A guide to help you create good habits & goals for life.
A habit is a type of automated behavior that you acquire through repetition. There are generally two types of habits, good habits, and bad habits.
A good habit is an almost involuntary practice that is beneficial. A bad habit is something that you're doing that is detrimental.
Establishing a good habit can be hard because it usually requires effort and discipline. On the flip side, a bad habit can be hard to break and can get in the way of a good habit.
If you're looking to create good habits, I'll go through why good habits are important, how to create good habits, give examples of good habits you can adopt, and how to set goals to keep your good habits.
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Every New Year, we want to make a change for the better. We want to establish good habits and get rid of bad habits because that means we can have more health, happiness, balance, meaning, and success in our lives.
Yet, when we try to establish good habits something gets in the way that keeps us just within reach of it. For example, many people start exercising more and eating healthier as part of their New Year's resolution.
They get so excited in the beginning, then it starts to wane after just a few weeks, then the new resolutions become just another failed attempt to create good habits.
Why even stick to a good habit when it's just going to create frustration?
Why good habits are important.
Good habits are important because we crave balance, harmony, and security in our lives. Doing something without having to think about it gives us a sense of control and empowerment, which makes us feel safer.
The caveat is becoming over-reliant on a habit to compensate for underperforming when we're stressed. Also, falling back too much on our habits can prevent us from developing and venturing out to try new things.
Nevertheless, good habits are important if we want to create lasting change in our lives that will benefit us. A good habit can feel like a struggle in the beginning, like eating healthier, exercising more, saving more money, and getting more sleep.
But with time, effort, and a few techniques, you can create your own good habits to help you live a healthier, happier, and meaningful life.
How to create good habits.
Habits are formed in the basal ganglia, which is located deep within the upper part of the midbrain. The midbrain is responsible for habit formation, which involves processing voluntary motor movements, procedural learning, eye movements, cognition, and emotions.
When a behavior pattern is automatic, it becomes a habit. Your brain no longer has to activate certain neurons to process the new information.
The Power of Habit.
The problem with habits is, there is no single formula for creating habits. This is because every person is different and each person has a particular approach to developing habits.
However, the researchers at MIT discovered a pattern, a habit loop at the core of every habit. They are a routine, a cue, and a reward.
The first step in creating a habit is in identifying the routine. This is the behavior you want to change.
Let's pretend that, in the late afternoon, you make a fresh pot of coffee at work because you feel tired and want to perk up.
This gives you a chance to take a break and chit-chat with your friends. But you know that you will regret it later on because you will have a hard time trying to sleep at night.
Yet you do it anyway, at the same time each day. Eventually, having coffee every afternoon becomes a routine.
The next thing you want to identify in the loop is the reward. A reward satisfies a craving. In the coffee scenario, identify what it is that drives the craving.
- Do you want to take a break because you are tired?
- Are you bored and crave that social time with your friends?
- Or do you want to take a break because you're tired, bored, and crave social time?
Write down each craving that you think is associated with your reward. This may take a few days of experimenting. If you feel tired in the late afternoon at work, go out for a walk instead.
Sit back down at your desk and write your thoughts, feelings, or the first 3 words that pop into your head. The first 3 words can be, air, energy, trees. Time yourself for 15 minutes. If you still crave coffee, try the next day to chit-chat with your friends.
Write down your thoughts and time yourself. If you no longer crave the caffeine and really just wanted the social time, then that was your reward. That was what drove you to crave the coffee.
The cue is the thing that triggers the behavior. Studies have shown that almost all habitual cues fit into one of 5 categories:
- Emotional State.
- Other People.
- Immediately preceding action.
So when you are looking for the cue, write down the 5 things as soon as the urge hits you. We'll use the coffee example again:
- Location: (sitting at my desk)
- Time: (3:00 pm)
- Emotional state: (bored)
- Who else is around: (just me)
- What action preceded the urge: (just answered a call from a disgruntled customer)
Let's say you repeat this for the next few days and you notice a pattern. The cue for the coffee is the urge for an energy boost each day at around 3 pm.
Now that we've identified the habit loop, this is where we can begin to change behavior. And this is where it's helpful to make a plan so you can stick to your habits for good. Here's an example plan:
- Set an alarm for 3:00 pm.
- Remember why you needed to get up from your desk when the alarm goes off.
- Get up and go chat with a friend for a few minutes.
- Avoid the afternoon coffee.
How long to form good habits?
A new habit may take a while to get used to. It can take anywhere between a few weeks to a few months to become established.
When you're starting a new habit, you want to make your goals small. I read James Clear's book, "ATOMIC HABITS", and it changed my mindset around habits.
