10 Habits to Improve Your Life (That You Can Do Under 5 Minutes)

I propose good and small habits that anyone can start, and more importantly, stick with them. 15 minutes of meditation doesn’t fit that bill. On the other hand, I practice several which really can make a difference without huge time investment.

1. Exercise

10 Habits to Improve Your Life Under 5 Minutes
Yes, you don’t need to exercise more than 5 minutes to keep fit. I’m a very busy person. I rarely can afford the luxury of a 15-minute workout. Hence, I train very intensively for a few minutes at a time.
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6 things to do daily to have a good life

6 things to do daily to have a good lifeI consciously practice about 20 things daily “to have a good life,” and probably twice as much I do without even thinking about it. Focus on the following several areas; I will provide specific habits for each of them.

1. Habits.

Your habits make you who you are. The etymology of the word “habit” says that your habits determine your essence. I fully agree with that. Pay attention to your habits. Develop good habits in a conscious manner. Look for new habits and incorporate them into your life, into your daily schedule.

When it comes to habits the best habit you can have is to monitor them. Have in place a system for tracking your daily activities. I track my habits in application Coach.me, but you can do it in many ways: on your wall calendar, personal notepad, Excel or text files.

2. Self-awareness.

This is extremely important. You are the person who talks with yourself the most. If your internal dialog is crappy, you cannot have a good life. Whatever good will come your way, your negative self-talk will find a way to spoil it.

Self-awareness provides a multitude of benefits other than just improving your self-talk. When you strive to consciously control your internal world, the external world seems to comply and become more controllable. If you are aware of your thoughts, words and deeds you make fewer mistakes. If you lead your life on autopilot – on the contrary – it’s easy to make mistakes.

Self-awareness also gives you input about your weaknesses and strengths. In the new economy where information is everything, this is priceless. People who know themselves can position themselves in a place where they can provide the most value to others and they can be rewarded accordingly.

Habits:

Journaling. A lot of successful people kept journals, including at least a few who had a global impact on politics at their times (Napoleon, Marcus Aurelius). When you keep a daily journal, you can often consult “with yourself” and notice what’s going on inside your head.

Meditation. I know people for whom meditation was a life breakthrough. My friend, Rob Cubbon, came from a position of being unable to break his bad habits and feeling unhappy with his career and life to ditching alcohol and smoking and starting his own business. If you ask around, you will get to know more such stories. When Pat Flynn started to meditate regularly his revenues grew from five to six figures.

Meditation makes you aware of your internal clutter and chatter. When you try to sit for a minute and think nothing you can’t help, but notice the mess in your head.

3. Health in general.

“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” — Jim Rohn

It’s a struggle to have a good life if you’re sick. It’s possible, but it’s an uphill struggle. There are some very successful people with serious health problems: Nick Vujicic has no limbs, Stephen Hawking is paralyzed, my friend is a bestselling author but she has a genetic disease, lives in almost constant pain and doctors give her no more than 7 more years of life. I wouldn’t have exchanged places with any of them.

And there are many things you can do every day to maintain or improve your health.

Inspired by concerns about my weight loss I researched quite a lot (which is a bit unlike me, I prefer practice above theory) and built 8 habits:

-limiting sugar intake,
-intermittent fasting,
-exercise,
-drinking coffee to accelerate my metabolism,
-drinking two glasses of water first thing in the morning,
-tracking my consumption,
-eating at least one raw vegetable/ fruit a day,
-and tracking my sleep.

Writing a couple of books and several articles about health I recognized even more healthy habits in my life that are working on autopilot, so I usually don’t think about them:
-not eating outside,
-not drinking coffee after 3 pm,
-reading food labels when I buy the item for the first time,
-running all the stairs,
-taking stairs instead of an elevator,
-napping whenever I feel like it (including behind the desk at the office).

I’m pretty sure I have more habits that contribute to my wellbeing, but they are so ingrained into who am I, that I don’t even notice them.

The last time I was sick was in July 2013. I beat over 128 fitness records since April 2013.

And I hardly ever think about my health. Even when I do, like if I hesitate if choose stairs or an elevator, the moment of decision is ultra-brief and 95% of time I choose in accordance with my habits.

Automating my health took me no more than one year and it will benefit me to the end of my days.

4. People, or rather relationships.

This is paramount as well. Human happiness comes from relationships.

