How To Enjoy Having Good Habits

Adopting a handful of good habits into your life is one thing. To enjoy them? Well, that’s a whole other monster to slay. Here’s how to get there…

As a person who is preaching doing instead of only reading about it, I thought a lot about crafting a lifestyle that is helping me make progress – as opposed to one that is kicking my future ass in the face.

In the realm of pursuing personal growth, there is so much you can do to improve your existence. Yet, what’s rarely shared and possibly never made obvious by self-help gurus trying to squeeze more dollars from your bank account by convincing you that “yes, my new ebook has the latest secrets for universal dominance, and you are an idiot if you don’t buy it” is the following: making your day-to-day life a series of potentially life-changing activities is brutally boring, effortful, and, in most cases, unsexy.

When we think about having a handful of so-called good daily routines, we imagine – thanks to the propaganda circling around the internet space – a cash-filled bank balance, luxurious villas, and a muscular body like a Greek demigod.

We envision our day-to-day as an adventurous journey where we explore the wonders of the world and never feel anxious about money or about what others think about us – we are now impenetrable Stoics.

Contrary to what Instagram sets as a vision for a healthy lifestyle, the day of a typical person who is in possession of healthy routines is far from fun – yes, it’s not perfectly angled sunrise shots, pre-workout smoothies, or color-coded calendars.

“Crushing your goals” is far more intensive than what the filter nation online presents it to be.

Wondering how it looks?

Let me break it down for you.

  • To have a habit of reading means to quietly sit somewhere in stillness and read an actual book.
  • To have a habit of working out means to physically travel to the gym and lift things heavier than your mobile phone.
  • To have a habit of eating nutritious food means skipping the dessert and occasionally going to bed near starving.

As a person who maintains a blog devoted to self-improvement, it’s kind of my obligation to share tips and tricks on how you can transform your sorry ass into a productivity machine that never needs a day off from doing squats.

But as a real human with an endless list of flaws, I need to express my worries about what it takes to actually enjoy having good habits – something totally different from the mere possession of a handful of good habits.

Why Is It Hard To Have Good Habits?

Sure, sticking to good-for-you daily routines requires large doses of self-discipline and self-regulation. It also involves extra virtues such as patience, persistence, and self-reflection.

But these are, I think, obvious.

One rarely discussed reason we don’t hold on to activities that are beneficial for us is the absence of fun due to a lack of immediately-gratifying stimulation.

Theoretically, I know that I shouldn’t shovel chocolate with multiple spoons right before going to bed while I desperately look for validation from strangers online. Yet, in this exact moment, feeding my lonely and underappreciated soul with instant pleasures feels unavoidable.

Plainly, knowing what I should do doesn’t mean that I am doing it.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently because, even though I’ve written a bunch of articles on habits, resisting temptations, etc., I still regularly fall prey to the dark patterns of immediate sensations.

I know that I don’t need yet another accessory for my car or additional running gear, but browsing online for stuff makes my whole experience in front of the computer feel more fancy-fun.

But it’s not even the thing I am looking to buy that I want – potentially a new pair of running shoes. No. What I’m really craving while I’m scrolling through endless reviews instead of cranking out work, spending money instead of investing it, is that sweet, fleeting hit of dopamine. It’s the instant gratification that keeps me glued to the screen, convincing myself that a new pair of whatever will magically solve all of my problems.

Compared to good habits, bad habits are much better and faster at feeding our reward system.1

All of this brings me to the first reason why bad habits are part of our daily routine:

Bad Habits Lead to Good Feelings

Bad habits lead to good feelings.

For instance, when I spend money on something instead of invest that same amount of money, I will get a reward much faster. The loop closes almost immediately when I engage in something that is immediately stimulating.

