You may have heard it said that 40% or more of what you do on a daily basis is done out of habit, not conscious decision. That being the case, your healthy habits—or unhealthy habits—have the power to significantly affect not only the trajectory of your life, but how you work, think, and take care of yourself on a daily basis.
This is by no means a new idea. In 1989, Stephen Covey published The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covery taught that all successful people have a few habitual mindsets in common—they’re goal-oriented, proactive, problem-solvers who know how to collaborate and bring out the best in people. The bottom line? More than special strategies or groundbreaking new ideas, habits have the power to make or break us.
The good news about this fact is that the small choices we make daily are ultimately more effective (and easy to implement) than even the strictest self-discipline.
Why? Because while discipline can fail from setting unrealistic expectations and standards, healthy habits help you to seamlessly integrate new practices into your life without striving.
Eventually, habits evolve from small decisions to subconscious routine. Discipline, on the other hand, continues to require effort and sacrifice.
In the following article, we’ll take a look at general tips for implementing healthy habits in your life, as well as the 8 best healthy habits to live by—helping you to become a healthier, more fulfilled, and more productive person.
While healthy habits do eventually become routine, they require intentionality to develop. Here are three core ideas to keep in mind while introducing new healthy habits into your lifestyle.
Unlike short spurts of effort that generate instant results, healthy habits create incremental change that manifests over time.
That being said, healthy habits are much harder to break than forms of extreme discipline, like intermittent fasting or working 12-hour days. Because they become ingrained in our mindset and routine, habits can become almost effortless, and produce sustainable, long-term results.
If you never exercise, don’t decide to run 5 miles per day and call it a healthy habit. Instead, introduce a series of small decisions that can help build towards change, such as speed walking a couple times a week around your neighborhood.
Starting small also applies to breaking bad habits and replacing them with new, healthy habits. For example, you might check your phone every few minutes for a new text message or social media notification. To eliminate this habit and help you increase focus, place your phone away from your workspace or put it on airplane mode for a couple hours every work day.
Don’t adopt every new healthy habit you can think of at the same time. Instead, think about the results you want—whether that’s improved physical health or the ability to set and meet goals—and choose a small range of healthy habits that will be beneficial to you.
In this section, we’ll look at the eight best healthy habits to live by. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but a simple breakdown of habits that can help just about anybody improve their quality of life, physical health, and ability to be productive.
Whether you’re trying to lose weight, get more work done, or reduce stress, resting more just might be the key to reaching your goal.
It might seem counterintuitive—especially if you live in a culture that values overwork—but getting sufficient rest is critical to becoming a healthier person.
In fact, sleep deprivation drains the economy of $63.2 billion every year by robbing workers of the ability to stay focused and on task. Sleep deprivation can even cause weight gain by increasing the “go eat” hormone, ghrelin.
But getting enough rest is about more than getting the recommended seven or more hours of sleep a night. It’s also about enjoying downtime and physical rest to reboot your creativity and reduce stress.
To make rest a habit, schedule periods of rest and relaxation into your week. For example, you might want to set aside an entire weekend day or a couple of evenings each week just to rest.
Just as you’ll need to be intentional about setting aside time to rest, you’ll also want to set aside time to play—whether that looks like playing a game with friends, practicing a sport that you love, or getting outside to go on a hike or explore a new neighborhood.
The point of play is not to zone out while watching Netflix or scrolling through your social media feed. Rather, it’s to participate in an activity that’s engaging in a mental and physical way, often with others. Doing so can not only boost your endorphins to help improve your mood, it can also help improve your physical health.
Similarly to play, regular exercise is a healthy habit that can have a positive impact on your mental and emotional well-being, as well as your body. In fact, exercise has been found to reduce anxiety, depression, and even low self-esteem.
Maybe more than any other habit, however, exercise is best integrated into your lifestyle with regular scheduling. Going to the gym on a weekday at 6 a.m. isn’t often something that happens spontaneously. It’s planned and scheduled so that exercise becomes an automatic action, not a spur-of-the-moment decision.
Many of us may not think of spending time outside as critical to our physical and mental well-being, but in fact, studies have shown that spending more time outdoors can lower risk of heart disease, stress, high blood pressure, and even preterm birth.
One easy way to spend more time outdoors is to schedule short walks between meetings or focused periods of work. Breathing fresh air, absorbing sunlight, and moving your body for 20-30 minutes can help you meet your recommended two hours a week outdoors and help you reboot your focus, clear your mind, and even problem-solve.
This habit can also be combined with some of the other healthy habits in this list, like exercising.
What’s one thing that successful entrepreneurs, Olympic athletes, and accomplished novelists all have in common? They plan ahead—for product launches, training, and productivity. They aren’t victims of unplanned busyness or chaos. They’re strategic and intentional about how they use their time to accomplish specific goals.
Learning to plan ahead to meet deadlines, achieve goals, and meet personal benchmarks of success is a critical healthy habit for becoming an effective professional—and person. Just as with every other healthy habit, planning ahead takes a bit of intentionality, forethought, and effort. But the payoff is well worth it: A roadmap that helps you overcome procrastination and other time-sucking hurdles to help you meet your goals.
One caveat: Don’t stress if your day doesn’t go according to plan. The goal of planning is not to achieve a perfect course of action, but rather to be intentional and strategic about how you accomplish your work.
“Mindfulness” might be a buzzword, but that doesn’t make it any less important as a healthy habit. The practice of remaining mindfully aware of what you’re doing and feeling in the present moment is foundational to staying focused and remaining on task.
To start practicing mindfulness more frequently—especially during your work day—try simple breathing exercises that can help center your focus and reduce stress levels. The 4 - 7 - 8 method is an easy way to get started: Breathe in for 4 counts; hold the breath for 7 counts; and release the breath slowly over 8 counts.
Sitting down to reflect can feel uncomfortable or counter-productive, especially when your schedule is already packed. But reflection can help you gain self-awareness, work through internal or external problems, and even gain perspective on a difficult situation.
To integrate this healthy habit into your regular routine, try setting aside 10-15 minutes per day (or week) to journal your thoughts on what’s going well, what’s not, and how you plan to accomplish your personal and professional goals.
Time tracking is an underutilized healthy habit that can transform your work habits, even spilling over into your personal life. By keeping track of your hours and minutes, you create a system that helps you optimize your focus, prioritize well, and remain accountable to your time usage.
Just as with any other healthy habit, time tracking must become habitual to produce results. Fortunately, there are plenty of automated time tracking tools (like Toggl Track) to help you track your time daily with minimal effort. The result? Accurate time tracking results that give you valuable insight into how you (or your team members) are staying on task and meeting goals—every day of the week.
Healthy habits don’t have to be done perfectly to produce great results. If you miss a day or have an off-week, don’t beat yourself up. Be patient, assess what went wrong, and keep moving forward. The point of a habit is not to perform perfectly. It’s to contribute to a lifestyle that optimizes your time, energy, and resources for better well-being and increased productivity.
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