The irony of having good daily habits is that we know exactly how our day will look. We know when to get out of bed. What to do. What not to do. How to dress, eat, think even. All of this, while designed to serve us. Makes living fundamentally boring.
I don’t want to schedule every minute of my day.
I want accidental doses of joy to surround my body and make me feel bizarrely good.
Here’s an example:
I’m reading a book – I’m always reading a book. But checking my phone to see what new messages I have or simply throwing myself in the online abyss of randomly generated content feels so serendipitous. Adventurous. Like I’m exploring a distant island and hoping to find a treasure without a treasure map.
I know what I should do. And here I am, not doing it because my mind wants novelty.
The problem with good daily habits is that we – probably you, too – know what we need to do. We are perfectly aware that we shouldn’t smoke, drink more than we have to, or prolong taking care of our finances. Still, we are all doing some nasty stupid things even if they are hindering our progress and hurting our bodies and minds. We do these things because it’s easier. For example, it is easier not to exercise than to exercise.
So when I was about to write this article. I was mostly concerned with the question: “How to create a list of 10 good daily habits a person can actually implement in his life?”
Because, throwing nice-sounding words just to fill the page doesn’t seem right. For instance, posts like “70 Good Daily Habits That Will Make You Powerful Like Superman and Rich as Bezos!”
Who has time for 70 good habits? On most days, I hardly have enough time to open a book.
What’s the point of saying stuff like… Get at 5 AM so you can journal. Imagine your best life. Exercise. Reflect. Post on social media how early you woke up to make everybody else feel uncomfortable. Prepare a milkshake with fennel leaves you took during your morning bliss hour… There are whole books – The 5 AM Club by Robin Sharma – that describe such routines no one actually does.
The problem of the real-world citizen is not only that he is tired of fake, stereotypical, shallow lists of good daily habits. The other problem, is the lack of time and mental stamina to perform these daily routines.
So, below is an attempt to present daily habits that are not only good. But also such you can actually perform and hold on to for years.
Why Strive to Have Daily Habits?
Firstly, let’s explore why strive to have daily habits.
It might seem like an obvious answer, but it depends on who you ask. Most people don’t have a set routine they follow daily. Usually, people have an idea about what they’ll do. And yet, it’s not clear how they’ll do it.
That’s why February is the worst month for gym owners.1
People looking to transform their lives in January realize that they can’t do it 30 days later.
They realize that they actually have to work out – do physical movements – in order to get fit. That your mere presence in the gym is not enough. You have to sweat.
All of this happens because people hope for results without facing reality.
And the reality is that life sucks.
Not that living is not great. But living is hard. Especially if you want above-average results.
But as with anything good, it’s supposed to be hard.
Of course it is. Imagine a world where you are consistently good. Where everyone is consistently excellent. It won’t be a world of humans. It will be a world of robots.
We are predisposed to want to rest. Just to operate, our body needs a lot of energy. That’s why the brain does all possible to place you in a comfortable position where you can do nothing.
This means that the need to have good habits is foremost to make your life suck less.
We can worry about improving our life later. We first need to worry about getting out of the pit.
Since our default behavior is to lay down, scroll, and spend money on tools, gadgets, and other sh*t you don’t necessarily need. Which, as you can imagine, hurt you in many ways. We need something to propel us. Something to get us in motion.
The idea of having, embedding daily habits is to restart evolution.
We started walking on two legs to save energy.2 But we took this idea too seriously. And while the next step is surely not flying. We degenerated. From walking, we are now mostly sitting – driving, working behind desks, sitting, and binge-watching movies.
What Can I Do Daily To Improve My Life?
Every day, hundreds of posts are published on what type of daily habits a person should focus on to improve his life.
Books, courses, videos on daily habits that boldly acclaim that they will change our lives are all around us.
People love consuming such content. While reading/watching, you get a sense that you are improving while, in fact, you’re further demolishing your ability to set some daily rules.
While what works in my life probably won’t be an excellent fit for yours. I can assure you that you don’t need fancy equipment or “secret” daily routines to make substantial improvements in your life.
You need three core things to make the idea of daily habits to work:
Simplicity is based on the two-minute rule mentioned in Atomic Habits. Plainly, a habit should take no longer than 2 minutes to start.
