With every new job, relationship, habit—you name it—I consider learning in baby steps. You didn’t pop out of your mother’s womb knowing how to walk, much less run, did you? First, you lay there, for months, before rolling over, then crawling, then pulling yourself up, before you wobbled a couple of steps and everyone around you cheered. You got goose eggs on your head and bruises on your knees, falling down and tripping for years to come, but eventually, you got the hang of walking and now you probably take for granted how much easier it makes your life.
The same slow and steady learning process can be applied to these life-changing micro-habits too. The trick to getting a habit to stick is starting now, starting small, and mostly just starting in general. Here are ten of my tried-and-true micro-habits that’ll have you feeling more organized and in control in a wildly unruly world.
When I have the option to wait a few seconds to hold the door open for someone, I do. If I’m able to spend five extra minutes in savasana, I take it. If my friend’s been struggling with a difficult pregnancy, I check in. Why? Because it’s the nice thing to do.
Doing the nice thing is not about recognition; it’s a many-times-daily reminder to do the kind thing for both others and yourself, especially when no one is looking. You’ll condition your brain to think considerately, however small the deed. Remember though: If the “nice thing” takes advantage of you, your time, or your generosity, then it isn’t nice to begin with. Know your boundaries.
Credit to The Happiness Project author and all-around very smart woman, Gretchen Rubin, for this life rule. It’s easy: If a task takes less than a minute to complete, encourage yourself to do it on the spot. Recycle the junk mail, hang up your coat, respond to that text, close the silverware drawer, screw the lid on the peanut butter.
It’s easy: If a task takes less than a minute to complete, encourage yourself to do it on the spot. Recycle the junk mail, hang up your coat, respond to that text, close the silverware drawer, screw the lid on the peanut butter.
Most of these mundane chores take mere seconds, but when compounded onto each other, they can quickly feel overwhelming. “I’ll do it tomorrow” turns into another “I’ll do it tomorrow” and then “What’s one more day?” Don’t even think about it. Do it now.
Include one more vegetable on your dinner plate. Drink one more glass of water each day. Learn one more phrase in Arabic. Once those one mores become a part of your routine, consider adding—you know where this is going—one more.
Knowledge is power, even if that knowledge reminds you how awful your credit card debt is. Becoming financially secure and confident begins with consistently having an accurate idea of how much money is in your accounts. Make it a habit to check in on your accounts often, whatever that means for you. Once you have a better idea of how much money you have, as well as how much you’re spending, you’ll make more informed decisions every time you’re tempted to spend frivolously.
Keep in mind—and this comes from someone with severe money anxiety!—there’s a fine line between having a grip on your accounts and becoming obsessed with every penny. I’m the biggest cheerleader for financial literacy, but when the markets crashed this spring I deleted the shortcut to my financial advisor’s site from my browser and chose blissful ignorance over stress from something I couldn’t do anything about. Understand what you can and cannot control and focus your attention on what you can, such as squirreling away for an emergency fund or not buying that impractical jumpsuit.
Do you really think you’ll remember that funny thing your toddler said this morning by dinnertime, much less a couple of decades from now? And why are we trusting our brains, which have been through enough lately, to remember exactly what we need at the grocery store to make that Alison Roman recipe?
Whenever that little flag in your head—the “I gotta remember that” one—starts waving, immediately write it down. That could mean quotes, present ideas for the hard-to-buy-for ones in your life, restaurants you want to visit on your next date night, or anything else you’re likely to forget. Make lists, lists, and more lists, either with good old-fashioned pen and paper or in the Notes app on your phone.
Routinely carving out time to organize your online calendar helps you see important happenings, like upcoming bills, birthdays, and events, weeks and months in advance, signaling you to prepare.
In my Google calendar—bless that piece of Internet gold—green events indicate when scheduled payments are coming out of my banking accounts. Four times a year, additional green events remind me to pay my quarterly taxes—two weeks before they’re due, so I have wiggle room to get my money in order. My yoga instructor’s birthday is noted every December 10 through 2023. There’s a work project I’m supposed to check in about in early summer, but I’d never remember that on my own; anything work-related is color-coded coral. I plug oil changes in my calendar weeks before I need them, to get them on my radar in case my schedule fills up and I need to push it back.
My bedside table would become overrun with a collection of water glasses, tea mugs, and kombucha bottles if I didn’t take one with me each time I took a trip to the kitchen. When you find yourself with a free hand, ask yourself, “What can I bring with me?” Apply this to a certain room, your office, or your car—any area of your life that can quickly become overwhelmed with clutter.
