A habit is a behaviour that has been repeated enough times to become automatic. A mental shortcut learned from experience, if you will. As behavioural scientist Jason Hreha shares, “Habits are, simply, reliable solutions to recurring problems in our environment.”
As habits are created, the level of activity in the brain decreases. We learn to lock in on the cues that predict success and tune everything else out. Our brains skip the process of trial and error and create mental rules or cognitive scripts that can be followed automatically whenever the situation is appropriate.
The ultimate purpose of habits is to solve the problems of life with as little energy and effort as possible. Contrary to popular belief, positive daily habits don’t restrict freedom – they create it.
“Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement,” shares Clear. Your habits can compound for or against you. Making a choice that is incrementally better or worse may seem insignificant in the moment, but it is these moments that make up a lifetime and bridge the gap between who you are and who you could be. Success is the product of daily habits, rather than dramatic and sporadic transformations.
It’s important to remember that small changes can appear to make no difference… until you cross a critical threshold. The most powerful outcomes of any compounding process are delayed, and it pays to be patient.
We’ve round up some tried-and-tested positive habits for improving the quality of your day and life…
*Choose your filters
*Set goals to support your intentions
*Do one thing at a time
*Visualise the best possible outcome
*Practice mindful moments
*Sleep the good sleep
Choose Your Filters
We’re each living through the lens of our own private reality – one that is shaped by our automatic system’s attempts at allocating our attention to the right thing. We experience an incomplete, subjective version of reality – one that may not serve us. We can’t switch off our automatic system’s filtering function (it is, after all, automatic), but we can adjust the settings by being more proactive in defining our perceptual filters.
We consciously notice only a small selection of what’s actually happening around us, and filter out the rest. What we mentally file as important is strongly influenced by our assumptions about ourselves and the world.
In How to Have a Good Day (Macmillan, 2016), Webb suggests taking some time to consciously set our filters each day by defining our AIM, ASSUMPTIONS, ATTITUDE and ATTENTION.
Think about what’s most important to you on any given day. What do you most want to achieve? What matters most to you right now?
*Sample exercise: “What really matters to me today is to help my team get off to a strong start with our new clients.”
Notice and acknowledge the concerns that are dominating your thoughts and mood. Are they standing between you and your aim?
*Sample exercise: “I admit that I’m feeling grumpy and tired right now, and not necessarily in the mood to inspire others. I am irritated by the way the project is set up, and uncertain of its success.”
Where do you want to consciously focus your attention to override your default attitude and achieve your aim?
*Sample exercise: “I can decide to set my irritation aside and consciously look for opportunities to help the team gel by highlighting common ground in our ideas. I choose to look for chances to inject warmth into the meeting.”
Set behavioural goals to support your intentions
Now that you’ve chosen the most beneficial filter through which to view your ‘reality’, it’s time to define the behaviours that will support it. What tangible actions can you take to this end?
WEBB’S GOAL-SETTING TIPS
*Make sure your goals are about doing desirable things, rather than avoiding bad things. If they’re negative, consciously turn them around.
*Break your goals down into more manageable, bite-sized chunks.
*Create a ‘brain-friendly’ to-do list…
> Write your goals down.
> Keep only today’s tasks in view.
> Make it satisfying to check off your goals.
> Be realistic about what you can accomplish in a day.
Do one thing at a time
MASTER THE ART OF SINGLETASKING
Webb suggests that you can work fewer hours, and less hard during those hours, by batching your tasks more effectively. Practise grouping together similar tasks so you spend less time and energy switching between different types of activities. For example, you could batch together in-depth thinking or creative work; responding to messages and e-mails; meetings; personal projects and administrative tasks. Once you’ve batched your tasks, identify uninterrupted blocks of time for each. Turn off alerts to remove distractions, and take brief breaks to refresh your mind between the different task zones.
We tend to think that we can increase our productivity by doing several things at once. Yet research shows that multitasking damages our output and efficiency. Trying to do more than one thing at once not only slows us down, but causes us to make more mistakes. We feel busier, but we are actually doing less, and doing it less well.
Studies at the Human Information Processing Laboratory at Vanderbilt University have shown that people doing two tasks simultaneously took up to 30% longer and made twice as many errors as those who completed the same tasks in sequence. These findings have been replicated time and again by other scientists.
Visualise the best possible outcome
“Visualisation is daydreaming with a purpose.” Bo Bennett
Research shows that everyone from surgeons and business executives to musicians and athletes can successfully use visualisation to focus and improve their performance. Scientists believe that we may experience real-world and imaginary actions in similar ways. Whether we hike up a mountain or only picture it, we activate many of the same neural networks - paths of interconnected nerve cells that link what your body does to the brain impulses that control it.
