Learning something new or building a new habit can be overwhelming, but one way to make it more manageable is to break it down into smaller steps. A great example of this is toddlers learning how to walk. As infants, they start by learning to hold their heads up and rollover. Eventually, they crawl, stand, scoot along the furniture, and, eventually, they begin taking their first steps. Yes, they fall over a lot and may get a lot of bumps and bruises before they learn how to walk, but they get there.
If we apply this process of slow and steady changes to other areas of our life, it is possible to make big changes over time. Here are ten micro-habits that you can start now to make big changes in your life.
1. Follow a one-minute rule.
When there are small tasks to be done, make yourself do them right then and there if they take less than one minute. Some examples are throwing away the junk mail instead of adding it to the pile, putting your coat away in the closet instead of tossing it on the chair, or taking your dirty coffee cup to the sink instead of leaving it on the kitchen table.
These tasks may seem mundane, but they add up over time and can quickly become overwhelming. Following the one-minute rule gets little things done and prevents procrastinating until the next day and the next.
2. Know your money situation.
Knowing the details of your financial situation is essential, even if it’s not necessarily good news. Having an accurate idea about where you are is the only way to become secure in your finances. Check all of your accounts often, including your checking account balance, credit card debt, and any outstanding loans, including your mortgage. Once you know where all your money is going you can make better decisions about how to spend it.
It’s also important that you don’t get obsessed, which can seem a little at odds with checking your accounts often. But there is a difference between being financially literate and being obsessed with every penny. There are some things that you aren’t going to be able to do anything about, so try not to focus on things like the balance of your 401(k) when the market is down. Instead, focus on what you can control, like cooking at home instead of ordering takeout or skipping that shopping trip when you need to save money.
3. Keep a detailed calendar.
When you see your life laid out in front of you, it helps you plan for the things you need to do to prepare. By keeping an organized calendar that includes special events, birthdays, upcoming bills, and more, you can see how much time you have to prepare for things to help you cut down on stress.
You can use a paper planner or calendar if that works for you. In fact, some people have this down to a science. But if you’re not one for bullet journaling or carrying a large planner around with you, your Google calendar works just fine. Keep track of when bills are going to be automatically deducted from your checking account, birthdays, soccer games, work meetings, and more. You can color-code items to organize things better. If you know you have to get your oil changed in two months, pop it into your calendar so you don’t forget. If you have to pay quarterly taxes, mark the due dates for the whole year. Having all of these things plugged into your calendar means you don’t have to worry about remembering them all.
4. Ask for what you want in life and embrace rejection.
One life lesson that is hard to learn is that you have to ask for what you want in life. It’s rare for people to just offer to give you what you want, and in a lot of cases, you’re never going to get it unless you ask. But know that when you start asking for what you want, you will get rejected. Probably many times, and that’s okay! Sometimes you get what you want and sometimes you don’t. When you’re told no over and over, each one becomes a little easier to hear. And when you do eventually get a yes, it’s even more wonderful.
5. Try to do one more thing.
Try to do one more rep when you’re working out. Jog for one more minute. Drink one more glass of water and add one more serving of vegetables to your plate. Eventually, these little extras become part of the normal routine. Once that happens, add one more again. Eventually, you’ll look back and see amazing progress.
6. Bring one more thing with you.
This rule is a good one to pair with the previous one because it’s the same concept. If you have a habit of taking a new mug of coffee with you to your desk every time you come back to your office, you might end up with three or four coffee mugs by the end of the day. Make it a point to take one of them with you every time you leave. When you find yourself heading from one place to another and you have a free hand, look around and think, what can I take with me? It could be a bottle of water from the car or a pair of shoes in the middle of the living room. Every little thing you take with you is one less piece of clutter left behind.
7. Write everything down.
You may think that some memories will last a lifetime, but this isn’t always the case. Did you kid say something that made you laugh? Did you hear a quote in a movie or read one in a book that struck you? Did you come across a song lyric that made you feel understood? You may think these things made a permanent impression, but you don’t know that for sure. To be on the safe side, write it down. Whether you keep a notebook in your purse or work bag or keep a list in the notes app on your phone, keep track of these little things that are worth remembering.
8. Do the polite thing.
If you have an opportunity to do something nice for someone, do it. This can be something as simple as holding an elevator open for someone or checking in with a friend who you know is having a bad time. You can also take time to be nice to yourself. Do an extra five minutes of mediation or make time to read a chapter of the book you’re reading before bed.
Being nice isn’t about people giving you credit for what you’re doing or projecting the image that you’re a good person. It’s a daily reminder to be kind, and it conditions your brain to recognize kindness, no matter how small the act. Remember, kindness includes being kind to yourself. That means you also have to ensure that no one is taking advantage of your generosity.
9. Practice patience whenever possible.
Everyone gets frustrated when they’re stuck being the slow person in line or trapped in two slow-moving cars on the highway. But take each of these moments as an opportunity to work on your patience. As difficult as that may be, it’s important to realize that there’s nothing you can do to change the situation, so there’s no point in getting excited. It might be difficult at first, but by actively practicing patience, absorbing your surroundings, and taking a few deep breaths, eventually, situations like this won’t bother you anymore.
10. Put your future self first.
It’s hard to always think about the future because we’re so often told to live in the here and now. But when you’re looking at it from the standpoint of micro-habits, you can see that every decision you make throughout your life ultimately affects your future self.
Getting into this mentality can be challenging. It involves asking some tough questions about how the decisions you’re making now will affect you physically, mentally, and financially in the future. You may have to ask yourself tough questions, like, can I afford this vacation? Could there be any negative consequences from hooking up with that person you met at the bar? Should you splurge on a big house or go with the more modest one that you can more easily afford?
Sometimes, the thing that you think is the wrong decision for your future self is the right answer. If skipping your workout to get an extra hour or so of sleep keeps you from wearing yourself out, it’s worth it. If having the late-night french fries after a night out keeps you from getting a hangover the next day, it’s probably a good decision. It’s all about learning about what you need to do to keep the balance between your current needs and what you’ll need in the future, whether that’s tomorrow or when you retire.
Any opinions are those of Thomas B. Fleishel and not necessarily those of Raymond James.