Scott H Young

Nine Habits to Change Your Life


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The majority of your life is habitual. What you eat, how you work, when you wake up and the people you see may seem like conscious choices. But usually that ‘conscious’ choice has been selected in advance by what you decided yesterday. Even if you are making a decision, the options are often constrained by what you’ve done before.

Habits are always there. Conscious decision making takes energy and time. If you had to decide everything for the first time, you could spend all day unsure what to eat for breakfast. Habits are shortcuts. So it is a good idea you pick the right shortcuts.

How to Change Habits

I’ve already written about how to change habits. Briefly in Habitual Mastery and more thoroughly in How to Change a Habit. The basics of changing your programmed shortcuts isn’t that hard. Just focus on changing one specific behavior for one month. There are many other tricks you can use, but simply holding out for one month is usually enough.

But what shortcuts should you make? Not all habits are built equally. A few of the deliberate changes I made in myself have created a lasting impact. If your looking at where you can start, here’s nine habits that I’ve found useful.

One Caveat

Habits work well as shortcuts, but no one habit can be a universal rule. Waking up early was a great habit for myself until I needed to work later at night for a job. Abstaining from television is also a good habit, but moderation can be better in other situations.

Most of my efforts in changing habits have been centered around tweaking these nine habits. Several I’ve been able to consistently implement and a few I’ve turned on and off as my situation changes. By building these habits thoroughly, they can become hardwired into your brain so they become easier to resume if you temporarily need to shut them off.

One: Internet Ritual

I have to do a lot of work on the web. Reading blogs, answering e-mails and responding to messages can be incredibly time consuming if you let it be. Creating an internet ritual as your baseline can cut two thirds off the time you use. Better yet it discourages wasteful internet usage as you optimize how you surf.

If you want ideas for how to form an internet ritual, read this article. Basically, you can get started by prioritizing the major sites you need to visit in your browsers toolbar. Then commit for thirty days to check those sites only once or twice a day at specific times.

Two: Exercise

Exercise has been a near daily habit for myself for well over a year. Although it may appear time consuming, regular exercise gives enough energy to make up for the time it takes. Finding an exercise you love to do will keep you healthy, fit and mentally sharp throughout the day.

The few times I’ve been forced to stop exercising for several days, I can begin to notice the difference. My energy levels drop dramatically and I feel slow and groggy. Sure you can work hard if you aren’t staying fit. But just because you can, doesn’t mean it is best.

Three: Wake Early

Early rising has been an on-off habit for myself. After conditioning it about two years ago for the first time, it doesn’t take much energy to resume. The deciding factor of whether to go early bird or night owl depends on when you can accomplish more. If there are a lot of activities happening later you don’t want to miss, catching a few morning z’s can help.

But generally, if you are working on your own schedule, waking up early can kickstart your day. You can have more quiet time to get work accomplished in the morning. Plus starting your day early gives you momentum to carry forward into your day.

Four: Reading

You could measure this in pages or minutes per day. Saving a few minutes a day to read books will add up. Just twenty to thirty minutes a day for myself leads to over seventy books a year. You can quickly become an expert in a subject if you begin reading that much.

Most University classes I’ve seen cover about 1-3 books worth of information. Reading 70 books a year can end up being the equivalent of 20-30 courses worth of information. If you want some tips to start the reading habit, read this article.

Five: Organization

I’m a fan of minimalist GTD. For myself that means a notepad in my pocket, a to-do list on my desk and a calendar on my desktop. Forming the habit to maintain these systems of organization has removed much of the stress in trying to hold them in your memory.

Beyond just your tasks, forming organization habits for the major parts of your life greatly reduces stress. If you haven’t already read Getting Things Done by David Allen, I suggest you pick up a copy.

Six: Vegetarianism

I started a vegetarian diet about 18 months ago and the change was dramatic. Like adding exercise, cutting away meat products allowed me healthier substitutions. Almost immediately I felt like I had more energy and mental clarity.

Not eating meat is just one of many changes that makes my diet work. If you simply replace meat with junk food, you are worse off than when you started. I’ve also heard from others that being a “flexetarian” or someone who eats meat only occasionally has similar benefits.

You could argue how you can’t give up meat or why it is better for you not to. I’m not here to debate you. All I suggest is that you read some of the scientific evidence that supports the diet and try it for yourself. Go for thirty days and then decide. If you aren’t convinced, you’ve only wasted a month.

Seven: Daily Six

I use a modified version of this approach. What is the daily six? I think it is best summarized by this story I’ve mentioned before:

A young man walked into the office of a powerful executive of a steel company in the early 20th century. He told the executive he could triple his productivity. All he asked was that the executive would later pay him what he felt the idea was worth. The idea was this:

Each day you write the numbers one to six on a piece of paper. Then write out the first, second and up to the sixth most important tasks of the day. You then begin on number one. Even if you spend the entire day on that one task, there was no way you could have been more productive using any other system.

A month after his speech the young man received a check from the executive. It was worth ten thousand dollars.