For instance, if one of your daily routines is to exercise. If this involves packing a bag for the gym. Arranging a meeting with your workout buddy. Driving 30 minutes to the gym. I can assure you that it won’t be repeated for long. You need a simple system to embed a positive daily routine – e.g., after work, hop in my training gear prepared the night before, and go running.
Secondly, we have repetition. Repetition means that you should do the habit, daily. No matter what. Even if you can’t go to the gym today – for whatever reason. Say, you don’t feel quite good. You still have to do some variation of the habit. For example, exercise at home for 10, or 20 minutes. Or, if you have to do 100 push-ups, do 20 instead.
The point here is to reinforce your identity – i.e., identity-based habits. At the end of the day, you should say to yourself something like: “Yes, I didn’t go to the gym today but I still managed to do a decent workout.”
Lastly, we have iteration.
Don’t simply copy what others are suggesting in relation to good daily habits. Make these routines fit your life. And more importantly, make changes along the way.
A while back, before becoming a parent. I was running around 5k daily. But when my son was born, I no longer had the time. I changed it to daily workouts in my home. Then I changed it again to daily morning workouts plus 100 push-ups. Probably I’ll change it again in the future, but the core idea won’t change: daily movement.
A List of 10 Good Daily Habits To Improve Life
The proposed list of good habits below is based on the following realization: You will want to quit. You will default to laziness and comfort.
After all, the world is constantly being optimized for less stress and more fun.
Ignoring our natural tendency for leisure can hinder your progress and bring you back to your old ways of doing things – stuck to a screen and never moving the needle.
The big secret in relation to habits is that you shouldn’t focus on the perfect morning routine. You shouldn’t focus on writing 1,000 ecstatic words – if you want to become a writer. You shouldn’t focus on doing 60 minutes of extreme workout every day– if you want to get fit.
What you should focus on is daily progress.
Even if you don’t have the time to perform a full body workout. To still do some sort of progress in relation to getting fit.
I know that writing 1,000, 500, or 100 crappy words today doesn’t seem worthwhile when there are others who publish books seemingly daily.
Exercising for 10 minutes doesn’t seem helpful when people online seem bizarrely strong.
But your ability to perform the habit you want – every single day – regardless of what happens is its own form of greatness.
Focus on doing the work daily. Even – and especially when – it is not perfect.
If you do this consistently. You will be surprised by what you can achieve in a year or two.
After all of this, let’s me show a list of 10 good daily habits that will help you improve your life:
1. Move Daily
Everyone knows that exercising is good for your body. It’s also no longer surprising that exercising is good for the brain.
Imagine your life without a movement. Say that you are working from home for a big software company.
Theoretically, you are almost not moving. When you wake up, you transition from your bed to your desk and start punching your keyboard.
After work, you watch the new trending show and go to bed after ordering a meal from your app, just to repeat the same modern routine the following day.
But even if you have to physically go to your job. You still don’t move a lot. You are transported to work – by car, metro, bus, etc.
What do you think happens to your body if you do this for years?
Well, the same thing if you leave a beef steak – or any other organic food – outside the fridge. It rots.3
As a person whose job is to sit behind a desk and put words on a page for between 8 and 10 hours a day. I can’t really function if I don’t exercise.
But I’m not going to try to convince you that you should have some unrealistically complicated workout routine. Not at all. The idea here is to schedule at least – at least – 10 minutes of your day doing some sort of deliberate physical exercise.
Don’t put a lot of effort into trying to pick the best training session. You can just go to YouTube and find a decent workout. On the next day, try something different. Ideally, you’ll want to focus on different muscle groups on different days.
2. Take The Stairs
When I open the front door of my building and enter the hallway. I have just a split second between choosing between the elevator and the stairs.
A couple of years ago. I never even considered the stairs – unless there was an issue with the elevator. I always ride my as* to my apartment using the elevator.
These days, I do my best to take the stairs every time possible.
I’m doing this not because I like the smell of my sweat. But because I want to reprogram the way I think about what it means to achieve something.
You see, we are naturally programmed to take the shortcut. We naturally gravitate towards the path of least resistance.
If you want to lose weight, you’ll search online for an extraordinary workout regime that promises to make you thinner and stronger faster and potentially without a lot of effort.
