- Why habits are powerful
- The South Pole expedition
- How long to form a habit?
- 6 life changing habits
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. With these words, philosopher Will Durant paraphrases a quote by Aristotle, and makes us reflect on the importance of discipline and consistency.
As human beings, our goal shouldn’t be to have a great day, but a great life. We should focus on, and form, the habits that will make our whole existence more meaningful and fulfilling.
This would affect both our mood and productivity; how we feel and what we are able to accomplish; making our own life a masterpiece, and contributing to the world.
In this article I am going to talk about the power of habits, how long it takes to form them, and how they can change your life. I am also going to share six easy good habits you can implement in your life right now, so you can think and feel better.
Why habits are powerful
Whether we like it or not, we live most of our life on autopilot. We wake up at a certain time, check our phone, brush our teeth, have dinner because subconsciously we follow a particular pattern or routine.
The good news is that if we implement new habits in our routine, then train ourselves to perform specific tasks or activities over and over again, eventually we will perform these tasks effortlessly.
Once a habit is formed, it won’t be something we’re supposed to do, or must do anymore — we will simply do the thing on autopilot. Of course, we will still have to use our willpower and motivation, but it won’t be as difficult.
It can be difficult to form new habits, even if they’re good habits, simply because our brain tends to think short term.
So for example, if you want to wake up earlier every day because it would allow you to be more productive or have more free time, your brain will not focus on the long term benefits, but only on the immediate negative effects, such as hearing the alarm clock earlier.
Similarly, while everyone understands the importance of exercise, few actually take the time to walk, run, or work out because their mind links those activities to pain — such as sweating and feeling tired.
This is why we can’t rely on motivation alone: we must use habits to condition our brain to do things even when it doesn’t feel like doing them. While it may be uncomfortable at first, it has the potential to change and improve the way we live.
The South Pole expedition
In 1911, two teams tried to reach the South Pole. One was led by Roald Amundsen, and one by Robert Falcon Scott. The first team accomplished their mission, while Scott’s crew died.
While the outcome of the expeditions may have been influenced by many factors, there was a clear difference in terms of how the crews would march to the South Pole, and their overall strategy.
The team who was successful would march for 15 miles every single day, with no exceptions. On some days, the weather was favorable, and they had more energy, so they could have walked way further, but they still decided to rest after the 15 miles. On some days the weather was adverse, but that didn’t stop them from doing the same.
Scott’s team, on the other hand, had no clear plan, and their daily decisions were affected by the weather, which was often unpredictable: for example, toward the end of their journey, the temperature unexpectedly dropped below -40°C.
Again, there were many factors involved. But interestingly enough, the team who accomplished the mission was the one who kept going every day no matter what. Amundsen’s people had incredible discipline, and woke up with the same goal every day.
How long does it take to form a habit?
The answer is: it depends! Some habits are easier to develop, and don’t require high amounts of time or energy, while others are much more difficult.
If you decide to eat healthier food every day, on the first day you may eat more fruit and vegetables. And while you may have to spend more time preparing the meals, they would probably taste amazing, and you’d feel more energy and vitality. So your brain would instantly learn that your new habit is a positive one.
However things like working out, reading, or working on a new project will probably feel worse in the short term, and there won’t be any immediate results, so naturally it’s going to take longer to turn these activities into habits.
Studies have shown that in general, the average period of time required to form a new habit is roughly two months. But like I said, if you are able to link the new habit to pleasure, it will be much faster.
Do you need to do something every day to form a habit?
Thankfully, you don’t. As long as you’re consistent, you will be able to condition your thoughts and actions.
Plus, in some cases there is no way you’re going to perform a certain task or activity every single day. If your workouts are intense, and you need your body to rest, you may only need to exercise twice a week. If one day you are way too busy to focus on anything outside of work, you may have to skip the new task, and that’s okay.
Regardless of how healthy we are, our willpower, free time, and energy are very finite. So sometimes we won’t be as disciplined as we’d like to be. Luckily, this won’t prevent us from forming a new habit.
Six life changing habits
Let’s now have a look at six powerful habits you can implement in your life. We are what we repeatedly do, so don’t underestimate the positive effects these habits could have on you if you choose to be consistent.
1. Write or read your dreams
In today’s world, we are constantly bombarded with information, ads, messages, and notifications. Our brain has to shift from one thing to another, to the point where it’s difficult to concentrate. On top of that, we’re busy.
You may think that having goals and dreams in your mind is enough, but in reality it’s not. If you want to achieve your dreams, you need to remind yourself of your vision every single day. You want to take the time to read what you want in life, either in the morning or before you go to bed (it only takes a couple minutes anyway).
