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Published on December 17, 2020

15 Simple Habits That Will Make You Successful

15 Simple Habits That Will Make You Successful

The conventional wisdom of success that relies on willpower, motivation, and forcing ourselves to change tends to be ineffective at best and downright wrong at worst. Instead, what if you could move towards your goals with small, simple habits designed to make you successful every day?

The great news is that you can.

While most of us are taught to use willpower to achieve goals, research by Roy Baumeister of Florida State deemed it to be a finite resource. In other words, it runs out surprisingly quickly.[1]

However, humans are designed to combat our limited willpower through habit formation. By doing so, you can start today by incorporating small, simple habits that are easy to do. In this article, you’re going to learn 15 simple habits that will make you successful and create momentum in your life.

If you use these long enough, they will transition into something you barely have to think about doing and instead are naturally compelled to. Let’s dive into these simple habits of success.

1. Gratitude

The first successful habit on this list is gratitude, We hear about gratitude all the time—but science backs it up. Those who express gratitude increase well-being, can focus more on what’s working, and overcome challenges at a faster pace.[2]

By shifting from our problem-seeking monkey mind to what’s working in our lives, we shift our emotions and set the tone for the day.

Write three things you’re grateful for in the morning, and start your day empowered.

2. Airplane Mode

In a world of endless distraction, protecting your most prized real estate of attention has to be a priority. Instead of immediately grabbing the phone and starting the day off being reactive, choose to take control and start the day on your terms.

To do so, start the day on airplane mode for at least 15 minutes and work your way up to 60 minutes or more.

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3. Physical Movement

Physical movement is vital for our health, it but may be even more important for our mindset and neurochemistry.

John Ratey MD, who wrote Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, found countless research to support that physical movement is crucial to creativity, motivation, and mental performance.[3]

Start simple: time yourself doing one activity for at least 10 minutes.

4. Creative Work

Remember that creative activity you used to do but then life got in the way? We all have one thing we love doing that makes us feel better. Creative work is an often ignored successful habit.

Doing something creative every day flexes a much-needed muscle, which translates into other projects you’re working on. Set aside at least twenty minutes every day to work on something creative.

5. Appreciation

When was the last time you received a handwritten note or a video on your phone from someone expressing their appreciation for you?

Become the person who sends these messages—and watch how they not only deepen connection but make you feel better, too.

This is the old “helper’s high” at work here—lifting others is a key source of happiness.[4] Send at least one appreciation message every single day.

6. Focused Time

Who would you imagine to be more productive—someone who works 55-hours a week or someone who works 70?

If you guessed the latter, you’d be incorrect. Research done by Stanford showed that productivity diminishes after 40 hours and falls off a cliff after 55.[5] In essence, those extra fifteen hours are a total waste of time.

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In other words, less is more. To make focus a habit, start with 25-minute Pomodoro sessions at least once a day, and build your habit of focused time from there.

7. Mindfulness

The habit of mindfulness through meditation is shown to increase well-being, boost creativity, and provide some much-needed perspective.

However, many people complicate this habit and think they are “doing it wrong” if they have a particularly tough meditation. Nothing could be further from the truth—meditation is simply a practice.

Spend at least five minutes being aware of your breath, in silence, or using a guided meditation.

8. Journaling

Writing things down in a journal doesn’t only create clarity, it also amplifies meaning and allows you to recognize patterns of thinking and behavior.

Journaling can be used in various ways—to deconstruct success, to work through difficult emotions, or to reflect on our day to day experiences. Either way, it is a potent tool for self-discovery and reflection.

Make it a habit to journal once a day for at least five minutes by reflecting on your day, asking open-ended questions, or exploring emotions.

9. Learn Daily

Anyone can have above-average expertise in nearly any field through learning for at least ten minutes a day. Sounds crazy, right?

Think of it this way: ten pages of reading a day amounts to an average of 18 books per year! If you do this for three years, you’ve read 54 books on one topic—more than enough to make you skilled and sought after.

Constant learning and education is a successful habit shared by many successful people. Set a marker for learning every day—whether ten pages a day or a specific time you’re blocking out.

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10. Close Open Loops

You likely don’t hear about this one much, but here’s why this matters: right now, you likely have “open loops” in your brain that you haven’t closed.

An “open loop” can be a message to respond to, a decision you must make, or anything that is pending. By keeping these “open”, you drain your energy and willpower and limit your ability to focus. Make it a habit to close at least three open loops every day to create clarity and practice the skill of decision making.