*Take a moment to visualise the most important part of your day going exactly as you hope. How will it look and feel? How will you look and feel?
Practice Mindful Moments
“Each moment is all we need.” Mother Teresa
While mindfulness may seem like an intangible concept, it is really just the act of being aware of your body, breath, thoughts and surroundings in the present moment. Developing greater awareness can open us to seeing how the mind becomes entangled in its own attachments and aversions. Mindfulness can help us see, with greater clarity, how we can approach our moment-to-moment experience more skilfully, taking more pleasure in the good that often goes unnoticed, and dealing more effectively with the difficulties we encounter (both real and imagined). The more you practise, the easier it becomes.
A SIMPLE MINDFULNESS EXERCISE
* PAUSE for a moment.
* FOCUS on something with all your attention.
* RETURN your attention to your point of focus without judging yourself when it drifts away.
In addition to injecting spontaneous moments of mindfulness into your daily life, try a formal meditation practice to help foster a more direct experience of your own mind.
Meditation can be seen as a form of mental springcleaning. It rests and relaxes the mind, develops powers of concentration and awareness, helps us deal with daily challenges with greater equanimity, and supports us in moving through life more effectively and efficiently.
Meditation is fundamentally about attention. The meditator identifies what to watch, then observes it steadily throughout the meditation session. Anything can be the object of this watching. The sights, sounds and smells of the environment, the body, the breath and thoughts themselves are all popular ‘anchors of attention’.
There are countless different forms of meditation. Have fun exploring which resonates most with you.
MEDITATION TO BECOME CONSCIOUS OF THE MIND
*Sit comfortably with your back upright, close your eyes and turn your attention to your thoughts. Don’t try to think of anything in particular. Just watch what arises.
*Don’t attach to any of these thoughts – whether pleasant or unpleasant. Don’t interfere with or judge them. Simply watch them come and go, as you would a river flowing under a bridge.
*Continue the meditation for five minutes, or longer if you wish.
As highlighted by popular breathwork teacher Dan Brule, breathing is the only system in the body that is both automatic and also under our control. It is “an invitation, an opportunity to take part in our own nature and evolution.”
There are details in the way you breathe that you have probably never observed and explored, and these can act as doorways that lead you to new and profound abilities. “Mastering the breath is a major skill if you want to become a high-performing individual and enhance every aspect of your life,” shares Brule.
According to medical doctor and Breathe (Jacana, 2018) author Dr. Ela Manga, OPTIMUM BREATHING is:
OPEN AND FLOWING
If you watch a sleeping baby, you will see how her breaths occur in a smooth and gentle rhythm, and are accompanied by a rise and fall of her belly.
Ideally, the breath adapts to our emotional state and environment in a way that supports our energy instead of depleting it. In times of high demand such as exercise, the breath deepens and the rate intensifies to meet the metabolic demands of the experience. Once the situation has been dealt with, the body should return to its resting state and the breathing should respond by softening and opening up to a natural gentle flow. Then the body’s selfregulating mechanisms remain intact and untainted by poor posture, stress, emotional baggage and negative thinking.
RIGHT UNDER THE NOSE
The nose has the perfect architecture to facilitate the delivery of prepared air to the delicate tissue of the lungs. Its aerodynamic design spirals and slows down the inhaled air so that it has enough time to be filtered, warmed and humidified by the mucous membrane in the respiratory tract. Habitual and unconscious mouth breathing at rest is a dysfunctional pattern as this whole mechanism of nasal breathing is bypassed and one becomes susceptible to respiratory infections.
LOW AND SLOW
A maximum healthy respiratory rate is between 10 and 14 breaths per minute at rest. Work on a breathing technique where you are consciously slowing your breath, imagining that you are breathing from and sending the breaths deep into the pelvis. Consciously training low and slow breathing will reset your breathing to a naturally slow rhythm.
CONSCIOUS BREATHING EXERCISE
*Sit comfortably, close your eyes and gently place your hands on your belly.
*Breathe in for a count of five seconds, and out for a count of five seconds. Spend some time settling into this rhythm, making it as smooth and steady as possible.
INHALE, 2, 3, 4, 5
EXHALE, 2, 3, 4, 5
INHALE, 2, 3, 4, 5
EXHALE, 2, 3, 4, 5
*Repeat for five minutes, and observe how your body and mind feel when you gently open your eyes.
Embracing a state of gratitude means shifting from an emphasis on what we think we want or need to expressing appreciation for what we already have. An important aspect of positive psychology, it can affect significant improvements in the way we view ourselves and the world, as well as better enable us to attract and manifest what we do still want.
People who regularly practise gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect on the things they’re thankful for report experiencing more positive emotions, feeling ‘more alive’, sleeping better, expressing more compassion and kindness, and even having stronger immune systems.
