People generally think of habits as bad things they want to break.
On the contrary, creating habits that you want is what creating a life you want means. It’s a big part anyway. Creating habits you want frees you from trying to do things all the time. It frees you from using your limited willpower.
I wrote yesterday about making behaviors you like habitual using your relationships. Today I’ll write some examples of some behaviors I’ve made habitual in my life that way. Like everyone, I have a million more, but these are a fun start.
Some seem trivial. Some may seem restrictive. To me, they represent freedom. Since they are generally healthy and crowd out unhealthy alternatives, I don’t have to think about them. They free my mind to enjoy life and solve problems.
What to eat for breakfast
The habit: Oatmeal with fruit and nuts for breakfast. (not instant oats)
Why I like it: It tastes good, gives me consistent energy for hours, is quick and easy to make, costs almost nothing, and doesn’t require planning or shopping.
What it replaced: Boxed cereals. They seem to offer variety, but after a while you realize they’re all variations on few ingredients. They seem healthy, but I don’t think they are. They cost a lot more and you run out quickly.
Who introduced it: After I started doing it, my mom told me some older relatives ate oatmeal every day and lived healthily into their nineties. I still think of them almost every time I eat breakfast.
Whom I passed it to: I tell everyone I eat breakfast with I eat oatmeal. I can’t think of whom, but I like to share. Only in the past few years did I replace dried fruit with fresh.
How not to eat too much junk food
The habit: I only eat big bags of potato chips over the course of three sittings (two if I share them with someone), one sitting per calendar day.
Why I like it: I like chips, but eating too many makes me feel bad later. I figured out a good pacing and now I stick with it. It’s like a game.
What it replaced: Eating too many chips and trying hard to figure how many I should eat or not at a time. Now I figured it out once and for all.
Who introduced it: I came up with it on my own.
Whom I passed it to: I forget whom I told it to. Not that many people. I may have first told it to Chase, in Beijing. I used to feel silly about it. Now I like it.
The habit: Burpees every morning and evening
Why I like it: I connect it with friendship with my workout partner, as described here, getting rid of baby fat on my stomach I’d never been able to get rid of, and bigger upper body muscles.
What it replaced: Other workouts that took longer for lesser results. I still row and will continue to run when the weather warms up. Nothing replaces sunshine, breezes, and the rolling hills of Central Park.
Who introduced it: I read about them in the paper. I started the habit with my friend.
Whom I passed it to: I tell everyone about them. I’ve done sets with friends, co-workers, family members, classmates, and more. I’ve done them with people at work, outside bars, in other people’s homes, etc
The habit: I brush my teeth every morning and evening. Sometimes a third time in the middle of the day.
Why I like it: For my clean mouth!
What it replaced: I’ve done it as long as I can remember. I never sleep or leave the house without brushing my teeth.
Who introduced it: I guess my parents.
Whom I passed it to: I presume everyone does the same.
The habit: I floss after brushing at night.
Why I like it: Clean mouth!
What it replaced: Flossing less regularly and less often and having less clean teeth.
Who introduced it: Partly my current dental hygienist, partly the success of starting the burpee habit.
Whom I passed it to: I haven’t started telling people how I floss daily yet.
How often to shave
The habit: I shave Mondays and Thursdays. (I vary somewhat, but mainly stick with it)
Why I like it: So I don’t have to think about should I shave today or not.
What it replaced: Thinking about if I should shave today or not. It’s no big deal, but now I don’t have to think about it.
Who introduced it: Trial and error.
Whom I passed it to: I don’t think I’ve shared it with many people.
How to get out of bed in the morning quickly and easily
The habit: I can’t read my emails or texts until I do my burpees in the morning.
Why I like it: Burpees are great exercises that wake you up. I feel a tug to read my emails and texts. Now that motivation gets me exercising and waking up. Plus I spend less time on the internet in the morning.
What it replaced: Wasting time online before doing anything productive and exercising less regularly and less often.
Who introduced it: I came up with it on my own.
Whom I passed it to: I can’t remember whom, but I talk about it a lot when I talk about burpees.
How to make sure I blog regularly
The habit: I write a post at least once a day.
Why I like it: So I don’t lose momentum.
What it replaced: I started blogging this way.
Who introduced it: My friend Sebastian, whose successful blogging inspired me. When I asked him if he did weekdays only, weekends too, or what, he said he blogged every day, adding that if you miss one day it’s easy to miss two. After you miss two, you can lose the blog.
Whom I passed it to: I’ve only mentioned it to a few people. You could figure it out from my posting history, but that record might not explain the motivation. Sebastian’s explanation motivated me a lot. Here I am well into my second year still on track.
Exercising the mind
The habit: A major benefit of physical exercise for me is mental conditioning — whether marathons, burpees, rowing, ultimate, or whatever.
Why I like it: Exercising my body clears my mind and keeps it sharp and disciplined.
What it replaced: I’ve exercised regularly since high school. Before then my family didn’t impose too much exercise on me — not nearly as much as it imposed mental learning. I still think of myself as practicing something new.
Who introduced it: I don’t remember. My friend since junior high, Tuan, inspired me to sign up for an organized sport in high school. Ultimate frisbee became a passion just through my friends in high school, but it got bigger in college. My friend since college, Peter, inspired my first marathon. Rowing and burpees I wrote about in this blog.
Whom I passed it to: I hope I’ve shared sports and how they help the mind with everyone.
A habit I haven’t formed yet
The not-yet-formed habit: Meditating regularly.
Why I would like it: I get a lot out of meditating. So far I’ve meditated a few times in my life in big bursts at Vipassana retreats — every day for eight to twelve hours for ten or three days straight. It helps tremendously in more ways than I’m up for describing here now, but I don’t sit and meditate regularly.
What it would replace: Meditating irregularly and a lack of calmness and resilience.
Who introduced it: The course recommends it, but I haven’t yet found a way to enjoy doing it regularly so I haven’t started yet. I don’t like forcing myself to do things. None of the things above required me forcing myself.
Whom I passed it to: No one yet, though I’ve told people about meditation and its benefits to me.
What to eat
The habit: I don’t eat meat.
Why I would like it: I don’t know if this counts as a habit. I don’t like meat so I don’t eat it. It’s no harder than not eating bugs or dirt. I don’t find it appetizing. But a lot of people try hard to do it. I’m writing it here to point out it can become trivially simple.
What it replaced: Eating meat.
Who introduced it: I stopped liking meat on my own.
Whom I passed it to: Several family members and friends stopped eating meat after me. I don’t think I tried to convince them to.
Read my weekly newsletter
Subscribe for a weekly update of musings on leadership, the environment, and burpees.