If you want to start an online business, you’ll look for ways to growth-hack your way to the top.
But the truth eventually reveals itself. After a while, you realize that the “secret” training program you bought from this loud-speaking online guru doesn’t produce a lot of results unless you actually stop eating burgers. That the growth hack techniques shared online are produced only to lure you into buying a course of some sort.
Or plainly, you face the reality which is always the same regardless of what you’re trying to do: It takes time and effort to reach a meaningful goal.
Taking the stairs is a mentality. It’s beyond choosing between the elevator and the stairs. Choosing between the escalator and the stairs when you are at the airport.
It’s about, as I wrote in my piece on self-regulation strategies for adults, realizing this:
If it’s easy to do, it’s not worth doing.
If it’s hard to do, it’s surely worth doing.
Taking the stairs way of thinking is forming the habit of doing things you know you should be doing even when you don’t feel like doing them.
So the next time you have the option between taking the stairs and the elevator. Take the stairs immediately. Before the thought of convenience consumes your mind. This simple daily habit will prepare you for the real world. Help you realize that there is no shortcut to achieving what matters to us. It’s about doing things even if you don’t feel like doing them.
3. Follow Your Eating Rules
In a recent edition of the Brain Food newsletter by Farnam Street. Shane Parrish tells a story about two of his friends who were trying to lose weight.
One of them incorporates a diet. The other one decides to follow a simple eating rule: eat the healthiest thing on the menu, regardless of the location.
It turned out the second guy, the rule-follower, was the guy with the insane results. Not the person with the diet.
Well, to keep walking uphill. You constantly have to rely on your willpower. A diet constrains you to a certain eating system that is hard to follow. Especially if you’re out with friends. In these cases, what if the meal described in your diet plan, the one you have to eat for dinner is not on the menu? You’ll probably decide that it’s a cheat day.
Conversely, if you follow a rule, you don’t have to rely so heavily on your willpower. Your choice is already predetermined – you choose the healthiest thing and you move along.
I did something similar a while back. My main eating rule is to not eat sugary things after 06:00 PM. It doesn’t matter the location. If it’s after 06:00 PM, I’m no longer allowed to eat a cake, a donut, or whatever sugar-intensive dessert you can offer.
The above is part of the mantra invented by Tim Ferris: Find one decision that removes 100 decisions.4
When you have eating rules. It’s no longer about whether you should eat this or that. Whether you should follow your diet or briefly descend into compulsive overeating. It’s about sticking to the rule. Sticking to this one decision you committed to.
So basically, the daily habit here consists of two things: Figure out what are your eating rules and make sure you follow them daily.
4. Quit Before You’ve Had Too Much
The doctor who monitored John D. Rockefeller’s health said that the oil tycoon was able to live to 97 thanks to following this simple rule: “getting up from the table while still hungry.”
This is a rare skill that goes beyond not eating everything on your plate even if you’re already full. It’s about controlling your impulses. Your natural desire to relentlessly want more of everything.
The reason you need this daily habit can be easily described by how we typically use our phones.
Probably won’t seem related at first, but bear with me for a bit.
According to a bizarre – yet much-needed – survey. If you bring your phone with you to the toilet. The average time you’ll spend on the porcelain throne will be around 25 minutes. Conversely, if you go device-free, the time will significantly drop to around 5 minutes per WC visit.
The difference comes from the fact that you can’t stop yourself from scrolling. “One more funny meme. One more short video…” you tell yourself.
The temptation to “just do a bit more work” is not foreign to me either.
My obsession with writing, reading, and growing my website leads to prolonged hours of work. But what for? So I can spend less time with my son?
A lot of time I want to squeeze just a few more words on the page. Read one more page from the book I’m reading. But instead of feeling proud of my progress. I feel exhausted. Shameful for not going out with my son on time.
There is value in going the extra mile from time to time. But true mastery lies in stopping yourself when you’ve done enough for the day.
5. Compare Yourself, With Yourself
A default characteristic of human cognition is to compare your current status with the people you encounter – physically or online.
While certainly a good trait. I mean, thanks to our ability to compare ourselves with others – labeled as the mimetic theory by René Girard – we can see what is possible and decide to make positive improvements in our life. However, we usually do the opposite. We descend into a mental hell.