11. Set Boundaries

We tend to respect people who set boundaries and are willing to say “no” to requests that aren’t aligned with their priorities, but we’re not skilled at doing this ourselves.

Setting boundaries is a habit and could mean to create a calendar every week and sticking to it. It could mean having a conversation with someone about our current focus. Or, it could simply mean saying no.

To make setting boundaries a habit, find one way every week to ensure you protect your time, energy, and attention.

12. Seek Novelty

Another successful habit you should practice is seeking novelty. While morning routines, focused time, and mindfulness are all important habits, even the best activities need a boost. Enter novelty, which is the simple act of experiencing something new to provide a spark of ideas, insight, or perspective.

For example, changing your workout routine, reading a book in a genre you would otherwise discount, or even taking a new route home from work. All of these are simple ways to introduce novelty. Add in a weekly dose of novelty to your schedule and make it a habit.

13. Celebrate Wins

We’re often the worst people to see and recognize our own growth, especially those who consider themselves high performers. However, there is immense value in owning and celebrating wins by taking a step back and reflecting on how far we’ve come.

By doing so, you’ll focus on what is working, harness progress, and drown out the part of you that relies on pointing out how you could be further along. Celebrate three wins every day by writing them down.

14. Prioritize White Space

Creating pockets of white space in life is setting time aside to unplug, recharge, and get some much-needed downtime in a world full of stimuli.

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Many tend to treat this time as “wasteful” or when they do use it, it’s scrolling through social media or other distractions. Instead, use this time to be with yourself and the people you love.

Carve out daily white space as a habit and remember that it’s much less about quantity than it is about quality.

15. Shutdown Routine

The last successful habit on this list is having a shutdown routine. The personal growth space is littered with morning rituals for success, which are no doubt powerful—but what about shutting it off?

In a remote-work world, we can find ourselves more “on” than ever. Instead, create a simple shut down routine at night by reducing electronic use, celebrating wins, and doing anything that signals to your brain that it’s time to rest.

This habit is one you create. For example, a shutdown ritual could be closing the laptop, cleaning the home office, and putting the phone away to be with family.

Success Is Not a Trait, It’s a Habit

We tend to think of success as a set of traits or genetic make-up someone else has, but it’s not true—success is about the actions we regularly take that turn into habits.

Think of your habits as the auto-pilot mechanism on the cross country flight. The pilots do the heavy lifting for take-off and landing and then step back and do maintenance during the flight.

You can do the same for your life by making your success and growth a habit instead of using willpower or discipline.

Start small, keep it simple—and watch the magic happen.

More Articles About Successful Habits

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Tommy Baker

Expert on human potential and reverse engineering success.

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Last Updated on January 21, 2021

10 Willpower Hacks to Help Achieve Your Goals

10 Willpower Hacks to Help Achieve Your Goals

“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“Willpower is essential to the accomplishment of anything worthwhile.” – Brian Tracy

“Just do it.” – Nike

The most important and satisfying things in life usually aren’t the easiest ones.

The good news: In today’s hyper-connected world, we have access to all the information we could want to help us achieve our future goals. We know what foods will make us healthier (would kale or quinoa be as popular without the internet and Dr. Oz? I think not). We can also estimate for ourselves the benefits of starting retirement savings early – and the implications for the lifestyles of our future selves (that boat at 65 means fewer vacations in your 20’s).

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We almost always know what we should do thanks to endless knowledge at our fingertips. But actually doing it is an entirely different kind of challenge. Most of us can relate to that feeling of inertia at the start of a big project, or the struggle to consistently make good, long-term choices for our health, or saving for the future. This mental tug-of-war we experience has evolutionary roots. While knowing this might bring comfort, it doesn’t help solve the problem at hand:

How can we flex our willpower to become better, faster, smarter, and stronger?

The bad news: you can’t Google your way out of this one.

Or can you? A fascinating body of research (much of which you can turn up online through popular press and academic articles) sheds light on how to hack your willpower for better, easier results in all areas of your life. The Willpower Instinct, a great book by Stanford prof Kelly McGonigal, provides a deep dive into these and more topics for anyone keenly interested.

Here’s the short version: we can make the most of our willpower through two types of hacks. First, there are ways to turbo boost your willpower. Second, there are ways to hack the system so you make the best use of whatever (sometimes infinitely modest) willpower you have.