If you take 1,000 happy people, 900 of them are happy because they have good relationships in their lives. The remaining 100 can draw their happiness from their achievements, possessions or other sources. Relationships are the only factor that scientists found correlated with happiness. It’s worthwhile cultivating them.

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” — Jim Rohn

Another thing is that whom you are hanging with affects who you are. You don’t have to acknowledge that, you don’t have to believe that, it’s just a part of human constitution. We absorb attitudes by osmosis. If you surround yourself with positive, passionate, successful people, you will become positive, passionate and successful. Period.

One more scientific tidbit—humans are motivated in a big part by other humans. We are very careful about what our peers think about us, we want to impress our mentors, we want to be loved in our families and there are some people who just want to do good for others from a pure benevolence.

Cases of people who have undertaken a great effort just for their own sake are exceptionally rare, because they are, well, exceptions. I’ve seen so many questions on Quora about self-motivation. In short, the answer to all of them is: there is no such thing as self-motivation. Some people possess this exceptional trait, but they are rare like Savants. If you want to be motivated you’d better start working on your relationships. Motivation comes mostly from other people, even if in the end it translates into “I want to look good in their eyes”.

I advise two daily activities:

one that builds your people skills and another one for cultivating your existing relationships.

If your social skills are well below average, it’s hard for you to create relationships in the first place. It doesn’t have to be something grand, in fact, it’s much better to start small and be consistent. I started from making eye contact with people on the streets and in public transportation.

Cultivating your relationships should also involve a small sustainable activities: saying “I love you” to your spouse, praising your kids, sending a text message to friends or siblings etc.

5. Education.

Your education doesn’t finish when you leave a school. Humans are designed and created for growth. We strive for progress, it’s in our nature. I think most of a modern existential void comes from the lack of growth in our lives.

Education doesn’t equal school. You don’t have to get degree after degree for the rest of your life. But if you want to progress, you need to remain curious and research and study on your own as long as you actively work in some area of activity.

For example, since I decided to become an author I read about a dozen books about the writing craft, being an authorpreneur and self-publisher. I consumed dozens of podcast episodes dedicated to writing and publishing. Teaching is a huge boost to one’s learning process, so I contributed to a few podcasts as well as a guest.

I followed a few authors’ blogs and interacted with their owners and their audiences.

I joined a few online communities for authors and writers and exchanged experience with my peers.

None of the above reminds me of a classic education, but it was as valuable as master’s degree, or even more so. My friend Matt Stone studied publishing and quickly he realized that most of his professors had no clue how to publish a book in practice.

There are different ways to study in online world and you should pick those that are suitable for your situation. You can read books, magazines, websites and blogs. You can listen to podcasts or audio programs. You can take online courses (most of them are in a video format) or watch video on YouTube or similar platforms.

I hate learning from videos. The only video content I can stand is an online real-time interactive class.

I don’t prefer listening either, mostly because I find very few opportunities to listen to. When I do something physical, like taking a walk or doing chores, I prefer to pray. Besides, when I really want to learn, I have to go back to the material anyway and make notes.

I love to learn via reading. I retain much more information that way and even when I don’t I can search and access written material much faster than audio or video.

Take inventory of your learning preferences and build your own self-university accordingly.

6. Gratitude.

By cultivating gratitude you keep (or make if it’s not) your brain positive. Why is that important? When your brain is positive:

“every possible outcome we know how to test for raises dramatically.” – Shawn Achor

Gratitude is so important because it’s a catalyst. It has potential of providing better results in all areas of your life. EVERY measurable output, remember?

So far scientist have correlated gratitude with less stress, more health, better relationships…

It’s also absurdly easy to cultivate on a daily basis. I started my gratitude practice from a gratitude journal about my wife. Since September 2012 every day I note at least one thing about her I’m grateful for.

Your gratitude journal can be in a multitude of forms: about a person, about your daily efforts, your daily achievements, possessions, emotions, relationships or the mix of them all.
My gratitude entries are usually a dry but long list. I know people who jot down only a few points, but add elaborate explanations why they are grateful for them.
A tidbit: in almost every gratitude journal food appears.

Another form of expressing gratitude on a daily basis is sending thank you notes. It not only helps you focus on reasons to be grateful for, but also trains your “social muscle”. Expressing gratitude is unbelievably rare and people will your remember you for that.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

I once took an inventory of thank you notes I received from my readers. I obtained a ratio about 20:60,000
Even if I was mistaken because of my normal tendency to focus on negative, it couldn’t increase beyond 100:60,0000. That’s still exceptionally rare.

