13 daily habits that can impact your life HUGELY
I read a lot - books, blogs and magazines. Well, I don’t have a TV and I limit my use (or rather abuse) of socialmedia, which frees up a lot of time.
I can’t remember where this post came from originally but I believe it was Ryan Holiday, a modern-day Stoic philosopher and author of The Daily Stoic, one of my favourite books that I refer to over and over again. Always truly inspiring.
His post spoke to me as I’m really beginning to understand how everything I think and do is a matter of habit. Neural pathways set in my brain. Some really good ones, like morning yoga, a green breakfast smoothie and early nights. And some not so good ones, like fear-based decision making, limiting beliefs and a weird addiction to being busy.
My favourite quote that I glued onto my fridge:
How you live today is how you live your life.
So why does one day matter? How does what you do today impact your entire life? Because your life is nothing but an accummulation of days.
Days like today.
Philosophers always knew that if you can get one day right, you have a shot at getting your life right (and that you should try to get TODAY right, because tomorrow is no guarantee).
Earlier this year, I published my morning routine and how these mindful rituals can really affect the course of your day.
So in alignment with that (such a yoga term) here are now 13 habits that you can do every single day to massively impact your life.
Some are easier than others, but each one matters. Some may require a little discipline, but as the Buddhists say, discipline creates freedom...
1. Prepare for the hours ahead
Each morning (instead of jumping onto Instagram) give yourself a few minutes to prepare, plan and meditate on how you aim to act that day. I like to journal and write my intentions down. Don’t just wing the day. Don’t let it be random and reactionary. Have a plan. Think about the people you're likely to face, difficulties you might encounter, and how you can respond. The morning is the perfect time to journal and to set yourself up for a satisfying day. You start your day focused and prepared.
2. Go for a walk
For centuries, humans have walked many miles a day. Because they had to get from A to B, and because they wanted to get their blood flowing. In the process they discovered an important side-effect: it cleared their minds and helped them make better decisions. To quote Nietzsche: “It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth.”
So go for a walk every single day, not only for exercise, but for the philosophical and psychological benefits. Experience nature. Experience the quiet of the world around you. Take a deep breath, let a sigh out. To me it doesn’t matter whether I only have 15 minutes or a whole hour to get out. Walking clears my head and puts things into perspective. Nature after all is a healer, so ground yourself.
3. Do the deep work
So much of our day is spent scratching the surface. Skimming this and that, and vaguely paying attention to what it is we're actually doing. This is deeply unsatisfying on so many levels (and actually rather stressful for the brain). So make time, preferably an hour or more, for what Cal Newport calls the “deep work.” The type of intense concentration and cognitive focus where real progress is made, whatever your work is. Whether it’s writing, thinking, designing or creating. Outstanding results take deep work. It starts by closing your browser (after you finish reading me, of course) and getting to it. If you don’t make time for this every day, it simply won’t happen. In this super noisy world of permanent distraction it’s ever more important to know what your priorities are.
4. Random acts of kindness
Seneca wrote that “wherever there is a human being, we have an opportunity for kindness.” Yes, even rude people. Yes, even people that annoy us. As well as the people you love and are connected to. Your colleagues are a chance for kindness. Your family is a chance for kindness. The postman is a chance for kindness. Trust me, a little bit of kindness won’t harm you. On the contrary, it will make you feel better. It will make your day better and it will make the world better. Just start with one. Practice one random act of kindness every day and see what happens.
5. Read. Read. Read
Pick up a book every day. Even if you can only manage a few pages. There is so much wisdom and knowledge out there, from people who have walked and mastered the art of living before you. How could you not expose yourself to this? And yes, you absolutely do have time to read three pages per day! First thing in the morning with your coffee, at night before bed, on the train, in the waiting room. Read a few pages, read a whole book, but make a real and unending commitment to reading.
There is so much out there that you can benefit from: Biographies. Little-known gems. Life-changers. Philosophy. The classics. Magnificent Fiction. Even marketing and business books. All of these will widen your perspective, help you with problems, give you inspiration and let you benefit from the accumulated wisdom and knowledge of the centuries.
6. Find true quiet
Every single day find a way to disconnect and unplug, even for just a few minutes. Yoga does this for me, as well as hiking, swimming and horse riding. I make a conscious effort to not take my phone with me. At first, this almost gave me anxiety (what if I miss an important call?) but come on, that is just my monkey mind speaking. Nothing is truly that important. Without your phone there’s no noise. Just calmness and peace.