Sounds boring, doesn’t it? It won’t be boring when you can retire early and lounge on Spanish beaches all day because you’ve made decades’ worth of decisions to get you there. On the other hand, a lifetime of living in the moment can be self-destructive and set you back long-term with all varieties of health: physical, mental, relationship, and financial.
Take a micro-moment to consider. What could be the consequences of having unprotected sex with him? I have to drive home—should I have one more drink? Do I buy these shoes or contribute to my IRA?
The good news is, sometimes the wild and crazy decision is what’s best for your future self. Sometimes the 2:00 a.m. frozen pizza is the future-thinking choice, if it’ll help you from being hungover tomorrow. Learn your perfect, and likely ever-changing, balance between what you need now and what you’re going to need in the future.
I was rejected no fewer than four times today. It didn’t feel good, per se, but I recovered faster than the last four rejections. What’s to lose? Remember, the worst they can say, whoever they is, is no.
If there’s one lesson I’m repeatedly learning, it’s that we have to ask for what we want in life. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t. But you have to ask.
If there’s one lesson I’m repeatedly learning, it’s that we have to ask for what we want in life. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t. But you have to ask. Whatever it is you want, career or relationship-wise, subject yourself to exposure therapy for rejection, microdoses of being told “no” over and over. It’ll make the occasional “yes” all the more satisfying.
We’ve all been there, at the coffee shop or bank, behind the seemingly slowest person in the world. In those moments, when there’s nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no need to get riled up, I say to myself, “What a perfect time to practice your patience.”
Apply the phrase to frustrating moments too, such as when your potty-training toddler has an accident or you’re tempted to write a snarky work email. Take a few breaths. Notice your surroundings. Have some perspective. And, yes, practice your patience.
Megan is a writer, editor, etc.-er who muses about life, design and travel for Domino, Lonny, Hunker and more. Her life rules include, but are not limited to: zipper when merging, tip in cash and contribute to your IRA. Be a pal and subscribe to her newsletter Night Vision or follow her on Instagram.
BY Megan McCarty - May 5, 2020
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Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.
Thank you! These are good lessons to remember and put into practice.
Agree with these great nuggets. As a life coach, I’ll suggest this article to my clients! Linda Stephens-Jones
Thank you for this! It was a refreshing read and gave me a much-needed dose of perspective.
The 10 points that you have mentioned in this article will be very much helpful in maintaining good habits to transform our lives. Thank you for listing it together and sharing it with us. Keep sharing more such articles.
This is a very useful post. Thank you!
Great ideas! I’m going to start some of these now.
These are great. I honestly believe that I am good at my job because I write things down and follow up on them. And I am definitely going to remind myself of the one-minute rule…maybe I will even write it down. So important.
I simply loved your piece of art.
I usually avoid little nuggets like this because they are trite or obvious, but these I like! Useful, not entirely obvious.
We are very dependent on our habits and environment and in order to change something in life we need to have patience. Thanks for these excellent tips!
Thanks so much for this useful list of habits! Great post before the New Year!
Thanks so much, Megan! Your posts inspire me!
I am a freelance writer and I like to write on psychology and human nature topics (you can find some thoughts and samples at this website) And frustrating moments often breaks us from daily life… to practice your patience is one I need to practice a lot 🙂 Thank you!
Thanks so much for this useful list of habits! Great post before the New Year..
Thanks for these excellent tips!
Thank you. I have had a somewhat recent but major rejection by my partner of 10 years. It was the worst experience and started a Niagara falls of many more. I guess I needed a wake up call in my life. Its been 2 years and I’m just now feeling like I can make my life work somehow. At the very least, I’m ready to try life again. These articles are my encouragement, my support and my midnight reads to get back on track when I start to doubt myself. Thank you for the very helpful insights. I need them.… Read more »
Such a nice well-thought-out, comprehensive post! Thanks! I definitely relate to that feeling you get when you want to change things around. I’m currently working on getting rid of everything that isn’t useful.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit” – Aristotle.
Thank you. As you say, making habits “stick” is the hardest part. That is why “habit stacking” is such a great concept.
The one-minute rule as well as just writing it down I will try implementing!
Thank you! I needed this!
Thank you for sharing these tips for a better and happier life! We all need this in our busy lives 🙂
I am an advocate for health and wellbeing practiced as microhabits and acts of self love. Eat a nutritious breakfast for energy, have some sort of physical activity during the day (walking is also fine) and quality night sleep. It can add years to your life and happiness to your years!