What is so important about creating habits?

Simply put, our goals are nothing without habits. If your goal is to lose 5 kilograms by the end of this year, then creating the habit of exercising three times a week gets you there.

Have you ever wondered why the New Year’s Resolutions that you have set at the beginning of the year seem so incredibly hard to follow through? Often, the process of setting goals itself is wildly exciting. In the particular moment after setting a new goal, and perhaps in the next few days after, motivation levels are high. We have a very clear picture of what is motivating us in our mind (e.g. Taylor Swift’s beach body). Then, after spending hours at the gym, eating clean and perhaps, going on a juice cleanse, it starts to take more and more effort to keep it up.

That is when having goals and having habits make a significant difference. Goals motivate us once – the very moment that we set them. Habits ensure that with or without motivation, you are performing the action that helps you reach your goal.

This makes having *positive* habits so much more valuable than having goals. In fact, you would be feeling uncomfortable if you did not do something that you have made a habit. How would you feel if I asked you not to brush your teeth today?

Whatever your personal goals in life may be, here are 5 powerful habits that have been *scientifically* proven to increase your productivity and happiness. Read through each of the 5 positive habits and identify one or two habits that you can relate to. Then, from these one or two habits, decide on one that you are confident in implementing now, and take immediate action.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.
– Aristotle

Positive Habit 01 | Plan Your Day Beforehand

Planning your day the night before, or even first thing in the morning ensures that you spend your day doing the things that are most important to you. When we choose to react to things as they come, we unconsciously put ourselves to experiencing more stress during the day and may end up doing things that are not important to our goals at all.

While concentrating on a particular task, have you ever been interrupted by thoughts of other things that you need to do (“I forgot to reply Albert’s email!”)? Known as the Zeigarnik effect, it is the tendency of our brain to focus on projects and tasks that are incomplete, which distracts us from actually doing work. In writing down all the tasks that you need to complete, prioritizing them and having a plan, the unconscious mind stops nagging the conscious mind with reminders.

The beauty of this is that you get to be fully present with each task, as the mind knows that it is the most important thing that it should be doing in the moment.

Read more: The Organized Mind | Getting Things Done

What does your morning routine look like?

Positive Habit 02 | Develop a Morning Routine

Eating breakfast, taking a shower, and reading the newspapers may be some of the things that you do when you wake up in the morning. Most of us would have naturally formed a morning routine of sorts over the years, which may or may not consist of the dreaded morning rush.

Getting intentional and designing an effective morning routine is one of the biggest differences you can make in your life. An effective morning routine helps you focus on the things that are important to you and sets you up for a productive day. This is the reason why many super successful individuals (i.e. Tony Robbins, Michael Hyatt, Oprah Winfrey) preach about the importance of having a good morning routine.

Read more: The Miracle Morning

Positive Habit 03 | Practice Gratitude

As the study of happiness and emotional well-being gain significance with the emergence of the field of positive psychology, practices such as gratitude, mindfulness, and mediation are increasingly being researched on. The practice of gratitude has been found to have both positive impacts on emotional and physical well-being.

Gratitude shifts our focus from what we lack in our lives to what is already present. It helps us to notice and find joy in the small things in our lives, instead of holding out for the big things that happen to make us happy.

A common way to develop the practice of gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal, in which you write down three to five things that you are grateful for each day. This could also be done with a friend, partner or family member, in which you share things that you are grateful for, or made you feel happy that day.

Read More: The How of Happiness

practice-self-talk

Positive Habit 04 | Practice Positive Self-Talk

I remember what my thoughts were when my alarm rang at 7:20 am this morning – ‘I’m sooo tired.‘ I had the same thought again when my alarm rang at 7:30 am – ‘I’m sooo tired.‘ Then, I caught myself. I knew that I would end up waking up late, and even with the additional rest, feel physically tired if I said that to myself every time I tried to get out of bed.

Our thoughts, feelings and behavior are all interrelated. If we want something in our lives to change, we must change either our thoughts, feelings or behavior. If you want to feel more confident (feeling), research suggests that you adopt a high power pose (behavior) such as standing with your hands on your hips.

As compared to our feelings and behavior, the mental chatter in our heads go relatively unnoticed. 95% of our thoughts are the same thoughts repeated every day, and 80% of these automatic thoughts are negative. Even though you may not be listening to these thoughts consciously, it affects the way that you feel about yourself or your life. If you catch yourself thinking ‘I can’t…’, turn it into the opposite and tell yourself ‘I can…’.

Positive Habit 05 | Meditate

I believe that I am saving the best for the last. Meditation has been proven to increase both productivity and happiness, and is also one of the ways in which you can practice gratitude and positive self-talk.

Scientific research has shown that meditation increases positive emotions, decreases stress levels, increases grey matter, focus and attentionability to multitask, and memory.

Talk about one habit to rule them all!

Read more: The How of Happiness | 4 Positive Benefits of Meditation (My Personal Experience!)

If you could pick just one or two habits to implement today that could change your life over the course of the year, what would it be?

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