SIMPLE GRATITUDE PRACTICES
* Keep a gratitude journal.
* Download a gratitude app (we love My Gratitude Journal, 365 Gratitude and Grateful: A Gratitude Journal).
* Make a ritual of sharing what you’re grateful for with your loved ones at the end of each day.
We were made to move. Many researchers believe that humans, for most of our history, walked almost 25 km a day – hunting, gathering and escaping predators. What happens when you take humans designed for almost constant movement and sit them in a chair in front of a computer for nine hours each day? Chronic pain, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, anxiety, insomnia and more.
Even moderate exercise - 30 minutes three times weekly - has tremendous health benefit. Research at Bristol University has shown exercise to boost people’s mood and motivation by 41% and their ability to deal with stress by 27%. It increases blood flow to the brain, and stimulates the release of the neurotransmitters dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin, which serve to boost our interest, alertness and enjoyment.
This is movement that increases your heart rate and breathing. The word ‘aerobic’ means ‘with oxygen’, and during sustained aerobic exercise your body is able to increase its oxygen consumption to supply oxygen to the muscle cells.
Try some aerobic exercise:
* Aerobics classes
* Cardio machines
Enjoy the benefits:
* Reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, vascular disease and cancer
* Elevated mood
* Enhanced libido and sexual ability
* Better sleep
* More effective weight loss
* Improvement in respiratory conditions
Strength building happens when you use your muscles to do a task that increases your strength over time. It’s particularly important as we age, as we progressively lose muscle mass and strength as the years tick on.
Try some strength training:
* Rope climbing
* Super circuit
Enjoy the benefits:
* Increased metabolic rate
* Enhanced sports performance
* Development of core musculature
* Improved bone density
FLEXIBILITY AND BALANCE TRAINING
This type of movement is vital to being and staying youthful, as both flexibility and balance tend to deteriorate with age.
Try some flexibility and strength training:
* Tai chi
Enjoy the benefits:
* Improved performance in other athletic endeavours
* Prevention of injury
* Alleviation of chronic pain
We all know how terrible we can feel when we don’t get enough quality shut-eye. Aside from the obvious physical challenges, a sleep-deprived brain actually devotes less blood to the prefrontal cortex, making it hard for us to respond intelligently to the unexpected, think up new ideas, or stay calm under stress. Our ability to remember and learn anything new becomes stunted, as sleep is central to the brain’s ability to convert the day’s experiences into long-term memories.
We move through several sleep cycles that last 90 to 120 minutes each. These consist of periods of light, deep and REM sleep. Each type of sleep plays a slightly different role in helping us process our experience of the world: reviewing the day’s events, recalling the things we’ve learned, reinforcing neural pathways around new information and more.
DIET AND LIFESTYLE FACTORS THAT MAY BE PREVENTING YOU FROM GETTING A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP
*Caffeine in the afternoon *Alcohol *Refined sugar *Stress and anxiety *Hormonal imbalance *Exercise at night *A noisy, bright or hot bedroom *Screen time before bed *Thyroid medication *Fat-burning supplements
*Do whatever you need to get into bed at a decent time (say, 10 pm) so that you can sleep for at least seven to eight hours.
*Develop a sleep routine, going to bed and waking up at the same time whenever possible.
*Expose yourself to as little light as possible before bedtime. Try not to use your phone as an alarm so you reduce the temptation to look at the screen. If you read e-books, use a device that’s shielded to reduce glare and diffuse light.
*Develop a bedtime ritual – a pattern of activity (for example restorative yoga and/or meditation) that your brain comes to associate with the signal to sleep.
*Speak to a health practitioner about supplements that may help you sleep.
The nutritional field is varied and vast, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. We explore a few of the many different ways to clean up your diet elsewhere in this edition. For the purposes of our daily habits overview, here are a few foundational principles that can serve us all well…
BASIC CLEAN EATING GUIDELINES
*Fast food restaurants, deep-fried foods, sweets and soft drinks
*Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils (often found in margarine, crackers, crisps, packaged baked goods and bagged and boxed snacks)
*High-fructose corn syrup (present in most soft drinks and packaged desserts)
*Sweeteners such as saccharin, aspartame and sucralose
*Processed foods, including commercially prepared and packaged foods with artificial flavours, colouring, preservatives, salt and sugar
*Foods grown or raised without pesticides, hormones or antibiotics wherever possible
*Non-organic dairy and meat
*Organic produce whenever possible, avoiding the non-organic produce with the highest pesticide content
*Five to 10 servings of fruit and veg daily, with an emphasis on green, red and orange vegetables. Go crazy with the leafy greens!
*Protein with every meal