That’s how exceptional you will be expressing your gratitude.


Just 6 simple things to do daily to have a good life. Design yoour own habits in each area. Implement them. Enjoy your improved life.

Infallible Framework for Habit Development: Implementation

Implementing The Infallible Framework for Habit Development

I developed dozens of daily habits without a fail using this framework.
This is a summary focused on implementation of all framework’s pieces.

Infallible Framework for Habit Development: Implementation

Infallible habit development
How to build a habit then? Here is the step-by-step framework I used with success to develop dozens of habits:

Decide what habit do you want.

Be specific. Design it. How often? When? Where? What will you do? How many repetitions? For how long?
Define the trigger and endpoint for your habit.

Perform your discipline at least once a day.

Weekly and monthly habits have their place too, but if you cannot build and maintain a daily habit, a weekly one will be a nightmare to develop. Learn the art of habit development in the most efficient way, via daily activity, and only then start more ambitious projects.

Track your habit daily.

“You can’t change what you don’t measure.” — Tony Stubblebine

That’s exactly my experience. When I measure my habits, when I track them, the process of habit development is smooth and efficient (well, compared to NOT tracking, of course). Make sure that the tracking method you choose serves its purpose, but doesn’t become an end unto itself. You shouldn’t spend too much time and attention on tracking. Remember what your main goal is: building a new habit.

Build streaks.

They will help you with your motivation like nothing else. In the end, they will integrate your habits into your personality. You will not be able NOT to perform your disciplines.

Continuous tracking is your feedback loop. Your habit is not set in stone.

I did a single series of consecutive pushups for years. First I struggled with consistency, so I coupled this activity with my morning prayer. That instantly helped.

Then I modified this habit and started doing various pushups; my workout started to be more interesting, I had more records to beat (diamond, legs-elevated, wide-grip pushups etc.) and I used less time for exercises (doing 100 pushups takes several minutes). I became so strong, that even the most difficult kind of pushups took me several minutes.
Habit Development
Then I switched to pullups. I can do quite a lot of them, but I can’t do them for longer than two minutes. This is my ideal workout.

This habit morphed throughout the years, but the underpinning stayed the same: I couple my morning prayer with it; it’s very short and very intensive; I can track the number of repetitions and motivate myself by beating records.

The purpose behind the habit stayed the same and it’s still fulfilled: to train my mind, body and soul first thing in the morning.

The challenge

I declare that it’s impossible to fail using my framework. I have never failed using it. I’ve quit on many good habits and I’ve been doing some in an erratic manner, but only when I missed at least one framework element: conscious design, identyfiying with the habit, doing it daily, tracking, building a streak. Using them all I’m invincible.

Try it and give me your feedback. Maybe we can improve it even more?


Part I: The Habit Loop and Its Endpoint
Part II: Identity Habits
Part III: Habits Tracking
PART IV: Habits Streaks


If you need help while developing your habit hire me as your online coach (first three days are free). Get coached on Coach.me

Infallible Framework for Habit Development: Habits Streaks for Motivation

Infallible Framework for Habit Development | Part 4: Habits Streaks

I developed dozens of daily habits without a fail using this framework.
This is part 4 of 4, about a habit development tool widely known and highly undervalued.

IV. Habits Streaks for Motivation.

Habit Motivation Streaks
BJ Fogg, a behavioral scientist from Stanford University, designed a model that describes change in human behavior. In order get a behavior you need to have motivation, ability and a trigger (cue).

The cue is the simplest part of that model. The best idea is to make an established habit a cue for the new one.

Ability is not so complicated either. Your knowledge and/ or experience in a given area equates to your ability. No magical stuff, just sweat, tears and hustle.

Motivation seems to be the most difficult part and that’s where streaks come into play.
BJ Fogg's Behavior Model

The practice of building streaks — habits continuously maintained for a series of days — is well known. Jerry Seinfeld’s habit of coming up with a new joke every day and marking this fact on his wall calendar serves as an example. The motivational technique of streaks is also called “don’t break up a chain”.

We know about habits streaks, but we don’t practice them often enough.

Why do they work?

One aspect that is widely discussed is loss aversion. When you build a habit over days, weeks and months, you feel that not doing your habit the next day will “lose” you the time and effort investment you made so far. A wall calendar, or any other tracking tool, serves as a visual reminder of that.

