Small Habits that will Change your Life Forever

Estimated read time 14 min read

It’s easy to think of all of the good habits we wish we had: putting money away each month, getting up earlier, working out every day. As it turns out, setting good habits can be a powerful way to achieve our goals and help keep us focused and organized. Once a good habit is etched in our brain, we’ll be much closer to achieving our goals without even thinking about it.

In my book Unstuffed, I share lots of simple, practical tips for clearing our lives of clutter, both the physical stuff that fills up our homes and the mental stress of an overbooked schedule and lack of balance. In it, I also share how simple daily habits can make a big difference in taming the overwhelm. Especially while we’re at home right now, what better time to set ourselves up for the success we desire.

10 Simple Habits That Will Change Your Life

According to author Charles Duhigg, habits require three components—the cue, the reward, and the routine. In order to successfully create an automatic response, we have to nail all three.

The Cue

The cue is simply the circumstances surrounding the habit. Take, for example, brushing your teeth, which you (hopefully) do at least twice a day. Most likely you do it when you wake up and before going to bed. You probably brush in the bathroom. You’re also probably by yourself, or maybe your spouse is there, too. You may be triggered or “cued” to do it because, well, your mouth tastes mucky or you ate something with garlic. Most of us don’t think much about brushing our teeth; we just do it out of habit. We don’t spend hours anticipating the act or even thinking about it at all. It just gets done.

The Reward

The reward is whatever helps trigger that “muscle memory” or Pavlovian response. In classical conditioning, animals (or humans) are given a cue to perform a task and then rewarded with a treat. Eventually, just the presence of the cue will trigger a response. Whether it be habits in budget-keeping, exercise, or even dental hygiene, a reward is a mandatory part of the process. Good habits produce good results. In our teeth-brushing example, the reward is a clean mouth, a lower dental bill, a lack of mouth pain, and maybe even the fact that you’d rather happily avoid a lecture from your dental hygienist.

The Routine

The routine is simply putting the cue, the act, and the reward together. Once you combine these three components: 1. My mouth feels mucky, 2. I brush my teeth, 3. My mouth feels better—you have the recipe for a good habit.

But here’s the cool part, and the BIG reason creating good habits matters so much:  Habits, once established, use a different part of our brain. We don’t have to think about them, we just do them, and they don’t drain our mental energy. Thus, the more good habits we can create, the more productive, happier, and successful we can become.

It’s a good idea to spend time thinking about what habits you really want to form and identifying what’s most important to you. Journaling or just writing down your future good habits can really help. Here are a bunch of great habits (beyond brushing) to help you be more successful, happier and less stressed.

10 Simple Habits That Will Change Your Life

Try applying some of these good habits to your daily life as “starter habits”—and it’s only up from there!

1. Keep Things Tidy

Picking up, keeping things organized, and even just making the bed helps us feel better. It prepares us for visitors, helps us be more efficient, allows for a better night’s sleep, and even helps us get along with our spouse and our children better.

It’s probably not realistic to expect to spend two hours every day cleaning from ceiling to floor. And vacuuming and dusting every single day? Not gonna happen. However, just sweeping through the house, picking up items lying around, cleaning up spills as they happen and rinsing your dishes and putting them in the dishwasher can make a world of difference. Most importantly? It keeps the mess from escalating, which keeps us from lashing out at our husbands and children, or from being angry with ourselves.

Try setting a timer when you’re just starting out forming this habit. Before you go to the bedroom or even before you settle down to watch some television—whatever your nightly routine—go through your house for just 15 minutes. Pick up items, straighten cushions and wipe off counters. Make it a habit to rinse the dish after you eat off it and to make your bed the moment you get up. Your day and attitude will benefit.

2. Mindfully Manage Your Money

One of the top habits of successful people? They’re mindful money managers. Spending can be habitual and automatic. When we get into the routine of swiping a credit card at every whim, it can quickly spiral out of control and become a dangerous mess.