Eight: Television

There are a couple ways you can handle television which are usually better than just watching whenever you feel like it:

  1. Complete Blackout. Turn the television off for good. Want more time, cut it out for good. It is amazing how much time you can save simply by turning off the tube permanently.
  2. Prerecorded. This is the solution I’m using now. I tape any shows I want to watch in advance. Not only does this eliminate commercial time, it prevents a lot of wasted time channel surfing.
  3. No Home Television. Another solution I’ve used is simply to not have a home television (or have no cable if you still want to watch movies). You can watch shows you really want to see at a friends house, but otherwise you won’t let television occupy your time.

Remember, the point of habits isn’t to become a robot. Your habits should make your life more entertaining, not less.

Nine: Journal

I’m not interested in keeping a diary of every event that happens to me. But a good idea is to set up a journal as your problem solving platform. Any problem, plan or thought you encounter can be expressed and deconstructed if you maintain a journal.

I don’t expect you have time to write for an hour each night. That’s isn’t the point. But starting the habit of keeping a semi-regular journal has greatly improved my thinking. My habit is to go to my journal whenever I have time or a difficult problem and simply write through it.

Pick One for Thirty Days

If any of these habits interest you, I suggest you pick one and try it for thirty days. Simply taking control of one of these habits can have a huge impact on the amount of time, energy or enjoyment you can get out of life. If you have any suggestions to add to this list, feel free to write them down in the comments.


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23 Responses to “Nine Habits to Change Your Life”

  1. Scott – you always write great articles. This is one my favorites. I Dugg, Stumbled, and del.icio.us this one. Well done! Simple, easy and helpful!

  2. You have been tagged by Henrik Edberg from The Positivity Blog http://www.positivityblog.com/index.php/2007/08/24/my-five-favorite-personal-development-blogs-at-the-moment/ , for The Personal Development List.

    I would love it if you would participate. See my site for details.

  3. Mark Dykeman says:

    Scott, I wish to compliment you both on your blog design and your writing. Great tips, great site! Good luck with your book!

    Mark

  4. Hi, nice article, you really hit the areas we need to look at in order to move our whole life ahead. As a motivational speaker, I spend a lot of time dealing with these issues and your mention of considering how much TV we watch reminded me of a recent One Minute Motivator of mine, so here it is: “”Prime Time” is every weeknight between 8 PM and 11 PM, when TV viewing is at its highest. Prime time for TV viewers can be your prime time as well. If you turn off the TV and work on your goals, you will suddenly pick up several hours a day of time you can use to move your life ahead. What is more important watching a “reality” show as a spectator or creating your own reality show in which you are the hero and you win the prize? Turn off the TV and turn on your life and move into a prime time the rest of the world can only watch.”

    OK, thanks and keep up the good work, Edward W. Smith, author of Sixty Seconds To Success.

  5. […] Nine Habits to Change Your Life.– Scott Young offers a list of nine habits that can help you reprogram and re-energize. […]

  6. Peter says:

    These are great Scott. Many of them I have already incorporated into my life (eg waking early). Of the ones I don’t do, I can tell that having an Internet ritual would benefit me the most. Thanks for the idea!

  7. Ken Daniels says:

    Great , just a Great article for making me accountable for my time & efforts

  8. […] Scott Young discusses 9 habits to change your life and I think it gives some great ideas to thing about. The best thing is that they are simple little things which anyone can implement. […]

  9. […] Scott H Young » Nine Habits to Change Your Life 9 Verhaltensweisen, die das Leben verändern können. (tags: howto lifehacks productivity organization) […]

  10. Mary says:

    I have printed this one and will use Steve Pavlina’s 30 day trial on each in turn (though not in order). Your blog is a great resource. Keep up the good work!

  11. […] I love zenhabits, and this morning while reading it I ran across this article. It seems that everywhere in the self-help blogosphere writers advertise their own unique “five step” change your life plan, but Young’s is unique in that it solely focuses on the development of habits (instead of attempting to boost your morale with a “one size fits all” plan that fails to address the underlying problem). […]

  12. Senthil Kumar says:

    Scott,
    I started the habit of going to gym & jogging. Thanks for your motivational post. I hope that I will write my success comment at dec 12.

  13. […] system is Zen to Done by Leo Babauta (also in e-bookform). Another is the one mentioned as Habit 7: Daily Six in this article by Scott H Young. Simple time management tips can also be found in Tim Ferriss excellent The 4-Hour […]

  14. manu says:

    Scott,
    I’ve had bookmarked your article..i’m now at a down side limit, but reading again your article, i choose to change my life, to pursue in establishing this habbits. For almost a year i’m fighting to change my habits: early rise, exercise, alimentation, organization. I failed miserably at all of them, but that’s part of life. I wanna get up now, and i choose to start again.
    Thank you also for you motivational writings..hope to tell you good news someday.

  15. Susan says:

    I am going to send you a million dollar thanks check!

    Great article! Keep it up!

  16. […] Nine Habits to Change Your Life – Here’s an older entry about some of my favorite personal habits. With one or two exceptions, I continue these today. […]

  17. Dan says:

    “That’s isn’t the point. ” – little typo there

  18. Russell says:

    Very interesting – I want to try this. I am new to the power of habits, but I think I can do this.

    Thanks.

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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