From my own experience I can say that you draw confidence and self-esteem from building your streaks. I’ve written for at least 30 minutes every day for the last 1012 days. Very few people can say that about themselves. I have this illusory feeling of being part of a special group. Well, I suppose there are some folks who wrote every day for the last 1,000 days. But how many of them also did pullups for the last 953 days and kept a journal for the last 823 days?

This is the effect of gamification. We score “points” to feel better about ourselves. Maintaining your self-esteem is a powerful motivator.

Data driven confirmation

It’s not only my opinion. Coach.me is a project with a mission to help anyone achieve any goal. They used BJ Fogg’s model to design their application and built a community around it. They have millions of users and their data analysis confirmed that the streak approach works. Coach.me CEO, Tony Stubblebine, in explaining their philosophy put it aptly:

“One heroic week from you isn’t going to change your life, you need practices that you can keep up.”

Habits streaks are a foundation

Streaks have also one additional attribute which is unrecognized or taken for granted. In either case, I’ve never found it articulated: they solidify your habits.

If you maintain a streak of a daily habit, you do your routine more often and more regularly. It’s especially important in the initial phase of forming your habit. If you don’t track and have no visual reminder how far you are into your streak, you are more likely to skip your discipline on a given day and more prone to discouragement. An erratic manner of performing your routine for “one heroic week” doesn’t support habit development or its sustainability.

The last advantage of habits streaks is also highly undervalued:

You identify with them

I have well over 30 daily habits. That’s too much. Taking into account how insanely busy is my life with a day job, family and church responsibilities and a side hustle (writing), I cannot maintain all my streaks perfectly.

Recently the stress has taken its toll. I broke my streak of reviewing my personal mission statement after 800 days. After well over 500 days, I didn’t study the Bible one day. I maintained my streak for 899 days only to forget about doing a pushups series one day. I love to read works written by saints, yet I missed a day after maintaining 800+ day streak.
Pushups habit streak
It doesn’t matter. My habits are ingrained into my days and into the core of who I am. In the last 1015 days I reviewed my personal mission statement 1008 times, I did my pushups 1007 times and read saints’ work 1010 times. An occasional hiccup means nothing. My streaks helped me to build my habits to the point where they are me.


Part I: The Habit Loop and Its Endpoint
Part II: Identity Habits
Part III: Habits Tracking
The Summary: Implementing The Infallible Framework for Habit Development


If you need help while developing your habit hire me as your online coach (first three days are free). Get coached on Coach.me

Infallible Framework for Habit Development: Habits Tracking

Infallible Framework for Habit Development | Part 3: Habits Tracking

I developed dozens of daily habits without a fail using this framework.
This is part 3 of 4 about a habit development tool widely known and highly undervalued.

III. Habits Tracking.

Habits tracking
I don’t agree with those who claim that tracking is limiting and cripples your chances to develop new habit. The argument against it is that tracking constricts a person, making them feel like a prisoner or a laboratory rat under scrutiny.

In my experience tracking is pure gold in habit creation and is a factor that can make or break your habit. Without tracking, the chances for habit development reduce drastically.

If you keep everything in your head, your subconscious can trick you into believing you are achieving your goals, or even that you don’t need the habit you are trying to form. It can twist everything and sell you a bunch of distortions mixed with a little truth to make them believable. And you will buy these packages each and every time.

So, what is habit tracking?

In its simplest form, you are just recording whether you have done your habit or not. The means you use to record this is absolutely up to you. You may use pen and paper, an Excel sheet, a text file, an application, a wall calendar — anything.

Habits tracking in the form of a journal is widely known and recommended by many researchers and coaches. Journals are used in many areas: a writing log, food journal, exercise log and so on. They are recommended, because they work.

Habits tracking works like magic

In 2012 I lost about 15 pounds. It took me several months and I used various methods, from ditching sweets, intermittent fasting and introducing more vegetables into my diet, to intensifying my exercise program. But my progress stalled in December. At the beginning of January 2013, I started a food journal. I registered everything I consumed, every gulp of soda and crumb of bread. I didn’t change my exercise program. I didn’t change my diet. I just noted down my consumption.

My awareness with regard to the amount and quality of food I ate increased almost magically. And I lost those last six stubborn pounds.

My story is not some aberration. Journaling, and tracking in general, works because it immensely increases your awareness. It instills filters in your brain. We get about 100 million sensual impulses every second — this is gigabytes of data. Your conscious mind perceives only a small fraction of that info ocean.