One of the best ways to get in the habit of mindful money management is to take some time off from spending altogether. This can be a challenge, but when it’s over, you’ll be amazed at how much more you think before you swipe that card.

Make it a habit to examine your bank account and budget daily. Just 5 minutes a day spent glancing at it and checking that things are going smoothly can catch problems right away. Put your money back in your wallet or place coins in a jar each time you spend. Make it a habit to stash the “extra” change away. Just wait and see how quickly it adds up.

You may even want to consider opening a separate savings account, particularly one that rewards you for making a habit of saving money! Our Financial Rescue Pack has some great tips on how to save $1000 quickly, create a concrete plan of action for getting out of debt, and more!

3. Choose Gratitude

One habit that can definitely change your perspective almost immediately is to become intentional about choosing an attitude of gratitude. Universally, successful people are able to identify the positive things in their life and show appreciation for them. When I was having a particularly difficult time with a loved one, a friend told me to sit down and make a list of everything I appreciated about that person. Whenever I was frustrated or angry with them, I would revisit that list. As silly as it sounds, it really did help.

Focusing on what you’re grateful for helps build an appreciation for what you have. It helps us feels blessed, so we can find beauty in life’s ordinary moments. When things are going wrong, remaining thankful helps us refocus on all the things going right.

Make a habit of identifying 3 things every day that you’re grateful for. This can be as simple as eating a yummy breakfast, hearing from a friend, or sleeping in a warm bed at night. If you focus on these 3 items each day and list them out every morning in your journal (or on your phone or anywhere you can easily revisit often), you’ll be amazed at how much you have to be happy about.

4. Stay Hydrated

By now we’ve all heard the many benefits of drinking water: more energy, clearer skin, and better digestion. Of course, that doesn’t mean we always follow through. Why not make it a habit to drink a glass of water first thing every morning, or to more water throughout the day? Instead of thinking that it’s a punishment to count your 8 glasses of water a day, think of it as a great way to fuel your body.

Dehydration can make us feel hungry, tired and cranky. We eat more, we make poor choices, and we tend to reach for unhealthy beverages (like soda) when we’re dehydrated. Carry a water bottle with you and refill it when you can. Think of how amazing it is that we have access to water nearly all day, every day. There are many places in the world where water is a precious commodity—where water is carried in, tightly conserved, and even fought over. We are so blessed every time we’re able to fill a water bottle with clean, drinkable, fresh H2O whenever we want. Drink it and appreciate it!

5. Plan Your Days

People who are successful plan it that way. They write down appointments (and keep them), utilize a daily task list, and use their calendars as a map toward achieving their goals.

For each to-do item, find a time on your calendar and write it in. Scheduling time for things like exercise, housekeeping, cooking and leisure time can feel a little funny at first, but once it becomes a habit, it’s a great way to get an overall view of your week. Scheduling helps you manage your time wisely, so you can maximize your “rewards” and anticipate your family’s needs.

One great habit to get into is the habit of looking over your calendar and write out your to-do list right before you go to bed. You can go to sleep knowing you have a plan for the next day, and often your subconscious will work out solutions to problems in your sleep. I designed the Living Well Planner to specifically ensure we are able to achieve all we want by setting up goals for the month, planning out each day, completing important tasks, keeping track of your budget, and it has a place for helpful reminders and even meal planning. Mine goes with me everywhere I go!

  1. Put Your Family First
    Strengthening family relationships and considering the needs of your spouse and your children is one of the most important factors in any decision. In today’s culture, we talk a lot about “the life you want” and the success of the “Me.” We also see a lot of unhappy marriages and a lot of divorces. These things are not always related, of course, but putting the needs of another person before your own really does make a difference.

I’m not saying to be a doormat or to always cave to the demands of your children, but I am saying that in every decision, make it a habit to consider, “Will this keep my children safe, happy and secure? Will this keep my spouse safe, happy and secure, and strengthen our relationship?” If you make it a habit to carefully and purposefully ask these questions first, before jumping into a decision, your entire family will benefit.

