen minutes, then twenty minutes. [saves time]

Score: Easy to do, but easy not to do.

Instead, do this before sleeping.

21. Read a book – Just ten pages a day. Or start with five.

I cannot fall asleep without reading a few pages. My partner reads technical articles. Choose what you like but read.

Apart from the immense knowledge you gain while reading, reading relaxes us immensely. And imagine how much you would have read in a year if you go through ten pages a day of a good book? 3650 pages. That is at least a dozen good books of 300 pages.

Read ten pages before you sleep. [Takes anywhere from twenty to thirty minutes]

Score: Easy to do, but easy not to do.

reading is part of daily good habits for life.png
Reading is one of the most important good habits to have.

22. Catch up with a friend

If we aren’t there for our friends, their life won’t wait for us until we get done with our important things.

I was about to lose my close friends for I was busy writing and setting up my blog. But I learned my lessons before it was too late, and now I try to stay in touch and meet all my friends as often as I can. After all, these are the relationships that will keep us healthy and happy

Talk to a close friend. [Time spent depends on you.]

Score: Easy to do, but easy not to do.

relationships keep us happy and healthy.png

 

23. Thank yourself again before going to sleep

The most important person you should thank for the day is you. Without you, how would you have managed anything?

Thank yourself at the end of the day like you mean it. [two minutes]

Score: Easy to do, but easy to forget, too.

 

Start with only five of these best habits for life. Then choose the next five. And then select the next five. Give yourself six months. At the end of six months, you will have all these small but good personal habits working for you.  

You don’t have to increment these habits until you feel absolutely ready. Also do not increment the time period of more than one habit at a time. Let them be small.

If you still feel you don’t have time to accommodate any of this, then let me go back to a quote from Gary Keller.

Gary Keller perfectly notes down in his book The One Thing, “It’s not that we have too little time to do all the things we need to do, it’s that we feel the need to do too many things in the time we have.”

By doing these tiny things every day, you will be happy because you are taking care of the small and big things in your life, even if little by little. You may not have noticed but the list took care of your health, happiness, relationships, personal development, career, and purpose, all together.

What if you are having a bad day and don’t want to do any of these above activities? These actions would soon become habits that will happen on their own. On a bad day, too, these positive habits will help you move on and feel better about your day

I forgot to tell you one important thing.

If you close this article with five good thoughts, I am happy. But by tomorrow you would have forgotten eighty percent of what I said. In one more day, you might remember just one thing from the article. 

The only way for this method to work out is if you really believe it. As Charles Duhigg said about changing habits in his book The Power of Habits, “If you identify the cues and rewards, you can change the routine. At least, most of the time. For some habits, however, there’s one other ingredient that’s necessary: belief.”

Even hardcore alcoholics can get over their alcohol addiction when they believe that can live without alcohol. So believe. Work. Observe the change. Even if you don’t see a change immediately, work.

You can also work with an accountability partner who keeps you on track.

 

We often think that to have that picture-perfect life we need to win a lottery or the last round of who wants to be a millionaire or a magical fairy who will fix everything for us. 

But mostly we need very small habits accumulated over the years that will shift our entire life. Just start walking and let the road carry you along.

the secret to success are some good habits for life.jpg

References

1 – One paper published by a Duke University researcher in 2006 found that more than 40 percent of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits. As quoted by Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

2 – Many thanks to Jeff Olson for his book The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness. This book taught me a lot about the importance of practicing good habits for life even on a small scale and inspired many ideas in this article.

3 – Research says that a habit takes almost 66 days to form but this is not a definite number for all kinds of habits and people.

4- You can find many references to human love for control in the book The Power of Habits.

Like my guide? Please pin it!

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