Today I want to talk about the purpose of (and the science behind) lifestyle practices and daily habits.
This topic is one of the most important issues of my life. I have a personal commitment to live with intentionality in as many areas of my life as I can. I want to be intentional in my marriage and in how I raise my boys. I want to be intentional with my business and family finances, with my creative work, with how I spend my time, with my diet, and more.
A daily habit / a lifestyle practice is something you do as part of your normal routine of life.
It should provide regular space in your life to make progress toward your goal.
It’s something that in and of itself is a healthy thing to do.
Here’s an example: setting out your clothes the night before you go to bed.
Why? For one, this is something simple and easy to do at the end of your day that will make your future life a little bit easier. It’s the current you helping the future you by removing something from your task list for tomorrow morning.
Also, setting out your clothes the night before is a way to help strengthen your independent will — your personal integrity. You’re are making a commitment to yourself about the outfit you’re going to wear tomorrow. When you follow through with that commitment, it’s a small step toward building your personal integrity. And I believe deep personal integrity is at the bedrock of living a focused life.
Setting out your clothes makes for a great daily habit because pre-deciding and placing routine around some of the trivial, everyday choices of life will give you more energy in your day-to-day to tackle difficult problems, do meaningful work, spend time with friends and family, rest, etc.
Steve Jobs wore a black turtleneck, jeans, and New Balance sneakers every day. Albert Einstein had his sweatshirt. Even President Obama wears only gray or blue suits.
I’ve written before about how productivity tends to be defined by how well we use our task management systems, how organized our calendar app is, how fast we can blaze through a pile of emails, and how fluidly we flow from one meeting to the next.
The problem with those metrics is that they usually reward effective busywork while giving little dignity to meaningful work.
More focus on consistently giving our time and attention to the things which are most important.
Daily habits are the ahem “essence” of meaningful productivity. The are set by your values and your vision, and by practicing them you are exercising your integrity, personal character, generosity, kindness, etc.
There’s this awesome Benjamin Franklin quote, where he says: “Human felicity is produced not as much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen as by little advantages that occur every day.”
When we have daily habits, they give us the opportunities to create little advantages every day so we are making real progress towards our goals and ideas.
So, all that said, here are a few other reasons why you might want to consider daily habits:
1: They create space
If I were to let my life be taken over by what is urgent, I might very well never get around to what is essential.
Urgent tasks will always find us. Which is why we have to be proactive about making time and space for the important tasks.
Daily habits keep us on track to accomplish our goals and implement our ideas. They make space for us to show up every day and do the important things. Without daily habits we just react to whatever is most urgent, rarely making meaningful progress on work that matters.
And here is another quote from Gretchen Rubin, from her interview in the book Managing Your Day to Day:
Because I write every day, no one day’s work seems particularly important. I have good days and I have bad days. Some days, I don’t get much done at all. But that’s okay, because I know I’m working steadily. My consequent lack of anxiety puts me in a more playful frame of mind and allows me to experiment and take risks.
2: They Serve as Bumpers
Bumpers in a bowling alley go up so that even when the bowling ball is rolling all over the place it at least stays out of the gutter. Daily habits serve as bumpers, just like in a bowling alley, that keep us on track. Lifestyle practices help you stay out of the gutter.
3: They help us do what we want
Something that causes great stress in our lives is when our actions and behaviors don’t line up with our vision and values.
When we have our daily habits in place, they serve as a plumb line for identifying what the important work is and enabling us to do it.
4: It’s how we thrive in the midst of tension
When our decision-making ability runs low, we tend to make dumb choices. But we can cut those dumb choices off at the pass, by determining ahead of time what to do in those moments of “weakness”.
Truth be told, when our willpower is low, it’s not actually a moment of weakness. It’s just part of life — all of us only have so much mental energy in a day.
However, that doesn’t mean that when our willpower is low the only option is to binge-watch Netflix with a bag of potato chips. If you know that you hit a creative slump every day around 1pm, then why not plan to go to the gym? Not only does this serve your goal to be physically healthy, it also serves as an excellent way to let your mind take a rest.
5: Automating Inconsequential Decisions and reserving our willpower
As I mentioned at the beginning, daily habits are a way to help our future selves.
We only have so much decision-making ability or creative imagination throughout the day. The more we can automate the inconsequential areas of our lives, the the more energy and strength we have for doing our most important work.
6: Help us to focus on the path and the joy of the journey, not just waiting to arrive at a destination
Lifestyle practices not only move us toward our goal, but also help us to produce the fruits of character and values that are important to us.
Say you have a long term goal that by the time your kids are seniors in high-school they’ll be able to make decisions all on their own. It sounds insane, right? But the moment they graduate and move out of the house they’ll be in that position, so why not let them get at least a year under their belt while living in the home to learn how to be responsible?
Well, you wouldn’t just send them to a class called “How to Be Responsible” the summer before their senior year. No, training them in the way they should go takes years and years of consistent role modeling, mentoring, teaching, and setting an example. A goal like that will literally not be achieved without a corresponding lifestyle practice.
7. One daily habit is like a “gateway drug” to another
What I’ve found is that each area of my life serves as doorway to the others. Once you establish a lifestyle practice in one area — say, budgeting your money — then that gives you the momentum to tackle another area, such as eating healthier.
Examples of daily habits
- Wake up at the same time every morning — early enough to write for 30 minutes or to come up with 10 new ideas (or both).
- Spend time in quiet prayer and/or meditation — forgiving other people, forgiving yourself
- Exercise, even just walking an extra 15 minutes a day will change your life
- Be non-critical and non-judgmental of others
- Be 100% honest (but not a tactless jerk)
- Read something motivational, educational, or inspirational
- Stop watching TV
- Cut out all the (negative) news intake of your day
- Quit Facebook
- Don’t eat sugar
- Don’t drink alcohol
- Don’t eat junk or fast food
- Always take the stairs
- Don’t use a credit card (use a debit card or cash instead)
- Wear the same outfit every day (Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, and President Obama all did this)
- Don’t set client deadlines for Mondays
- Work 1/2 days on Friday
- Give to charity
- Compliment others
Duty to delight
Do something simple. Don’t be a hero because if you go crazy your life will push back — things naturally like to stay in a resting state.
Once you’ve picked a single daily habit, try it for 30 days. And then commit for another 30 days.
At first it’ll be fun. But then it will be hard. So start with something you know you can do and stick with it.
In short, choose your attitude and your actions every day until eventually they choose you back.
KnowRoaming: a super-thin global SIM sticker that makes roaming simple. Enjoy pay-as-you-go roaming in 200+ countries.
The awesome members of shawnblanc.net: Their support makes the work I do a sustainable possibility.