Seeing others succeeding rarely makes everyone motivated to act. Commonly, what emerges on the surface of your consciousness is a rainbow of negative feelings – envy, angst, anxiety, and depression.
To tame these destructive sensations. The best thing you can do – which is actually the only positive thing you can do. It’s to compare yourself with who you were yesterday.
It surely sounds like a dusty old cliché. But clichés become our universal language because they are true.
The obstacle here is not only that it takes practice to sit and self-review your performance from yesterday so you can make changes in a positive direction. But you also need to reduce your exposure to something we can label “exaggerated greatness”.
In a world where we only appreciate the ones who succeed – no matter their means. Everyone is focusing on their best side. Therefore, you won’t see people sharing pictures on social media of their untidy closets.
We desperately crave arbitrary rewards – likes and shares that make us feel appreciated. That’s why we exaggerated our current condition so we can feel superior to others – we apply filters, rent cars and say that we own them, etc.
So, instead of constantly consuming a feed of individuals who are seemingly “crushing life”. I personally think that the most adult thing you can do is to totally disengage yourself from this rat race.
Simply put, stop using social media. At least stop using it the way it’s usually used – to waste time and feel inadequate by the constant progress of everyone there.
In my piece on “My Life After Quitting Social Media“, I reflect on the main benefits of detaching from the algorithmically feed platform and finding peace.
6. Learn Daily
The knowledge that exists in the world is not an island that you can circle around and memorize.
It’s more like an underground labyrinth full of mysteries and excitement if you dare to take a step into the unknown.
We all create our own delusions about how the world works.
We learn how to do something. But the problem is that we never seek to update this behavior.
Instead of looking for ways to optimize the things around us. Usually, we convince ourselves that this is the only way a task can be completed. Therefore, we settle down. We become prisoners of our old beliefs. Never advancing. Simply stepping on the same spot for years.
Committing to continuous learning is the key to uncuff your potential.
By realizing that the beliefs you hold are not sublime. You will finally become aware of your own blindspots and make adjustments.
Probably the leading characteristic of daily learning is that it will keep your mind fresh and open to new ideas.
You will start to see opportunities rather than obstacles.
According to the authors of the book Accelerated Expertise. One can master a particular skill faster by focusing primarily on these two things:
- Expose yourself to more tough cases.
- Taking the time to analyze your own ability to deal with situations.
Reaching proficiency. Being recognized as experts. Or simply getting better at something cannot be done by how a typical day is structured.
The moment we wake up, we’re pulled into a system that aims to extract every bit of life from us – emails, schedules, meetings, places to be, social media updates, etc.
All of these things are somehow important and necessary for living. But if we never take time to reflect. To focus on depth. We’ll simply continue living passively by responding to what’s happening to us, instead of actively moving toward where we want to be.
The problem with reflection and deep thinking is that it takes time. It takes energy. You need time away from the insanity created by society. You also need to force yourself to pay attention to some more significant problems and stop wishing to reach for your phone so you can distract yourself with surface social media posts.
Journaling helps here.
Keeping a journal and scheduling time to think about your days is an activity promoted by all types of worldly-recognized people. From current celebrities like Warren Buffett and Josh Waitzkin. To historical figures like Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein.
Simply put, reflecting on your days is essential for your progress.
The barrier to start journaling is easy. You just get a notebook and you jot down your ideas and thoughts. The hard part is keeping this habit that allows mind exploration.
Personally, I can’t imagine my life without a journal and daily reflection. If you’re interested. I covered the way I reflect in this post: My Analog Note-Taking System.
8. Progress On Your Goals
After the exciting emotional tornado triggered by me becoming a homeowner settled down. I felt directionless.
For years, my goal was to purchase an apartment.
Once this goal was reached that took years to accomplish. I felt empty. Bored even.
What should I do now?
As the author of the book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi once said: “To have a good life, it is not enough to remove what is wrong with it. We also need a positive goal; otherwise why keep going?”
In the mentioned book, Mihaly explores what makes humans really satisfied with their lives. It turns out that we feel good not by laying around and scrolling through our ever-refreshing feeds. Rather, by engaging in difficult activities that are just a bit outside our comfort zones.
