Sometimes it's the smallest changes that make the biggest differences in our lives.
Look back over your life and consider the little tweaks you've made that led you to be happier, healthier, or more fulfilled. At the time you initiated these changes, you may have felt little impact. But in retrospect you see how profound they were. Your life is better as a result.
Making positive life change is really a process of adding new habits to our days. Every change is comprised of a series of small new behaviors you must adopt into your schedule.
But of course adding new habits isn't as easy as simply inserting these new behaviors and assuming they will stick. You probably know this from past experience. Perhaps you've made New Year's resolutions or decided on a goal you wanted to achieve. You begin with lots of energy and great intentions, but after a few days or weeks, your enthusiasm dries up and you give up on your goal.
Habit formation is difficult because our brains are accustomed to the familiar. When we add a new habit into our lives, we literally have to rewire our brains. We must practice the habit long enough until we create new neural pathways that allow the new habit to become automatic.
Remember when you were learning to drive a car, and you were aware of everything? Your mind was overwhelmed with all of input from learning this complicated skill. But over time and with practice, driving has become natural and easy.
Creating positive habits involves a particular set of skills. Here's a brief rundown:
- The habit must be broken down into small and manageable parts.
- You begin practicing the habit for a very short amount of time (five minutes), and then build your time slowly.
- You attached your new habit to a trigger or cue — a previously established habit like brushing your teeth.
- You consistently perform your new habit immediately after the trigger.
- You give yourself a reward of some kind after you perform your habit.
- You have a system of accountability and support where you report your habit work.
- You practice your habit daily, increasing your time weekly.
If you apply these skills to any positive habit you want to adopt, your chance of success improves exponentially. You can read more about how to create habits here.
Now that you have a general idea about the skills involved in forming new habits, let's talk about some of the habits you'll want to consider adding in your life.
Here are some positive habits that can make a dramatic difference in your quality of life:
1. Losing 10 pounds
Losing just 10 pounds can lower your cholesterol level and your blood pressure; reduce your risk of heart attack, dementia, sleep apnea, joint pain, cancer, and diabetes; improve your sex drive; and make you feel better in general.
Losing ten is more of a goal comprised of several habits. The common advice for healthy weight loss is to lose a pound a week. So your habit change will revolve around a daily diet or life change to facilitate that. To lose a pound in seven days, you'll need to reduce your net calories by 500 every day.
This can be done by a combination of diet change and exercise. To build up to an exercise habit that will help you lose weight (generally 30 minutes to an hour of aerobic activity), you will need several weeks of habit work to build up to that amount of time. So I'd recommend beginning with diet change. Here's a list of diet strategies to substitute lower calorie foods in your daily meals.
Begin by substituting a lower calorie food for a higher calorie one during one meal a day. Then slowly work up to switching out more foods during all of your meals.
2. Practicing kindness
Studies revealed in The HeartMath Solution confirm those who practice kindness regularly experience greater balance and harmony; more energy and joy; an enhanced perspective; the ability to think more clearly and work at peak efficiency.
Numerous scientific studies show that acts of kindness result in significant physical and mental health benefits.
In the book, The Healing Power of Doing Good, author Allan Luks states:
People performing kind acts report feeling a rush of euphoria, followed by a longer-lasting period of improved emotional well-being.
Stress-related health problems improve after performing kind acts. Helping reverses feelings of depression, supplies social contact, and decreases feelings of hostility and isolation that can cause stress, overeating, ulcers, etc. A drop in stress may, for some people, decrease the constriction within the lungs that leads to asthma attacks.
A decrease in both the intensity and the awareness of physical pain can occur.
Once we establish a relationship of friendship, love, or some sort of positive bonding, we feel emotions that can strengthen the immune system.
The health benefits and sense of well-being return for hours or even days whenever the helping act is remembered.
One of the most impactful places to show kindness is with your significant relationships, especially your spouse or love partner. Begin with five minutes a day of intentional kindness, whether it's saying kind words, giving affection, or an act of service.
Make this five minutes of intentional kindness a daily habit. You will likely notice it feels so good and the feedback you receive is so positive, you'll want to incorporate kindness into other parts of your day.
3. Setting three daily goals
Developing the habit of daily goal-setting helps you accomplish far more of what you want to achieve than you would without setting them. Setting goals puts your success directly into your own hands, providing a sense of self-reliance and confidence. And setting goals forces you to determine your daily priorities thoughtfully and with intention.
Daily goal setting is a great habit to establish, as it's easy to keep the planning time to just five minutes. Also, by setting just three main goals, you don't feel overwhelmed or rushed. You are allowing yourself time to really focus on the tasks involved. You can always tackle more goals later in the day if you finish the main three.
Three goals a day is 21 important accomplishments a week or 1092 a year. I suggest you keep a daily goals calendar or journal where you write down your three goals and check them off when finished. It will be amazing to see your full calendar of achievements this time next year.
Remember to break down each goal into the necessary action steps, estimate the time it will take you to accomplish the actions. If your goals are too complex, you may need to break them down into sub-goals and work toward the bigger goal over time.
4. Moving more
Many studies have been in the news lately about the health dangers of sitting too much. Sitting for long periods of time is associate with a number of health issues, including obesity, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels. It also increases the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
This includes not only sitting in front of the TV or computer, but also sitting in your car for hours at a time or any other activity where you're seated for long stretches. And just spending a few hours a week exercising doesn't offset the negative risks is sitting.
You have to begin sitting less, even if it's just to stand up and stretch for a few minutes. Taking regular breaks from sitting to walk, run, stretch, or just march in place will not only reduce the sitting risks, but also these movements will help you lose weight.
Begin your habit of moving more by committing to five minutes at some point during the day after you've been sitting for an hour or so. Perhaps use the trigger of having to use the bathroom, and then do some form of movement or exercise for five minutes. I like to jump on my rebounder for five minutes because the benefits of rebounding are amazing, and it's so much fun.
Eventually you can work up to moving for five minutes several times a day using the bathroom trigger or another established habit you do several times a day.
5. Meditating for twenty minutes a day
The benefits of meditation are amazing. Not only does it reduce stress and anxiety, but also a variety of studies have shown it reduces pain, improves blood pressure and heart rate, decreases insomnia, boosts the immune system, and improves concentration.
And you don't need to meditate for hours to reap these benefits. Just twenty minutes as your daily goal is enough to improve your health and well-being. If you are new to meditation and need some guidance, you can read more about how to meditate properly here.
As you work on incorporating this new habit, be sure to begin with just five minutes of meditation for the first week. Pick a time for meditating when you can eventually work up to twenty minutes without interruptions. Within four weeks, if you practice consistently, you will be able to mediate for twenty minutes.
Meditation is hard at first because your mind wants to wander, and your body feels uncomfortable. But over the next few weeks, you'll see it becomes easier and easier. And you'll see the amazing physical and mental benefits you enjoy from it.
Developing positive habits and goals undoubtedly upgrades your quality of life, your health, and your self-confidence. Each habit you incorporate can be goal in itself, or it can be a step on the path to a larger goal. Either way, learning to develop positive habits puts rocket fuel in your productivity engine, allowing you to achieve far more than you ever imagined. What new habits will you pursue?