Tracking creates additional filters that redirect a portion of this vast amount of data to your conscious mind. Your attention determines what you become conscious about.

Habits tracking instills filters in your brain

When I was keeping my food journal, I carried sticky notes and a pen with me. Immediately after consumption, I noted down what I ate and drank. When I arrived at my computer, I copied those notes into a text file.

Keeping records on sticky notes felt weird to me, so I trained myself to remember what I ate and, once I reached a computer, I dumped this information from my head into the file.

I did that at first after each meal, then a few times a day, and finally I was able to keep in my head everything I ate on any given day and note it down in the file during a single session in the evening.

I kept my food journal for about 9 weeks and ditched this habit around 10th of March 2013. But today I can still recall everything I’ve consumed from the moment I wake up till the moment I go to bed.

As an example, today I ate an orange, five small slices of wholegrain bread with cheese, a peach, lunch (one pickle, some cabbage soup and a sauce with chicken meat), three more slices of bread with cheese and four slices of bread with jam. I drank two glasses of chicory coffee with a spoon of honey and a glass of coffee, all of them with milk.

I have filters in my brain that register my consumption. They work in the background. I don’t need a conscious effort to remember what I eat. Whenever I want to recall my consumption, that data is “at hand”. But don’t ask me what I ate yesterday. I need to refer to the normal memory routine to get to that data.

So, if you track your habit, the attention of both your conscious and subconscious mind focuses on this activity. Your chances of success rise exponentially.

Data

The second biggest advantage of habits tracking is tangible data for analysis. We are so prone to lie to ourselves! When you keep everything in your head, fantasy and illusion are mixed up with the facts. You can justify any action:

“Oh well, a cup of ice cream will not do much damage. It’s so yummy, and you deserve a treat because you didn’t eat much today anyway.” Or: “C’mon treat yourself, you will burn it tomorrow in the morning workout.”

If you don’t know how much you ate or how many calories your average workout burns, such “arguments” from your subconscious seem logical and convincing. If you possess such data, your subconscious cannot pull most dirty tricks on you.

Habits tracking vs. developing a habit

The more comprehensive your tracking is, the more data you collect and the harder it is to cheat yourself. I just tracked everything caloric that went into my mouth, but food journals may be more elaborate than that. You might track the number of calories, time of meals, your moods, and many more details.

Of course, the more comprehensive is your tracking, the more burdensome it is to keep. It’s so much easier to mark a habit once a day in a tracking application than writing down what you ate, where you ate it, how long it took you and in what mood you were in.

I consider tracking an integral part of habit development. I don’t start a habit without a parallel discipline of tracking and/ or measuring this habit.

Data driven analysis example

When I decided to overcome my shyness, it was tracking that saved me and ultimately helped me to succeed. My subconscious mind used the normal arsenal of tricks to discourage me from my new habit. It was sending soothing messages: “Don’t worry, it’s not that bad, you will do it next time, take it easy, it’s not worth it anyway, this talking to strangers is really terrifying.”

If not for my tracking, I would have believed those messages. But, several weeks into my habit, I took the sheets of paper I had been keeping my tracking on and I compared the habit of talking to strangers with other habits I started about the same time; a dozen or so. I had more minuses in case of talking to strangers, than in all other habits together.

Only then I really realized the real scope of my problem with introversion and changed my strategy. I downsized the habit at the beginning to simply making eye contact, later I started smiling to strangers and finally I began talking to them.

Thanks to tracking I didn’t let my habit slip into the abyss of failure, where most New Year’s resolutions finish.


Part I: The Habit Loop and Its Endpoint
Part II: Identity Habits
PART IV: Habits Streaks
The Summary: Implementing The Infallible Framework for Habit Development


If you need help while developing your habit hire me as your online coach (first three days are free). Get coached on Coach.me

Infallible Framework for Habit Development: Identity

Infallible Framework for Habit Development | Part 2: Identity Habits

I developed dozens of daily habits without a fail using this framework.

This is part 2 of 4 about a concept that is not widely discussed. I consider it a huge omission.

Identity Habits

identity habitsIn case of these habits, you don’t need to be so meticulous about the tiny details; you perform them because you are a person who does such things, no matter what. For example, I am a writer. I have a habit of writing 1,000 words a day. Nevertheless, scientists from MIT could study me for months and wouldn’t uncover any consistent circumstances or existing loop that trigger my writing activity.

I write in every possible circumstance — at home, at work, on trains, waiting for trains, on the bench at a park…
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