We all have habits. Some of those habits help to serve us. Others help to hold us back. In fact, we are the culmination of our habits — what we do on a daily basis is a direct reflection of the state and quality of our lives. So it goes without saying that people who want to improve their lives and achieve their goals need to create a better set of habits.
While it’s easy to claim we want to improve our lives by building better habits, it’s harder to do. However, when you take into consideration that 45 percent of everyday behavior is habit-driven, the importance of improving our daily habits becomes a bit more apparent since such a large part of what we think, to what we say and do, are all steeped in ritualistic behavior.
Of course, the importance of habits is apparent. But of all the habits that we can have, it’s the morning habits that truly set the pace and quality of our lives. What you do in the morning has a resounding affect on the balance of your day. Therefore, by instilling some key morning habits, we can make monumental shifts in our lives.
No matter what it is we do or where we live, there are certain habits that we can interweave into our daily routine that will make an enormous difference. These habits are also known as keystone habits. They act almost as the soil for which other good habits can grow from, while also working to deter bad habits along the way.
For the most part, when you focus on keystone habits, other good habits tend to fall into place. For example, if you’re on a diet and you ensure that you get 30 minutes of exercise in, you’re more likely to watch what you eat, maybe drink more water that day, and possibly even take your vitamins.
However, when you skip the exercise, you might be more inclined to cheat, maybe eat some fast food, possibly drink soda or alcohol, and veer just a little off course. That’s because exercise is a keystone habit. When you focus on the keystone habits in the morning, you’ll be less likely to get sidetracked because they will act as the glue for the other good habits.
So, what habits, specifically, are we talking about here?
#1 — Wake up Early
At the foundation of a successful morning is the habit of waking up early. It’s no secret most successful people are used to waking up early in the morning. But doing so can be a difficult task for some, especially for those who like to burn the midnight oil.
To wake up early, you need to ensure that you plan your evenings better. If you’re busy stressed out, filled with anxiety, or engaged in some other activity that’s keeping you awake late into the night, then getting up early will be far harder. If you’re constantly busy responding to stimuli rather than tackling things head on, then you’ll find this morning habit difficult to fulfill.
The best way to ensure that you wake up early is to use the micro-changes approach. In fact, this approach works to instill any habit. First, set your alarm clock back 15 minutes early and do so for the next week. Focus on waking up 15 minutes early each day, without fail. Then, go back 15 minutes more the following week. Do this for 8 consecutive weeks until you’re waking up at least two hours earlier than you’re used to.
Sounds extreme? Well, it’s not. The morning is the best time to focus and plan for the day ahead. It’s also the best time to ensure that you tackle wellness in the mind and the body. What you do in this early morning hours has an enormous effect on the balance of your day. There’s no way to institute a bunch of morning habits that will help you achieve your goals if you’re waking up a few minutes before work and rushing out the door.
#2 — Morning Gratitude
Our minds are complex and intricate creations. Throughout any given day, 60,000 thoughts are running through it, most of which happen in the subconscious mind. While that number might astound you, you likely won’t be surprised to know that a large portion of our thoughts are negative, fear-based thoughts.
We’re constantly busy worrying about things, living in fear while steeped in anxiety. As a result, we get stressed out. Not only does that affect us mentally and emotionally, but also physically. Stress, fear, anxiety, and worry release the all-important stress hormones into the mind and body. Some of those hormones are necessary to our genetic makeup, as they help signal the fight-or-flight response.
However, most of the time, our over-active minds are producing stress hormones simply based on fears that never perpetuate into reality. Things like cortisol, norepinephrine, and adrenaline work to alter the body’s physiology to better cope with the acute danger in the moment. This takes blood away from non-essential systems in the body such as the skin, and moves it towards areas such as your muscles to help you potentially flee the situation.
The biggest problem about this is that the body can take hours, days, or even weeks until it returns to a normal balance. And, all of this is caused because we have a tendency to live in lack and fear. But, when the mind shifts from lack to abundance, some tremendous things begin to happen.
The way we’ve been pre-programmed to think is steeped in habit. Since nearly half of what we do is habitual, we have to retrain the mind to move away from lack. To do this, we need morning gratitude. What are you grateful for? If you say nothing, you’re not searching hard enough. What could you be grateful for right now if you had to be graetful for something?
At any given moment, we have dozens of things that we can be grateful for. If we have food on our plate, we need to be grateful as millions go hungry every day. If we have a place to live, we need to be grateful, as millions go homeless every day. If we can reason, speak, hear, see, and anything else, we can be grateful for those as well.
Even if all we think we have are problems, we have to be grateful for them as well. Because, one day, those problems might lead to some insight or pathway towards greater success. If you didn’t have the problem, and you didn’t suffer some defeat or failure, you might not have the tools in the future to help you move past mental roadblocks.
Find things that you can be grateful for every morning and spend at least 15 minutes writing them out. The physical act of writing them out is very important. Whether you write it on paper with a pen, or you decide to do it on your laptop, smartphone, or any other device, decide on a system and stick to it. Spend at least 90 days doing this for the habit to solidly and watch as your life transforms before your very eyes.
#3 — Eat a Healthy Breakfast
One habit that might seem to go without saying is to eat a healthy breakfast. But you’d be surprised at just how many people skip breakfast entirely. We’ve all heard the saying that breakfast is the most important meal of he day, but we either forget to sit down for a healthy meal or say that we’re too busy to do so.
In fact, 31 million Americans skip breakfast every single day, according to NPD’s Morning MealScape study. The biggest skippers of breakfast are 18-34 year olds, where roughly 28% of males in that age group and 18% of females skip breakfast entirely.
