The First Step to Creating Healthy Habits Is Smaller Than You Think We will never wake up one morning and suddenly be the person we've always wanted to be. Changing our habits takes repeated, daily effort.
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We all know someone who wakes up at 4 a.m. daily and runs 10 miles. At the end of the day, they cook dinner for their family and read to their children for an hour. We watch their lives from afar, scratching our heads, thinking, "I could never have that much discipline."
Most people want to be healthier — to form deep relationships, do well in their job and live a balanced life — but when they look at everything they'd have to change to do so, they become overwhelmed. They don't know where to start, so they don't start at all.
We cannot allow our brains to talk us out of changing our lives simply because the path from where we are now to where we want to seems unfathomably long. So how do we break through these limiting beliefs and take that first step toward healthier habits?
I'll give you a hint: the first step is much smaller than you might think.
What we consume is what we become
Whether it is the conversations we have with friends, the television we watch, or the books we read, what we allow into our mind's orbit subconsciously seeps into our day-to-day lives. And while we can't always change our immediate circumstances — perhaps you work long hours or have young children to care for — we can adjust the content we consume.
One of the most sure-fire ways to integrate healthy habits into our lives is to read about them. Reading improves our health and leadership skills, and it is one of the first habits I began to incorporate into my day when I decided I wanted to live a healthier life.
I started by reading for five minutes each morning. As I continued to read, including more books about mindset and healthy habits, this time stretched to fill longer and longer periods. Now, I usually read an hour every morning and have completed over a dozen books this year. I am amazed how this one small habit ballooned into daily practice. Furthermore, many of the books I've read have become the bedrock from which the rest of my self-development has blossomed — namely, Atomic Habits by James Clear and Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg. These books completely transformed the way I think about habits in my daily life, enabling me to examine the negative thought patterns I had once accepted and learn new techniques to reframe limiting beliefs, break down old habits, and build new ones.
The snowball effect
If we were each to wake up tomorrow and try to become the person who gets up at 4 a.m. every morning and runs 10 miles, we would likely fail. A healthier lifestyle is not created in one fell swoop; rather, it is built by each of the tiny, accomplishable habits we begin to incorporate daily.
For example, I hate making the bed — I think it is a waste of time, and our bed has too many pillows. However, after I read Tiny Habits, I decided to experiment, asking myself, "What is the simplest action I can commit to when it comes to making the bed?" Each morning, I decided to take one pillow off the bed. Since making that commitment, I made my bed almost every morning for weeks, until a recent trip. After the trip, I fell out of the habit, and now I am restarting the pillow habit again.
So how can one tiny commitment lead to me completing an activity I used to abhor? Momentum. Once I took off one pillow, I realized that I might as well remove the other six pillows. After I removed the six pillows, I noticed I only needed to straighten the blankets to complete making the bed. I plopped the pillows back in place, and suddenly, the bed was made two minutes after I began. Starting small and proving to yourself that you can succeed is a huge factor.
One tiny commitment can snowball to create a daily habit, quickly spreading into other positive habits.
Doing something successfully once, like moving one pillow off the bed, increases your motivation to do it again and embark on other habits that give you the same reward. Our habits grow and multiply with each small commitment we make, and, in time, we find ourselves living the life of one of those "self-disciplined" people we used to watch with envy.
Where to begin
The hardest part of making any change is finding the willpower to begin. To take action, we need a clear framework that does not rely solely on willpower to propel us forward.
- Take ownership. Get clear on your goals and pinpoint the habits that are not leading you toward achieving them.
- Craft your vision. Visualize what your life would look like in a perfect world. Create a plan to move you closer to this vision and share it with a friend for accountability.
- Commit to one step. Look at your plan and determine the smallest possible step you can commit to completing daily. As you build self-efficacy by completing the lower-level tasks, you will increase your motivation to achieve larger goals.
Healthy habits begin in our minds
Before taking action toward a healthier life, we must free ourselves from the limiting beliefs that keep us stuck. Allow yourself to dream of the type of life you want, free from the constraints of what your mind tells you you "can't do."
Don't panic if your vision of the "perfect" day does not become an immediate reality or if there are bumps in the road. A short-term failure only signals that you need to adjust your approach, not that you need to give up entirely. Remember: A healthier life is not born out of a single run through the park, and it is not destroyed by a single setback either — it is in every action we take, no matter how big or small, that moves us one inch closer to our goals.