Start with a Habit Audit

One of the best improvements that I’ve had in my daily life in this past year or two (and something that I’ve seen recommended in various interviews, books, and podcasts that I’ve come across) is to be much more cognizant of my daily habits, both good and bad. Of course, everyone has their habits — but not everyone is really aware of them. Once you do become more aware of them, you can better work on the good ones and start to get rid of the bad ones. I like to think that the day is a convenient unit for improvement, whether it is mentally, physically, or emotionally. The effects of habits compound, and they become more and more ingrained in your routine as time goes on (again, both the good and the bad ones).

Hence why it’s important to do a habit audit. What I did was take note of all of the good habits that I did, or wanted to do, as well as bad ones that I wanted to reduce or eliminate. Many of the bad habits, I’ve found, are just the non-performance of the good habits. For instance, a great habit to have is to exercise frequently.

It’s also very important that the habits are actually something that you’ll reasonably do. If you set a daily habit for a five-mile run, but you’re not a runner, you will very quickly fall out of this routine, despite the obvious excellent benefits of keeping it going. If you set a three-times-a-week habit of a gym session, that’s a bit more approachable and ultimately will have a higher chance of sticking. Start reasonably, and work your way towards your ideal load or effort expenditure on each habit so that you don’t give up right away.

Some obvious (and stereotypical) examples:

  • “Exercise” — I leave this generally vague, since I do both cardio and strength training (currently kettlebell circuits) but you may want to be specific here depending on your routine.
  • “Drinking enough water” — the app I use (described below) actually allows habits to be broken down and I can mark down each cup of water. I don’t really remember each cup though, so I usually check this once I’m adequately hydrated all day.
  • “Reading” — I usually add “or Podcast” to sort of include anything in the realm of regular books/audiobooks/podcasts.
  • “Getting enough sleep” — self-explanatory.

Some others that I’ve added:

  • “Create/Play” — which is up to my discretion, but generally means to do something creative each day. I’ve been doing photography as a hobby for about a year and a half now (on and off — I’m not too good) but I count a solid picture taken as this habit completed for the day. Just for example.
  • “Write 200 Shitty Words” — as I want to write far more, this is a much lower barrier to entry than writing two or three full pages in each sitting. The “shitty” part is more tongue-in-cheek, but reminds me that the first draft of something doesn’t have to be stellar, it just had to be started.
  • “Mindfulness” — which I used to just call “Meditation”, but now extends to any kind of mindfulness, whether regular meditation or even yoga. Making this a habit is vital for clearing the mind and staying present as worries and responsibilities accumulate. There are countless articles and books written over many, many years about the benefits of meditation, so I won’t reinvent the wheel here.
  • “Make Your Bed” — something I got from this book. The idea is that if you accomplish something, even something as small as making your bed, at the beginning of every day, you are setting the rest of the day up for success. Even if you don’t believe that, it’s good to be tidy.
  • “Journal” — the act of journaling every day. In the moment, it’s just a way to gather your thoughts at the end of a day. The real benefits shine when you can look back on entries from months or years ago and see how much you’ve grown, what your predictions were back then, and to what extent you’re on the path that you’ve predicted.

These all end up being fine-tuned as time goes on. Again, the important thing is that they’re attainable and productive (you can also have negative habits that you check off if you haven’t done them).

You can keep track mentally or with a checklist inside an Evernote note, but I use an app called Habit List. Honestly, there are countless apps for this purpose, and they’re largely the same. The important part is that you’re consistent, since that’s the purpose overall.

Once you look at each day as a compartmentalized piece of a bigger equation, it becomes easier to have a good day. If you finish all of your habits, that’s a good day. Enough good days as the weeks and months pass by, and that’s growth.

Habits can also be considered ultra-short-term goals on a daily basis. These ultra-short-term goals feed into short-term goals, which themselves feed into medium- and long-term goals. And it’s the medium- and long-term goals that you work towards as life goes on.