Imagine this for a moment: you have this big pile of work that needs to be done. You know you have to do it, but doing it will require long hours of focus and almost zero pleasure. Your brain just farts, “shit, I can’t do all of this, I need something to make me feel alive.” Thus, your hand almost automatically reaches for your phone and swiftly navigates to the TikTok app. The screen loads for a brief second, and the next thing you see is a panorama of cleverly designed videos that aim to make you forget all of your worries and bury you in an endless state of sensation-seeking. With each swipe, your eyes spin like the symbols displayed on a slot machine, but instead of payoff, you get dopamine, dopamine, dopamine.

Deep down, you know that all of this scrolling is just digital cotton candy for your attention span. It’s a fleeting sugar rush that leaves you feeling hollow with a sticky residue of existential dread. Yet, this pointless routine is doing a perfect job at the current moment by giving you a quick hit of pleasure during the grueling job you feel shackled to.

Besides, everyone else around you is talking non-stop about this new video you most definitely need to watch because it’s “oh gosh” so funny and mind-blowingly cool.

This leads us to…

Social Pressure To Participate In Bad Habits

Do you smoke?

Don’t lie. And yes, if you smoke “only” when you travel abroad for work or “only” when you go out on Friday night, you are still technically a certified member of the coughing cult.

Now, let me make a wild guess about why you started to smoke. Here it goes…

You did it to cope with others. To feel a sense of belonging. To do what everyone else is doing because you were secretly afraid that if you weren’t involved in the ritualistic fire-stick ceremony, you would be kicked out of the group.2

It’s not only smoking, of course. We tend to participate in a lot of other questionable activities just to fit in.

Here are the most common ones:

  • Drinking – no one wants to be the party pooper.
  • Traveling – gotta post exotic pics and get that yum yum social validation.
  • Shopping – gotta keep up with the latest trends.
  • Going to certain places – gotta be seen at the right spots.

Besides, when everyone around you is going crazy about the latest cool tech gadget, a piece of clothing, or whatever. It’s easy to justify spending money you don’t have to get the thing and brag together with your idiot friends until the trend passes, and then you all together start to bet who will get that new shiny thing first.

The World is Jam-Packed With Opportunities To Engage In Bad Habits

A couple of years ago, when I was younger – OK, not that recently, I was younger three decades ago. There was just so much you could buy from the local store. There were a handful of waffles and a limited selection of toys. The TV was colorless, with just a couple of channels. When color television entered our homes, the broadcast still ended around 8 p.m – not that there was much to watch at that time.

Now, stop for a moment to think about all the ways you can stimulate your brain today. Since you are reading this in your browser, there is literary nothing stopping you from clicking away and entering the dreaded YouTube vortex. You start with a single cat compilation video, and next thing you know, you’re three hours deep watching documentaries about the mating habits of the Patagonian mara.

Even if you do happen to summon enough willpower to resist clicking on the notification inviting you to watch this new “must watch” video talking about this “top trend” thing. You’d have to do it all over again on the next day when the new new “must watch” video pops up.

Add to that extra things like…

  • Emails.
  • Online shopping.
  • Porn.
  • Social media.
  • Music.

The list is literally endless.

Why Knowing About Having Good Habits Is Not Enough?

Even if you do happen to add a handful of beneficial activities to your life, people typically engage in new habits without realizing the full scope of the situation.

Usually, when someone talks about healthy habits, he/she is talking about something that has to end eventually. “Oh, I will do this diet to lose some weight.”

In the mind of this person, there is some sort of timeline for doing the healthy behavior. You lose weight by engaging in good habits to earn yourself the pass to relapse into your old bad habits.

I’ve been in this thinking camp for years. I was running and going to the gym intending to lose weight in the morning, but only to gain it back again in the afternoon.

It was a twisted period of my life, but quite common among other fellow humans given my conversation with them.

Or what I want to say is that almost everybody I know struggles to keep up with their good habits.