Ask yourself: How often am I unreachable? The answer is: Not often enough. Build some of this time into your daily practice. Your health will be better for it, your work will be better, and your relationshops will be better too, I promise.
7. Make time to sweat
It’s become a cliche to say this but when scientists consider exercise to be the single thing that comes close to a magic bullet, in terms of its strong and universal benefits, it can’t be overstated. We need it - far more than you think. Don’t put it off. Do it. Be in shape and be healthy. So that no matter what happens that day, at work or at home, you have something that went well and you can be proud of. It lifts your self-worth and confidence, which plays into every aspect of your life.
8. Think about death
Yes I know, this sounds horrendous but "meditation on death" truly puts things into perspective. Whatever drives you crazy today is really not that important, is it? Somebody, somewhere in the world, just got a cancer diagnosis, be obsessively grateful that it is not you. Of course don’t be morbid, love life with all your heart, but do remember that one day you too will die. This will actually help you live a fuller and more meaningful life.
How much time and energy do we waste on things that just don't matter? And why? Because we think we can afford it. But remember, your days are counted, you just don’t know the number. So live while you can. Live your life as if you have died and come back and all of this is extra. Death doesn’t make life pointless but rather purposeful. And fortunately, we don’t have to encounter near death experiences (as many people do) in order to tap into this.
9. Seize the alive time
What does every day seem to be comprised of? Too much randomness. People are just killing time instead of actively using it. We get to a meeting and check our watch. It says we’re a few minutes early, so we reach into our pocket to grab our phones. Is this act not the expression of so much of what’s wrong with modern life? What did we do before the invention of smart phones, do you remember? See, think and feel maybe... There’s so much you could do in those few minutes. Read a few pages. Gather your thoughts for what lies ahead. Expose ourselves to sunlight and nature. Be still and empty. Feel yourself breathing and alive.
10. Say thanks
To the good and the bad. Both the Buddhists and the Stoics see gratitude as a kind of medicine, and that saying Thank You for every experience is the key to mental health. “Convince yourself that everything is the gift of the gods,” was how Marcus Aurelius put it, “that things are good and always will be.”
So say thanks to a rude person. Say thanks to a messed-up project. Say thanks to a delayed package. Why? Because for starters it may have just saved you from something far worse, but mostly because you have no choice in the matter. Train your mind to see the positive in every situation. I know this isn't always easy and I have certainly not mastered that skill yet, but just try. Is there something good to be seen here? Don't hold on to resentment, the only person suffering from anger is you. Say thank you instead, learn from it and give yourself a pat on the back.
11. Put the day up for review
It's a beautiful, mindful routine to have in place: prepare in the morning, reflect in the evening. The best way to improve is to review. I find it extremely helpful to reflect on my day and actions in the evening. The questions I always ask myself: Did I live with intention and integrity? Was I prepared enough? Did I practice what I preach and stayed mindful? What could I do better? What have I learned that will help me tomorrow? What is bothering me right now that I don't want to take to bed with me? After that I do a brief outline for the following day ahead. There's something magical about writing things on paper, it clears your head.
12. Find a way to connect to something BIG
The worries and anxieties of daily life seem to melt away when we stand next to the ocean, walk through nature, or my favourite: look at the stars at night. I call this star therapy.
We shouldn’t wait to be on a yoga retreat to get this kind of relief and perspective. We need to get it every single day. The Stoics had an exercise for doing this. Marcus Aurelius would look up at the stars and imagine himself running alongside them, seeing them for their timelessness and infiniteness. Try that tonight or early in the morning and make it a daily practice.
When I lived in London with no stars visible I looked up at the clouds (plenty of those), imagining myself sitting on one of them. Even during my hectic lunch breaks in the fashion industry this was magical. A glance at the beautiful expanse of the universe is an antidote to the nagging pettiness of earthly concerns, of our dreams of fame or success.
You can find this connection from many sources: Yoga. Art. Nature. A few minutes in a church. Just find something bigger than yourself and get in touch with it every single day.
13. Get 8 hours of sleep
Some people still pride themselves with how little sleep they need - I used to be one of them. Like it’s some badge of honor and evidence on how productive we are. If you consider the research on sleep this is complete nonsense of course. Both body and brain need rest. Schopenhauer said that sleep is the interest we pay on the loan of life. Be glad to pay it. It’s what keeps us alive. Guard your sleep carefully, it’s an obligation. All the other habits and practices listed here become irrelevant if you don’t have the energy and clarity to do them.