Clear wrote that tiny habits can add up to huge changes over time. You want to keep your goals small, so you feel like you're succeeding and moving forward.
In the beginning, it might feel frustrating to stick to the plan every day. So here are a few things to keep in mind when you're at the beginning stages of your new habit:
- If the learning process is easy, it will be relatively quick to form good habits.
- When the task feels challenging, it is going to feel difficult, therefore take longer to adjust to.
- If a person is motivated, the behavior is adapted quicker.
- When a person loses motivation, the habit will take longer to establish or is abandoned altogether.
Now that you know how to form good habits, the following list will give you ideas on how you can create your own so you can feel balanced, happier, and become successful at keeping them.
A list of 27 good habits to create a balanced, happier, and successful life.
Here is a list of 27 good habits that you can try to help you live a balanced, happier, and successful life.
1. Morning routine.
A morning routine helps set the tone for the rest of the day. It is a time for you to work on yourself and incorporate other habits that you otherwise would not have time for during the day.
Here's an example of my own morning routine:
- Deep breathing.
- Positive affirmations.
Your morning routine will repeat every day, giving you a sense of control, security, and balance.
2. To-do list.
Writing something down helps me remember what it is I need to get done. This is why making a to-do list is a good habit to have, especially if you live with other people.
It helps you remember things without taking up any mental space. You can keep one on your smart device or a piece of paper.
Setting your priorities is important because it allows you to spend your energy on the things that are most important in your life. This can be done by writing a list of your values. Then align your values with the things that are urgent and important.
Anything else that can be put off until later or delegated to someone else is not your priority.
4. Eisenhower matrix.
The Eisenhower matrix is a tool to help you organize your tasks between the most important and urgent to the ones needing less attention. It helps you make decisions and prioritize. Here's a diagram to illustrate:
The most urgent and important tasks are done first. Important but not urgent tasks can be scheduled for later. Urgent tasks that need attention but can be done by someone else are delegated. Tasks that are neither urgent or important are eliminated.
5. Time blocks.
Time blocks allow you to batch your tasks and keep your schedule organized. I like to batch my most challenging tasks first thing during the week and at the start of the day.
There are apps you can download for free like Google Calendar or Trello to help you schedule your time blocks.
A planner is a great tool to have, whether it's electronic or physical. I use both versions to help me stay on top my working schedule, appointments, and everything else that needs my attention.
7. Get some rest.
Resting is rejuvenating. So get adequate sleep every night as much as you can. The experts recommend that adults sleep at least 7 hours each night. If this is not possible, try to take a nap during the day or even a quiet time out so your body can recharge.
8. Take lots of breaks.
This is a good habit to have, and it was challenging for someone like me until I learned that taking breaks helps your mind and body reset.
I like to get things done, even if they take a long time, but this is not very efficient because your brain can only absorb so much. Also, your body gets stagnant after a while, so listen to your body and take a break.
9. Get up early.
There is a long list of successful people who get up early in the morning than everyone else. It's no secret that getting up early can lead to success. Why?
People who get up early are using the time to take care of themselves, come up with creative ideas, or get the most important tasks out of the way so they can manage the rest of their time wisely.
10. Eat a healthy breakfast.
A healthy breakfast is a great way to start your day. You're giving your body the fuel and nutrients it needs to replenish itself after a full night of fasting. Remember to eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables and choose healthy grains, proteins, and fats.
Exercising is good for both your body and mind. It gets your heart pumping and blood flowing and can actually give you more energy. Some people find certain exercises relaxing, like walking, hiking, yoga, or swimming.
Be sure to check that the exercise you choose is appropriate for your physical health.
12. Imagine your ideal future.
Your ideal future is how you envision your ideal life to be. This is a good habit to engage in every once in a while because it plants the seeds you need to create goals to get to your ideal future self.
Imagining your ideal future allows you to evaluate where you are at in your life so you can create a version of yourself that aligns with your values and beliefs.
13. Eliminate distractions.
Getting rid of distractions allows you to focus on your work and anything else that is important to you. It helps you free up time for the things that you value in life like your loved ones.
14. Get help.
Learning to ask for help is a skill, which is hard in a society that awards individual achievements. Getting help can relieve the pressure and strain from doing things all by yourself.
We survived and thrived as a species because we always helped each other out. So get in the habit of asking for help when you need it because it might just save you time and unnecessary stress.
15. Keep a gratitude journal.
A gratitude journal is where you write down what it is that you are grateful for. Gratitude is a good practice because it makes you feel more abundant and appreciate what you already have in your life.
You become more aware of the little things in your life that bring you great joy and pleasure.
