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Four Habits that Can Improve Everything Else in Your Life

Rearview shot of a young woman strecthing on the edge of her bed

The habits of our days create the scaffolding for our lives. Whether we’re aware or not, about forty percent of our daily lives are routinized behavior, things we do every single day, with or without thinking about it. Consider this: When you woke up this morning, what did you do first? Did you reach for your cell phone and check Facebook? Roll out of bed and into a downward dog for morning yoga? Did you brush your teeth before or after you took a shower? Did you grab a donut from the kitchen counter, or did you drink the smoothie you made before bed last night? How did you get to work? Which route did you take? When you got to your desk, how did you begin your day? Did you read the New York Times, your favorite blogger, catch up on email, or type out your to-do list? For lunch, did you have a salad or chicken nuggets? And when you got home, did you take a power nap or walk the dog? Help your kids with their homework, or turn on the news? Most of our daily choices feel like decisions, but actually, we’re following habits.

In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explores the science behind why we do what we do in our in our lives. He says that if you believe you can change, if you can make a habit, then the changes in your life can begin to materialize. The truth is, our habits are what we choose them to be, so when you choose your habits, you choose your life’s direction. The difficult thing is that most people want a secret formula for creating or changing a habit, a scripted process for rapid change. “It’s not that formulas don’t exist,” Duhigg says. “The problem is that there isn’t one formula for changing habits. There are thousands.”

“It’s simple to change habits, but it’s not easy,” Gretchen Rubin wrote in her book, Better Than Before: What I Learned about Making and Breaking Habits—to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life. She has discovered that people often point to the creation of a new habit as the root of a boost in their happiness. And when they were unhappy about a change they’d failed to make, it was often related to a habit they couldn’t seem to keep. Habits, the keeping and the not keeping, seem central to our freedoms and happiness.

So where does a person begin to make the right changes? How do you know which habits to change? If I’m going to make a change, I want it to be the right one. I want to make a change that’s realistic and tangible, one that will have a domino effect to bring more areas of my life in order. Because let’s be honest: for better and for worse, I like the habits I have in place. They’re comfortable and mine. (Diet Coke for the win. Every day.)