If you haven’t written down your dreams already, do it now! You can’t achieve anything unless you are crystal clear on what it is that you want. When you write and read your goals, you can reprogram the subconscious mind, and align to your vision. Read this article to find out more.
A short meditation session can help you feel calmer immediately, however if you turn it into a habit it could change your life. Meditation doesn’t just relax your mind temporarily — it can be a powerful tool to improve your physical and mental health.
Some of the long term benefits of meditation include better sleep quality, less stress, and increased awareness of your thoughts, emotions, and feelings.
As you practice meditation, you gradually realize that you are not your thoughts; you are not what you perceive from the eternal world. You are simply awareness.
Also, by clearing the mind, some of your best ideas and intuitions will come to surface. When we’re alert and stressed out, it’s difficult to concentrate, and we become too focused on things that are trivial. Conversely, when your mind is quiet, your brainwaves change (they literally do), and you can tap into the power of your subconscious mind.
If you are a beginner, consider practicing the easiest meditation techniques. A session only lasts ten to thirty minutes.
3. Create to-do lists
Just like it makes sense to plan your life by writing down your dreams, it’s also sensible to plan your day in advance. I do this every night, so when I wake up the following day I already know what I am supposed to do.
As I’ve written in this article, to-do lists will help you eliminate distractions, have more free time, and be motivated to accomplish your current tasks.
It’s up to you whether you use an app on your phone, a sheet of paper, or your journal. I always prefer pen and paper as it makes it easier to cross off the tasks as you accomplish them, plus there’s no need to keep your phone at hand all the time.
Just make sure it turns into a habit. You can create to-do lists for work, a skill you want to learn, or even your hobbies. Feel free to experiment, and notice how the lists help you optimize your time.
4. Think positive
Your thoughts are powerful, so if you notice you have negative thought patterns too often, you must learn to interrupt them. From today forward, develop the habit of being aware of your thoughts. The more you are aware, the more control you will have on your mind.
Besides paying attention to your thoughts, you can practice gratitude (for example, by keeping a gratitude journal), surround yourself with those who inspire and support you, and read the right books.
No matter how healthy or successful you are, if you have a very negative outlook on your life, or yourself, you’ll never be happy. Cultivate the habit of positivity and you will change your life.
If you realized how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a negative thought.— Peace Pilgrim
5. Improve your sleep
You must do everything you can to make sure your sleep is optimal. It may take you some time, or even a little bit of money, but it’s going to be worth it.
There are many habits you can start practicing now to improve your sleep quality, and they’re relatively easy. You may think they’re obvious, but they do work. Some examples are:
- Try to get up at roughly the same time every day, and do the same when you go to bed
- Don’t eat too many calories before you sleep (or wait at least three hours after your last meal)
- Don’t take naps unless you have to
- Exercise so you’ll be more tired at night
- Understand whether you are a morning person or a “night owl”
You can check out the full list of tips to fall asleep faster and sleep better here.
6. Move your body
This may be one of the hardest habits to implement in your routine, so I recommend you choose the kind of exercise that you enjoy. Remember, if your brain links the new activity to pleasure, it’ll be much easier to turn the activity into a long term habit.
Moving your body doesn’t necessarily mean going to the gym for two hours a day (nothing wrong with that, but most people would or could never do that.)
Activities like yoga, Tai Chi, or even walking for thirty minutes or more all count. One of the worst things you could do health wise is to sit all day, so identify which kind of physical exercise you love and incorporate it into your routine. It doesn’t need to be every day: twice a week will probably be enough to improve your body and your mind.
We are what we repeatedly do: summary
This great quote by Will Durant reminds us of the importance of habits.
Have you ever had a great day? A day in which you were full of energy and enthusiasm, productive, and motivated? A day in which you were super happy, regardless of any external factors? If you implement the right habits in your life, then gradually you’ll be able to live an existence that is filled with these positive emotions.
If you are able to link a new activity with pleasure or excitement, then it will only be a matter of days before it turns into a habit, and you’ll be able to do it on autopilot. Conversely, those habits that require more time and effort will probably take longer to develop, but in general, a couple of months will be enough.
I recommend you practice the following six habits — not necessarily every day, though you do have to be consistent:
- Writing down and reading your goals/dreams
- Practicing meditation
- Creating to-do lists to plan your day in advance
- Cultivating positive thinking and eliminating harmful thought patterns
- Improving your sleep quality
- Moving your body
We are what we repeatedly do: change your habits and you’ll change your life. Though it will take longer to form some habits, it will always be a great long-term investment.
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