16. Keep track of your finances.
Keeping track of your finances is not the most exciting thing in the world, but it keeps you mindful of where you're investing your hard earned money. You're less likely to spend on unnecessary things if you make a budget and keep track of your spending.
Reading is most likely the first thing you learned in school. This is a helpful habit to keep in your life because reading allows you to learn. When you're learning, you're growing. When you learn something valuable, you can use it for good on yourself or others.
18. Practice acts of kindness.
An act of kindness is something positive you do for yourself or someone else. It can be done randomly, like smiling at a stranger or saying hello to someone passing by.
Or it can be intentional, like giving an uplifting note to someone deserving or a hug to someone you love. Acts of kindness can release serotonin, which is responsible for pleasurable and happy feelings.
19. Declutter your mind and space.
Distractions can come in many forms. You want to declutter your space, especially where you work so you won't get distracted by the things around you.
20. Set aside time for yourself.
Sometimes you need time alone to unplug from the world and reconnect with yourself.
Having time for yourself is important because it allows you to put up boundaries, focus on what is right in front of you, and enjoy the present moment.
21. Practice mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness meditation allows to you become aware of and appreciate the present moment. It allows you to accept your thoughts, feelings, and behavior just as they are so you can have stillness from within.
Mindfulness is more than just sitting on a cushion in the lotus position for an hour. You can practice mindfulness while you're walking (even if it's to the bathroom), cooking, driving, or cleaning.
22. Get in touch with your spiritual side.
Being spiritual is something you do that lifts your spirits. This can be a religion, belief, or practice. It helps you connect with something bigger than yourself, which can evoke awe, wonder, and a sense of meaning and purpose.
23. Get creative.
Doing something creative allows you to express yourself in a way that is joyful and authentic, which makes you feel fulfilled and contented. It engages your mind and fosters curiosity, awareness, exploration, and adventure.
This can be a hobby, talent, skill, or something that you've always wanted to learn.
24. Change your surroundings.
If you're feeling uninspired, sometimes a change of scenery is all you need to become motivated again. You don't have to change your physical address.
It can be as simple as moving from one room to another, going from the living room to the backyard, or taking a quick walk around the block. This is a tiny habit that can help refresh and rejuvenate your mind & body.
25. Say positive affirmations.
An affirmation is something that you say to yourself to help lift you up. If you catch yourself thinking negatively about who you are, you can say a powerful affirmation to boost your feelings of self-worth. Here are some examples:
- I am worthy.
- I am safe.
- I accept myself exactly as I am.
- I trust completely in my abilities.
- I am wonderful and interesting.
It might feel weird at first, but with practice, you'll get used to saying affirmations until you believe them to be true.
26. Boost your confidence.
Self-confidence is something that comes with practice and not necessarily something you're born with. It's important to have confidence in yourself because having low self-confidence can increase underperformance and anxiety.
Here are ways to boost your self-confidence:
- Do a power pose.
- Drop your limiting beliefs.
- Celebrate your wins.
- Set boundaries.
- Practice self-compassion.
27. Set SMART goals.
Why goals are important for creating good habits.
Goals are important because goal-directed behavior is useful for carrying out long-term plans that include effort and training to develop a habit.
A 2015 study done at the Dominican University on goals revealed the importance of writing them down. The groups that wrote them down accomplished what they set out to do with more success than the group that did not.
The groups who showed more commitment and accountability to their goals were more likely to accomplish them than just writing them down.
One group with the highest success rate had 3 key factors. They were asked to formulate action commitments. Then they had to send their goals, action commitments, and weekly progress reports to a supportive friend.
To have the most success with your goals, you need to:
Set SMART goals, which are:
Specific: write down exactly what needs to be changed or improved.
Measurable: you need to be able to keep track of it
Achievable: make sure the goals are not impossible to reach.
Realistic: be sure you can complete the task with the available resources.
Time-bound: write a target date that the goal can be achieved.
Then keep yourself accountable by making a commitment to take action; then make your goal public, like telling a friend or family member, or going on social media.
"If you believe you can change - if you make it a habit - the change becomes real." - Charles Duhigg
Habits are something you do automatically, which saves you time, effort, and precious brainpower. If you had to think about doing everyday, simple tasks, like walking or eating, you would waste your resources.
You want to establish good habits that will add something positive to your life because they give you a sense of control, balance, and security.
Good habits are things like exercising, doing a hobby, getting enough sleep each night, eating a healthy breakfast, setting SMART goals, asking someone for help, giving yourself a boost of confidence, and spending time with your loved ones.
With practice and patience, they can help you live a life that feels healthier, balanced, happier, supported, meaningful, and more successful.
I hope you found these tips to create good habits helpful. Do you have any good habits to add to the list? Please let me know in the comments!