People who are noticeably fat talk about diet regimes and “revolutionary” workout sessions. They might get in shape, yes. However, they go out of shape again rather quickly. Soon enough, they are back debating about different diet regimes and even more wicked exercise sessions. Again, they might see some results, but it’s all temporary. It’s like an endless loop of yo-yo dieting, two steps forward, three pounds back.

This is something I know from personal experience. I know because I was that noticeably fat person.

For a large part of my life, I was trying to life-hack my way to slimness. I was doing all sorts of crazy workout sessions and occasionally taking small doses of weight-loss pills. While some things worked, it was never a permanent change.

What I was actually doing was denying the truth. The truth is that habits are not seasonal activities that are to be practiced occasionally. They are routines that have to be repeated daily for the rest of your life.

Yes, you’ve read that right. Good habit are to be repeated daily for the rest of your life.

Of course, I did not allow this thought to enter my mental landscape because it felt nerve-wracking. “I have to get a lifetime gym membership and never eat sugar again? That’s impossible!”

For a long time, it was impossible for me.

Enjoying an evening of sloth while stuffing more popcorn down my throat felt just right.

While my favorite jeans didn’t fit quite right, thankfully, I had plenty of other pairs that did.

Why I was doing this?

Obviously because I was still hooked to all the pleasures life had to offer. I wasn’t emotionally strong to resist the surrounding temptations. Thanks to all the books I’ve read, I knew what I had to do, but I wasn’t doing it. I wasn’t able to stick to a healthy routine because the good habits I had to do felt rather tortures compared to the alternative bad habits that offered immediate pleasures.

What Can You Do To Start Enjoying Your Good Habits?

I’ve heard a lot of talk on how you can make a rather unpleasant daily activity, pleasant.

Make the habit fun. Make the habit easy. Make the habit specific. Make the habit almost automatic…

These can work. But they are only surface-level solutions.

To enjoy the struggle of getting up in the morning and going for a 10-mile run, for example, something else needs to happen.

That something else is about having the right motivation in relation to your daily activities.

When we are eager to get that sweet instant gratification, no matter how fun you try to make the running – by trying to cheat your mind by saying that you will run just 2 miles but secretly hoping that you’ll run 10, by listening to a funny podcast while running, or by trying to convince one of your lazy-ass friends to come with you – you will never make something notable a big part of your daily routine.

As mentioned above, we are typically doing this: Doing good habits for the sake of succumbing to bad ones later in the day.

Instead of this: Doing good habits for the sake of living a good life.

In the first case, you are…

  • Putting yourself on a weight-loss diet before your summer vacation, so you can eat and drink all you want when you arrive at the beach.
  • Saving some cash so you can spend it on a big fancy trip and brag about it all over the internet, but then eat ramen for the rest of the year.
  • Pulling back-to-back all-nighters to learn how to code to eventually hate learning for good.

In the second case, you are…

  • Being mindful of what you consume to maintain your weight for a lifetime.
  • Saving and investing money on a monthly basis to not worry about money – now and in the future.
  • Avoiding distractions during the day to have enough time to learn new topics.

Or, if we can summarize, in the case of chasing dopamine, you are usually after some sort of trend or some sort of hype. You are using good habits as a tool to get to that trend. But when you reach the goal, you disengage from all healthy routines.3

In the second case, the good habits are not seen as temporary activities. They are an integral part of your daily existence. You don’t use them and throw them away. They are a permanent part of your life like eating, drinking water, showering, resting, and sitting on the porcelain throne.

Sounds awesome, but how do you make this notable transition, right?

Based on my experience with habits, rather than trying to find the best productivity tool, hack, Twitter thread, or another trendy “must-do” thing, the process requires something else… a mindset shift.

Previously, I saw things like exercising, eating healthy, and reading books as grueling, joy-stealing obligations I needed to get over with.

Eventually, I started seeing them as activities that I needed to do because I wanted to do them.

