This Is How I Form Good Habits That Actually Stick

you are your habits

Where you are in your life is a result of your habits. Will Durant said it best:

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

I think that’s also true for the opposite of excellence. It goes like this: Bad habits? Bad life. Good habits? Good life.

Simple, right?

I used to be a complainer. I said stuff like:

  • I don’t like my city.
  • It’s too cold in the winter.
  • People are stupid.
  • I always have bad luck.
  • I can never catch a break.

I didn’t see it at the time, but the outcome of your life is a result of your habits.

That means this: You can change the outcome of your life by changing your habits.

But how do you do that? How do you form good habits?

I’m not talking about popular “life-hacking” habits like taking cold showers or weird diets. Those things are fads. It’s not for everybody and they don’t have long-lasting effects.

No, I’m talking about life-changing stuff that‘s sustainable. Things like exercising daily, not complaining, being a problem-solver, etc.

Decide what habits are worth it.

Look, I can talk to you about ‘good’ habits all day long, but that’s not helpful. The reason is that only YOU can decide what a good habit is.

Deciding if a habit is worth it to you is critical in forming new habits.

Too often we hear about something and we think: “I should do that!”

Really? Should I wake up an hour earlier? Should I take cold showers? Should I stop complaining? Should I eat like a cave person? Should I eat normal?

Maybe waking up early is actually helpful to you. I don’t know. When I wake up early, I behave like a grumpy old man who hates people.

Just ask yourself this:

“Will this behavior improve the quality of my life?”

The reason you want to ask yourself that question is that you need a reason to change. You need a why. That requires introspection.

If you do that right, you come to the conclusion that you can’t change external factors, but you CAN change yourself.

You can’t change the economy, weather, traffic, people, or anything that you complain about.

Viktor E. Frankl, author of Man’s Search For Meaning, said it well:

“When we are no longer able to change a situation — we are challenged to change ourselves.”

You can only improve what you control: Yourself.

Now that you’ve settled on what habit you want to form, and why you want to develop it, let’s start shaping.

The most important thing: Focus on one thing at a time.

I recently wrote about how I successfully formed a daily exercise habit. It was something I tried to do for years.

There were many reasons I failed, one of them is that I always tried to form a million habits at the same time.

I don’t know why, but sometimes I get on this whole self-improvement spree. I feel like reading more, writing more, working more, living better, eating healthier, you name it.

It’s best to hold back the enthusiasm if you’re the same. In general, when you do too many things at the same time, you end up with chaos.

You either end where you started, or you might even take two steps back. You try to form a habit, that doesn’t work out, you get frustrated, and say:

“Screw Tony Robbins and self-help in general! I’m going to lie in bed all day, eat Oreos and watch Netflix.”

Yup. Not helpful.

Prepare yourself. Change is hard.

Common sense, right? So why do you expect everything to go smoothly?

In our head things always play out easily. We think that we can wake up at 5 am, hit the gym, and eat a kale shake. No way!

If things are hard, that doesn’t mean you should stop. It’s the opposite, when it’s hard, take it as a sign to push on.

Set Reminders.

I forget everything. A few years ago, I started a daily reading habit. I messed up very often in the beginning.

I would read for five or six days straight, and then all of a sudden, I would completely forget about it.

It’s like the desire for reading more just vanished from my head.

Gone. Poof.

That shit happens. You want to do something. You do it. And then you forget about it.

That’s why I set reminders for important things in my calendar. I NEED them. Otherwise, I forget. I’ve never met people who don’t need reminders. Or maybe I did. They probably were androids and I failed the Turing test.

Anyway, here’s what my daily writing reminder looks like now (I change it often):

It says: “Stop fucking around. It’s time to write. You idiot.”

Sometimes I ignore the message. Sometimes I listen to it. Doesn’t matter. It’s always there. So I don’t forget.

Also, I like to set reminders at random times. If everything happens on the hour, I feel like a robot.

And remember to do things daily.

  • Do you want to get fit? Exercise daily. Not 3 times a week.
  • Do you want to eat healthy? Do it every day. Not 4 times a week.
  • Do you want to change your attitude? Keep a positive mindset every day (you can also keep a positive mindset during tough/sad times).

Finally: Set the bar low.

I often meet people who want to change the world. And I appreciate that. But that’s a very high bar you set. You can only go wrong with that.

There’s something that requires change first: You. Leo Tolstoy (who lived in the 19th century), author of War and Peace, put it best:

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

That’s still very true today. And you hear a lot of people and companies saying it. But it’s much better to set the bar low. Focus on small things. Big things follow by themselves.