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The following 10 tips draw on both of these toolkits.

1. Slow the heck down.

Most regrettable decisions (the splurge at the mall, the procrastination on the project, the snacks in the break room) happen when one part of our brain effectively hijacks the other. We go into automatic pilot (and unfortunately the pilot in question has a penchant for shoes, Facebook and cookies!). Researchers suggest that we can override this system by charging up the other. That is, slow down and focus on the moment at hand. Think about your breathing. Bring yourself back to this moment in time, feel the compulsion but don’t act on it yet. Try telling yourself, “If this feeling is still just as uncomfortable in 10 minutes, I’ll act on it.” Take a little time to be mindful – then make your decision.

2. Dream of ‘done.’

Imagine yourself handing in the big project, soaking up the appreciation from your colleagues or boss. Or crossing the finish line for the half-marathon you’ve always wanted to run. The rush, the aliveness, the wind on your face, the medal …

That’s a lot more fun and motivating to think about than how much work it is to get out of bed for your long, Sunday morning run!

Re-orient your brain by summoning more motivating feelings than just “not running this morning is more enjoyable than running this morning.” If your goals are meaningful, this will help.

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3. Make your toughest choices first.

Scientists have found that willpower is like a full bathtub that’s drained throughout the day. So, why not start your toughest challenges when you have a full reserve? Get that project started or fit that workout in before you even check your email or have breakfast. Bonus: the high you’ll get from crossing off your hardest ‘to-do’ will help you sail through the rest of your day.

4. Progress = commitment, not a license to backslide.

A lot of times people will ‘cheat’ right after taking positive steps towards their goals. (A common version of this trap is, “I worked out three days in a row, so I deserve this cookie.”) Most of us can relate to this thinking – but it’s totally irrational! We’ll often trick ourselves into setbacks because we think we deserve them, even if we don’t really want them and deep down we know they’ll work against us in the long-run.

How can you counteract this effect? Research finds that if you use your positive streak to recommit (“If I worked out three days this week, I must be really committed to my health and fitness goal!”) rather than an excuse for wiggle room, we don’t take the same cheat options. Cool, right?

5. Meditate.

Meditation is an expressway to better willpower. Bringing your attention to your breathing for 15 minutes, or even five, flexes your willpower muscles by applying discipline to your thinking. It does this by working two mental ‘muscle groups’: first, the set of muscles that notice when your attention is drifting, and second, the set of muscles that bring you back to your task at hand. Over time, even small amounts of meditation will help you build the discipline to easily do what was once hard – like pushing through a long stretch at work.

6. Set mini-goals.

Which seems more doable: committing to three 20 minute runs this week or a half-marathon? Mini-goals are brilliant because they’re easier to achieve and boost your commitment to continuing. When we size them up, we see them as achievable rather than daunting. Each time you succeed at one, it boosts your sense of efficacy and personal integrity: not only are you capable of doing what you set out to do, but you followed through on it. Nice.

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The beauty of mini-goals is that over time, mini-goals – and the momentum you’ve built by doing them – can quickly turn into super-goals. So that half marathon might be more likely to happen, and sooner and more easily than you think!

7. Eat.

Low blood sugar decreases your ability to make tough decisions. If you’re running on empty physically, you’ll also be running on empty mentally. (Yes, this one’s somewhat ironic if your goal involves changing food patterns – but even so, letting your blood sugar drop too far will only sabotage you over time.)

8. Sleep.

Research shows people who don’t get enough sleep have a tough time exercising their willpower. Sleep is critical for a healthy brain – along with just about everything else. So to optimize your willpower muscle, make sure you’re catching your zzz’s.

9. Nix the self-sabotage.

Making yourself feel bad hurts, rather than helps, your willpower efforts. Researchers have found that compassion is a far better strategy than tough love – telling yourself “It’s OK, everyone has setbacks sometimes,” will help you bounce back more quickly than negative self-talk.

10. Take the first hard step.

As a new behavior becomes a habit, it is more natural. You have to use less and less willpower to ‘make it so.’ When you’re starting a new pattern that feels hard, remind yourself that the first steps are truly the hardest. It will probably never feel harder than it does in those first few choices. In the case of repeated behaviors, like exercise or saving money, it takes weeks for new habits to take hold. By that point, the habit will be so ingrained, you’d have to try hard not to do it.

Featured photo credit: Kym Ellis via unsplash.com

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