Sure, after a long week of adulting, kicking back on my couch and slaying some digital dragons on my PS4 is 1) easier and 2) more brain-stimulating than doing anything with a label productivity on it. Yet, when you sit and think about the wasteful activities that are now (sadly) a dominant part of our society – playing video games, checking Instagram, watching YouTube videos, eating snacks – you realize that these only add complexity to your life.

  • More video games add hours lost in the digital worlds, leaving real-life goals on hold.
  • More social media adds more comparison creep and makes my life look meh.
  • More exposure to YouTube bros telling me how to invest, exercise, and become ultra rich adds distractions that prevent me from doing these things.
  • More snacks adds pounds that I later need to worry about how to lose.

When I get up early in the morning, I can’t say I’m particularly happy. I can’t even say that I know what’s happening. But what I do know is that around 15–20 minutes after I divorce the pillow for the day – that happens after my short workout session, and after I prepare a cup of coffee – a strange feeling of accomplishment coupled with calmness consumes my soul.

I feel a sense of pride for doing what I said I am going to do; A sense of calmness that is only available during the quiet mornings; And, a sense of joy for having nearly 2 distraction-free hours to focus on something I love doing – working on my website.

Plainly, to enjoy your good habits, you have to want to do them. And, you have to want to do them even if they are not that pleasant at the moment. And, you have to want to do them even if they aren’t that fun. And, you have to want to do them even if they aren’t that easy.

And how do you want to do them when these good habits are unpleasant, unattractive, and hard?

That’s “easy”. You just keep doing them.

If your habits of choice make sense to you and are aligned with your personal values. You will find a way to add space for them in your life.

Some Closing Thoughts

A couple of years ago, the highlight of my life was going out and getting shit-drunk on Friday. Add to that overdosing with sugar and killing hours in front of my gaming console.

These days, the activities that mostly capture my interest are things like running, hiking, working out, reading, and writing.

Obviously, I changed my habits. But I changed my habits because I changed how I think about the type of life I want to live in general. It’s not that I don’t end up drowning deep into some unimportant online rabbit hole or trying hard to escape my sugar cravings. But these are rather exceptions than the norm.

I simply stopped wanting to be involved in wasteful activities. Somehow unintentionally, I crafted a deep sense of time allocation ethos. I deeply value how I spend my time, which acts like an alarm when a meaningless task tries to steer me away from other important projects.

Or what I’m trying to say here is that to enjoy your supposedly good habits, you should start to want to do them. There is no amount of books or videos that can make you better at having better habits. It’s your ability to convince yourself that these good things actually matter to create a richer life for yourself.

In the current moment, working out is often skipped for something more intensive and joyful. But in the grand scheme of things, that short stimulation will mean nothing while the workout session, when repeated, can contribute to a healthier life.

Yes, there will be days when you don’t want to do anything that is good for you. Yes, there will be days when the idea of productivity will sound like a violation of your human rights. Yes, there will be days when you’d want to stuff your body with questionable leftovers and a gallon of cola while mindlessly scrolling Netflix.

But with the continuation of your good habits, you will catch yourself desiring less and less of these sinful days. You will start to put the things that actually matter above all else. When this starts to happen, it won’t mean that exercising, reading, or going for a run will become easier. No. You will simply do all of these things because you know they are worth doing.

“The choice is not working or not working, but which type of work; even feeling guilty because of procrastinating takes some effort. When you commit to a goal, you’re committing to a form of work that brings ongoing rewards. When you procrastinate, you’re choosing a self-punishing form of work.” Neil A. Fiore


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Footnotes:

  1. Reward system, Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reward_system
  2. Poole, R., Carver, H., Anagnostou, D. et al. Tobacco use, smoking identities and pathways into and out of smoking among young adults: a meta-ethnography. Subst Abuse Treat Prev Policy 17, 24 (2022). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1186/s13011-022-00451-9
  3. Durmonski, I. Why choose process goals? (over outcome-based goals), Durmonski.com. Available at: https://durmonski.com/self-improvement/process-goals/
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