Anyway, enough said about change. Let’s change.

 

 

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19 comments

  1. Hey Darius! Awesome article (as always). Very inspiring!
    I just wanted to point out that you missed the closing parenthesis in the paragraph about Leo Tolstoy.
    Cheers!

  2. Hi Darius, Thanks. I am a fan and read all your articles. Great process to change bad habits to good ones. Just one comment and that is: in order to address and even think of others with respect and kindness, we should start by being kind and respectful to ourselves. I would set the reminder differently. Fore example: “my dear stop wasting time and start writing”

    1. I appreciate that, Kay! But that’s simply not my style. Reminders always have to make me laugh otherwise I ignore them. If you read my work, you know that I never take life too seriously 😉

  3. Really wonderful article. I, too, have a bad complaining habit and would love to break it. Do you mind sharing with me how you were able to break yours? It’s a lot more difficult to stop doing something than to start.

  4. #SoMe 😒 Ambitiously trying to resolve a million bad habits at once.😂😂😂😂 Thanks for yet another kick up the ass and encouragement… biggest gain from this read for me: The “D” word. “DAILY” and remembering to focus on 1 thing at a time.

    Thanks Darius👊

  5. Thanks Darius, I realised something else today – I have been eating healthily each day and then I also found I couldn’t afford groceries at all, which created another challenge. The moral of the story, eat healthy so long as it is within your budget.

  6. Hmmmm, every day? So that’s where I’m going wrong. Actually, my problem is the same one you mentioned here. I tend to want to change too many things at once. I’ve come to the realization that one simple step a day covers many miles in a fairly short period of time. Once again thanks for your observation and wisdom.

  7. You’re so right, I’ve also come to this “one-thing-at-a-time” realization. I think lots of us get scared that we don’t have the time to do it all, and so we react by doing it all right now. For me, that just leads to a cycle of failure and feeling like I have even less time than before. Well, I’m aiming to hop off that treadmill this year. Celebrate the small wins and build on them.

  8. Thanks, Darius! I really enjoy your articles. And I agree that doing things on daily basis helps form a habbit, but execrcises every day just not works for me! I get overtrained and exhausted!

  9. Thanks for the article. Darius! A great read, as always 🙂 The only question I would have is … why daily? While I see the value in it, I think that by setting out do some things daily (e.g. hitting the gym) can turn out to be demotivating in the end and setting the bar too high. I feel that in this example, having a 3 – 4 times per week resolution is more achievable, the people would be able to reach their goal, see/ feel the change and then set the bar higher. I am just curious how the reasoning about daily outweighs this danger 🙂

    1. Thanks Adriana! That’s pretty simple to me: If it’s not daily, it’s not a habit. It’s a hobby. 3-4 times often becomes 1-2 times. And then 0 times. And poof, everything’s gone.

      I take habits seriously. Also, you can perfectly set the bar low while doing something daily. That’s what I do.

  10. Great article, it is hard to change habits. We easily form habits without realizing that they are formed. I found your article useful when you say repetition and reminders are a way to form habits. I would add awareness to that as well. Awareness that it will be hard and challenging. All it takes is a mind shift, once you reach a tipping point it will be hard to reverse it. Reaching the tipping point is the hardest part.
    Thanks Darius always very practical and useful advice!

    1. I think your right Adriana, I think what Darius means by daily is to do it until the habit is formed. Then to take a breather. But I also agree with you that it can become mind numbing doing it daily and thus making you want to quit sooner. When you instill mindfulness into the equation I think if you push yourself a little bit and see rewards it will make you want to continue doing it. But simply doing it (going to the gym) and not producing results will make you want to quit sooner. There is no right answer for anyone and there are certainly people who take longer time to form habits. It really comes down to mindset. If you can shift your perspective to learn to love it you will have easier time forming a habit. Next is accountability by a partner to give that little needed push.

  11. If I attack myself calling myself an idiot, rather than making me confident in my habits it will actually inflict a heavy blow to my self-esteem. I will end up procrastinating. But if it has worked for you, then great!

  12. Thanks for another inspiring point of view. And being human, we are creatures of habit — we must just choose those ones that we personally need in life.

  13. Thanks for sharing.. really nice one.. I took the reminder of focusing on one habit at a time.. and setting my bar for low for a change.. its always hard..but article like this by inspiring people like you help feel little better with dealing the struggle of change.. thanks again.. 🙂

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