A healthy breakfast in the morning is necessary to get you started and going by providing essential energy and nutrients for you throughout the day. Your morning breakfast also has many other benefits such as helping to maintain a healthy body weight, lower cholesterol levels, and the decreased likeliness to snack on junk before lunchtime.
By eating a healthy breakfast in the morning, you’re also becoming more mindful and conscious of your diet, setting a huge precedence for the day ahead. This sends a strong signal to the subconscious mind about the importance of our health. And, considering that it’s also a keystone habit, it absolutely must be something that’s done every morning.
If you think you don’t have time for a healthy breakfast, then it needs to become a priority by planning for it better. All you need to do is have a few healthy ingredients on such as granola, yogurt, bananas, and apples. It doesn’t take much to whip something healthy together, so don’t forgo breakfast for a cup of coffee or eat something unhealthy that’s going to bog you down for the day or make you feel sluggish.
#4 — Exercise
Quite possibly one of the most important keystone habits in regards to our overall well-being, exercising in the morning is the best thing we can do to improve our health and wellness over time. This doesn’t require a huge commitment in the beginning. You can build over time. In fact, especially if you’ve never worked out in your life, starting small by using the micro-changes approach will benefit you most.
So how does it work? Similar to waking up early by incrementing your alarm clock back by 15 minutes every week until you’re waking up 2 hours earlier, spend the first week walking for 10 or 15 minutes. Go outside and walk around the block if the weather is nice. If not, find another way you that you can walk in your house such as going up and down the stairs a few times.
This doesn’t take much. All you have to do is commit to something so small that it’s impossible to fail at. Since habits are built up slowly over time, if you try to do too much too soon, you’re likely to get frustrated and give up. But, when you decide to take on a very small change, and you increment up, you’re more likely to see things through.
This approach works for building up any good habit and even quitting the bad habits. It just takes a conscious commitment of your effort. But when the change is so small that it’s easy to do, we’re more likely to follow through.
If you have a gym nearby and it’s too cold to walk outside, spend the first week just driving to the gym. You don’t even have to go inside. Just drive to the gym, park in the parking lot for a few minutes, then drive home. Do this for the first week. The next week, drive there, then walk inside and feel what it’s like to just go inside even if you leave after a few minutes.
Habits take time to set, and the biggest habits that have the most benefits for us usually pose the greatest mental hurdles.
#5 — Set Daily Goals
There’s a lot that goes into actually achieving our goals. It requires concentrated effort over time, with an unrelenting spirit of persistence and determination. It isn’t easy by any means. If it were, everyone would be doing it and achieving it. There’s a reason why there’s a very small percentage of the world who’ve amassed such a great deal of wealth.
For those that have “figured it out,” so to speak, they know the importance of goal setting. You need some long-term goals to help give you direction. And not just goals set in your mind. They need to be real and concrete, set on paper and planned for.
So, first and foremost, you need to set long-term goals and create a plan for their attainment. Once you have that, the focus should be on daily goals. Daily goals allow us to execute our plans. What do we need to accomplish and achieve today? By understanding and knowing that, we can better manage our time and resources.
In the morning, after reviewing your long-term goals, look in the mirror and yourself the question, “What did I achieve today?” Reflect back as if it were the end of the day. What would you want to say you accomplished in that day? Then, write it down and keep it nearby to help you stay focused and on track.
As long as we’re doing the little things we know are important every day, ultimately, we can achieve our goals if we don’t give up.
#6 — Meditate
Often, when we’re so focused on our goals, we forget about our wellness, and sometimes even our health. When we work long hours, and our days are filled with stress and anxiety, it’s easy to allow things to fall to the wayside. We want to do things as fast as possible, not realizing that our idea of “fast” isn’t always the most beneficial.
Meditating, even if it’s only for 5 or 10 minutes, adds astronomical benefits to our health and wellness. It allows for a sound mind and spirit to approach our days with gusto and energy. It helps to calm the nerves while also getting a handle on our thoughts and emotions.
When you meditate, it doesn’t mean that you have to cancel out all of your thoughts. You can allow thoughts to enter your mind and leave, watching them come and go. Simply try to center yourself, feel grounded and connected to the universe through your spiritual energy. Focus on your breathing and listen to the beating of your heart.
Meditating is a very small act that can be done at just about any time of the day. But, by doing it in the morning, it allows for the greatest benefit. In fact, in a study conducted by Harvard researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), it was determined that meditating actually increases the grey matter in the brain after a mere 8 weeks.
Acting as a central part of the nervous system, it’s the grey matter that largely controls our muscles, our sensory perception that includes things like hearing and seeing things, our memory, feelings and emotions, and our ability for self-control and to make decisions. With such a huge impact on our overall lives, the ability to create more grey matter by meditating is hugely beneficial.
#7 — Tackle Your MITs
MITs are the Most Important Tasks of the day. When you tackle your MITs early on, and you get those out of the way, not only do you build the most momentum towards your goals, but you feel far more accomplished, better able to focus on the million other things that are required of us.
Doing this early in the day is a must-have keystone habit. First, you have to identify your MITs. Take the time to see just what it is you can do that will provide you with the most progress towards your long-term goals. In time management, we call these our Quadrant 2 activities, because they are important but not urgent.
Mark Twain once said that “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” Why? He knew, early on, that by tackling the big and important stuff in the morning, when our minds are clear and fresh, we can gain the biggest leverage on our long-term goals.
Spend the evenings writing out your MITs for the next day. Identify at least 3 big tasks that you can do, which will provide you with the greatest progress towards those all-important big goals. No matter how small the task might be, make sure you do it first thing in the morning and get it out of the way before other things begin demanding your time.
Image credit: Nathan Rupert — Filckr CC