So, if you just finished a 2-hour phone session consisting of checking what others are saying about you online. And if after this activity you don’t feel engaged in the whole concept of living. It’s because we are psychologically programmed to seek adventure.
One of the best ways to feel better is to focus on building something bigger than yourself.
Focusing on quick dopamine hits shrinks us. We feel good for a little while but this feeling is quickly replaced by depression.
Getting into flow expands us. It helps us better concentrate and it makes us hopeful about the future.
9. Laugh With Others
One of the best features of being a parent – there are many. It’s that it’s never boring. Surely, there are moments when you want to scream because you have to leave the house on time but your kid’s perception of “leaving on time” is quite different from yours. It involves you chasing him around while he’s running around the apartment while wearing only underpants. But even in these moments, it’s still a memory you’ll want to hold.
Since kids are naturally curious. You are never bored. You always have a companion who is naturally fun.
Sadly, we lose this ability with adulthood. We become so serious. Everything must be evaluated. Carefully considered.
We go so far that we schedule fun and we wait for these moments like they are the only moment we’ll feel alive.
For instance, we book a flight to go on vacation 3 months from now and the only thing we do during these 3 months is to imagine how exciting the experience will be then, instead of enjoying the now.
Realizing that constantly working is not a healthy way to live. Besides getting out of the house with my kid every chance I have so we can do something fun together. My wife and I filled our home with board games. This way, instead of having solo “fun” on our phones. We focus on having fun together.
10. Think Long Term
Your future is a product of what you do now. Pretty much everything you do today will somehow reflect on your future condition.
Personally, I consider long-term thinking one of the best daily habits you can incorporate into your life.
Yes, I believe that long-term thinking is a habit.
When you embrace this thinking strategy in your days. Every decision you make is evaluated not only on what will happen now. But also what impact this decision will have on your future.
This means that instead of postponing starting a project after 3 months because then everything we’ll be perfect. You start now.
Instead of postponing investing because after a year, we’ll have a better idea of what is investing. We invest a small sum today.
Instead of skipping a workout because it’s better to start a habit at the beginning of the year. You do some sort of progress today.
And instead of trying to finish everything today and not spend – again – quality time with your family. You finish work on time because you know that worthy projects take time. And more importantly, you know that paying attention to your kids is vital for your long-term relationship.
Some Closing Thoughts
Perhaps the most basic, yet important question you should ask yourself daily is this:
“What small thing I can do today that will help me create the outcome I want in my life?”
With age, we tend to associate the number of projects we take under our belt for the day with the possible increase in income – i.e., with think that more tasks equal more money, status, etc.
In reality, trying to do a lot of different things doesn’t necessarily move the needle. Usually, the opposite happens. Too much leads to exhaustion, which leads to a lack of focus which results in poor results. Plainly, life starts to suck.
We overestimate what we can do for a day and underestimate what we do for a year if we keep being consistent.
Your daily habits don’t have to require prolonged hours of work, to work.
Or what I want to say is that good habits make your life progressively better exactly because you do them daily. They transform your life because they are repeated. And repetition leads to refinement, which leads to progress.
From my personal experience with writing online…
I’m not necessarily a good writer. But I’m a consistent writer.
I surely wasn’t any good with words a couple of years ago. But today? After around 10 years of writing. I have definitely improved.
So, ask yourself:
In what areas of your life do you want to progress?
Once you know, create your own list of good daily habits and repeat them.
Add to your habit transformation by reading the following:
- Healthy Brain Habits To Maintain Sanity In Our Mad World
- How To Overcome The 7 Worst Habits For Your Brain
- List of Bad Habits And How To Approach Them
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- Rebecca Lake, 23 Gym Membership Statistics That Will Astound You. On the web: https://www.creditdonkey.com/gym-membership-statistics.html
- Louis Buckley, This chimp is made for walking. On the web: https://www.nature.com/news/2007/070716/full/news070716-2.html
- If you are interested in what happens to a beef steak after 28 days, you can watch this video here: https://youtu.be/tZM2jtCzds4
- Tim Ferriss, Finding the One Decision That Removes 100 Decisions (or, Why I’m Reading No New Books in 2020). On the web: https://tim.blog/2020/01/20/one-decision-that-removes-100-decisions/