As Aristotle famously said, we are what we do repeatedly. Success and happiness are largely the result of practicing good habits.
The most important habits are keystone habits; habits which have positive cascading effects throughout your life. Here are twenty of the most effective, life-changing keystone habits I’ve found:
1. Do a few minutes of bodyweight exercises as soon as you wake up every morning. Just a few minutes of pushups, planks and air squats every morning can help you wake up for the day while warding off creeping fat gain. Plus, if you have a busy day ahead of you and want to skip the gym, you can extend this workout to 20–30 minutes.
2. Every evening, make your to-do list for the next day- then forget about it. It’s hard to enjoy your evening when you’re thinking about the next day. It’s also hard to be productive when you don’t have your day planned out. Solve both of those problems by putting together a to-do list, then setting it aside until the next day and allowing yourself to enjoy your evening.
3. Every time you log onto Facebook, send a message to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. It’s easy to put off getting in touch with old friends you’ve been meaning to reconnect with. This habit makes staying in touch almost automatic.
4. Do the task you’re least looking forward to at the beginning of every day. Until you get that one big thing done, it’ll be nagging at the back of your mind all day. Get it done, and you’ll feel better for the rest of the day.
5. Go outside and get some sunlight ASAP every morning. The combination of movement, light and fresh air will wake you up, relax you, and set your circadian rhythm so you’re more alert during the day, and better able to get to sleep that night.
6. Any time someone on the internet says something that upsets you, wait at least a few hours to respond. Odds are, you won’t even care a few hours later. After following this habit for a few weeks, you’ll notice that even that initial angry reaction isn’t as powerful as it used to be.
7. When you notice a trait or habit you dislike in other people, ask yourself if you have that trait/habit as well. Focusing in on other people’s flaws is usually thought of as a bad habit, but it can be a great self-improvement tool if you use it as an opportunity for introspection. Learn to ask yourself, Do I do that too?
8. Ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen, then create a simple plan to deal with it if and when it happens. Our fears are most powerful when they remain vague. They tend to vanish once we name them and know that we have a way of confronting them.
9. When meeting someone new, assume the attitude of “I hope I like you.” Compare this to the neediness of “I hope you like me,” or the negativity of “I hope you’re not a jerk.” You won’t like everyone, but it pays to set a positive expectation and look for people’s best qualities.
10. Dress like the person you want to be. A professor once told my class to always dress up for phone interviews. Clothing doesn’t just change the way others perceive you; it changes the way you perceive yourself. It changes the way you talk and act. Always dress like the person you want to be, even if you’re not concerned with how others see you.
Note: If you want to start building these habits but you’re not sure how, check out my habit change cheat sheet.
11. Drink at least 8 glasses of water every day. Most people are chronically dehydrated. Don’t be one of them.
12. Eat your vegetables before the rest of the meal. Vegetables are the one food group most people don’t get enough of, and they’re disproportionately filling for how few calories they have. By filling up on vegetables, you can use them to “crowd out” less healthy foods.
13. Meditate for two minutes every day. Even two minutes a day can make you noticeably calmer, happier and less self-conscious. The important thing is to do it every day, not to meditate for a long time; as with most things in life, consistency beats intensity.
14. When working, practice the pomodoro technique. Work for 20–30 minutes, then take a break for 5–10 minutes. Repeat a few times, then take a longer 30+ minute break. You can only work for so long before you lose focus- by planning for that, you can stop wasting time and get a lot more done throughout the day.
15. Use Facebook friends list to curate your Facebook feed. Put people who you admire or want to build a closer friendship with in the “close friends” group. If someone’s being a downer and you want them to have less of an influence on your life, put them on the acquaintances list and unfollow them. Nobody will know you’ve done this- it’s a great way to subtly grow closer to some people while distancing yourself from others.
16. Share credit wherever you can. Any time you work with others, go out of your way to acknowledge their contributions. Sharing credit almost never diminishes you, and it’s always remembered by others.
17. When a group you’re in has to make a decision, make sure everyone’s opinion is heard. Some people will actively solicit their own opinions. Others won’t unless they’re asked. Be the person in the group who makes sure everyone’s voice is heard.
18. Seek out good news. Based on the news, you’d think the world is falling apart. It isn’t. Crime and disease are going down, education and life expectancy are going up, and the world is mostly better now than it was ten years ago, but you’d never know that from watching the news. Seek out positive stories to balance out the media’s negativity.
19. Look for everyone’s best quality. If you look for a reason to hate someone, you’ll find it. If you look for a reason to like someone, you’ll find it.
20. Adopt the body language of a happy, confident person to feel happy and confident. Stand up straighter and you’ll feel more confident. Lean back, and you’ll feel more relaxed. Smile and you’ll feel happier. By controlling your body, you can control your mind.
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Want to learn how to build habits like these? Click here to download the habit change cheat sheet and learn the five best ways to build or change a habit. Or for hands-on coaching, you can work with me on coach.me.