Make family time a priority and make your children a priority. Before you commit to another activity or jam another thing into an already packed schedule, be certain you’re not overriding the needs of those closest to you. Every marriage needs a little one-on-one time, a date night, or some romance to keep that spark alive. Say I love you and mean it—but also make it a habit.

  1. Get Up Early
    I’m an early-riser. It’s not so much that I’m a morning person, per se, but I find that if I want to achieve everything I set out to do on any given day, getting up early gives me time to get started. It gets me going before I’m faced with family needs and sets the tone and foundation for a successful day.

Set your alarm for the same time every day. Even on weekends. Want to get in the habit of getting up earlier? If you determine the best time and work back in ten-minute increments per week, you’ll be getting up earlier in no time. Get to bed at a similar time each night and if you need more sleep, get to bed earlier (rather than sleeping later). Don’t rob tomorrow of success to fit in another chapter tonight. Instead, put it away until later and let your body get the sleep you need.

This can be one of the most difficult habits to start, but once you do, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. Early-risers are more productive and find more time to address problems at the start rather than playing catch up all day long. Even ten extra minutes in the morning can mean getting out the door on time and in an organized manner.

8. Prepare for Success the Night Before

Similar to getting up early, preparing before bed helps us get a jump on tomorrow. Make it a habit to put out your clothes for tomorrow, yes even if you’re quarantined at home. And make sure you change into them so you are creating a shift into the day. Prepare anything you’ll need for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and get it out the night before. What takes 10 or 15 minutes before bed can take 20 or 30 amidst the morning and the days’ chaos.

Under normal circumstances, you would also make sure backpacks were ready to go, keys are on the counter and everything is in place for tomorrow’s success. If you make it a habit to be proactive and prepare for what lies ahead, you’ll head off any glitches in the morning. (We all know lost keys can absolutely devastate a schedule and a morning!)

9. Get Moving

Successful, happy and productive people have a regular habit of getting in some healthy movement each day. This doesn’t necessarily mean a 5-mile run (unless that’s your thing, of course). There are surprising benefits to even a 10 minute workout, or take 20 minutes to do a lap around the block, taking the stairs more often, or if you have to head to the store for any essentials, park your car a little farther away from the grocery store – it can really add up.

If you have a difficult time making moving a habit, there are many apps and devices to help. Check out a fitness tracker, like Fitbit or 007 Fitness Tracker. Many fitness trackers can be set to vibrate every hour or less to remind you to stay active. This doesn’t mean you need to work out every half hour or anything. Just move: getting up to get a glass of water or taking a quick jaunt to the copier can add more movement into your life. Make movement a habit.

10. Rest

While putting your family first is important, this doesn’t mean you should completely forgo your own needs. Truly happy and successful people know when they need to take a break and when they need to nurture themselves.

This doesn’t always have to mean a spa day or a shopping spree. Find little treats or gifts to give yourself throughout the day—savor a cup of coffee, smell it, sip it slowly, and feel the warmth between your hands and the steam on your face. Really think of it as a present. Take the time to focus on it and be mindful.

Connect with a friend for 10 minutes and truly engage in conversation without distraction. Do exercises that you like or go for a walk and admire the world around you. Listen to a song you love or take time to indulge in a magazine, a warm bath, or some long stretches. Savor a piece of dark chocolate or a delicious piece of fruit. Whatever you truly enjoy, take the time to be mindful and give yourself something special. Make this “me time” a habit and do it daily. It can be hard to find time to nurture yourself, but it’s important. Do it without guilt and enjoy it.

To recap, here are 10 Simple Habits That Will Change Your Life

1. Keep Things Tidy
2. Mindfully Manage Your Money
3. Choose Gratitude
4. Stay Hydrated
5. Plan Your Days
6. Put Your Family First
7. Get Up Early
8. Prepare for Success the Night Before
9. Get Moving
10. Rest

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