With each new job, relationship, habit, whatever, I consider learning in small steps. You didn’t come out of your mother’s womb knowing how to walk, let alone run, did you? First, she lay there, for months, before rolling over, then crawling, then getting up, before tottering a few steps and everyone around her cheering. You have goose eggs on your head and bruises on your knees, falls and trips for years to come, but eventually, you learned to walk and now you probably take for granted how much easier life makes for you.
The same slow and steady learning process can be applied to these life-changing microhabits as well. The trick to making a habit stick is to start now, start small, and above all, start overall.
Here are ten of my tried-and-true microhabits that will make you feel more organized and in control in a wildly unruly world.
1. Ask yourself: “What is the good that can be done?”
When I have the option of waiting a few seconds to hold the door open for someone, I do so. If I can spend an extra five minutes in Savasana, I take it. If my friend has been struggling with a difficult pregnancy, I reach out. Because? Because it is the good thing that can be done.
Getting things right is not about recognition; it is a reminder many times a day to do something kind for others and yourself, especially when no one is looking. You will condition your brain to think thoughtfully, no matter how small the action. Remember, though: if “good” takes advantage of you, your time, or your generosity, then it’s not good to begin with. Know your limits.
2. Enforce the one minute rule.
Credit to the happiness project author and very intelligent woman, Gretchen Rubin, for this rule of life. It’s easy: if a task takes less than a minute to complete, go ahead and do it right away. Recycle the junk mail, hang up your coat, reply to that text, close the silverware drawer, screw on the peanut butter lid.
It’s easy: if a task takes less than a minute to complete, go ahead and do it right away. Recycle the junk mail, hang up your coat, reply to that text, close the silverware drawer, screw on the peanut butter lid.
Most of these mundane tasks take just a few seconds, but when combined with each other, they can quickly feel overwhelming. “I’ll do it tomorrow” becomes another “I’ll do it tomorrow” and then “What’s one more day?” Do not even think about it. Do it now.
3. Add one more.
Include one more vegetable on your plate. Drink an extra glass of water each day. Learn one more phrase in Arabic. once those one more become part of your routine, consider adding, you know where this is going, one more.
4. Know how much money you have.
Knowledge is power, even if that knowledge reminds you how terrible your credit card debt is. Becoming financially secure and confident starts with having an accurate idea of how much money is in your accounts. Get in the habit of checking your accounts often, no matter what that means to you. Once you have a better idea of how much money you have, as well as how much you’re spending, you’ll make more informed decisions whenever you’re tempted to spend frivolously.
Keep in mind—and this is coming from someone with severe money anxiety! There’s a fine line between keeping tabs on your bills and obsessing over every penny. I’m the biggest cheerleader for financial education, but when the markets crashed this spring, I removed the shortcut to my financial advisor’s site from my browser and chose blissful ignorance over the stress of something I couldn’t do anything about. Understand what you can and can’t control, and focus your attention on what you can, like sneaking out an emergency fund or not buying that impractical overalls.
5. Write it down.
Do you really think you’ll remember that funny thing your kid said this morning at dinner, let alone a couple of decades from now? And why do we trust our brains, which have been through enough Lately, to remember exactly what we need at the grocery store to make that Alison Roman recipe?
Every time that little “I have to remember that” flag in your head starts waving, write it down right away. That could mean quotes, current ideas for the hard shoppers in your life, restaurants you want to visit on your next date night, or anything else you’re likely to forget. Make lists, lists, and more lists, either with a good old-fashioned pen and paper or in the Notes app on your phone.
6. Organize your calendar: weeks, months and, if applicable, years in advance.
Routinely taking time to organize your online calendar helps you see important events, like upcoming bills, birthdays, and events, weeks and months in advance, giving you signals to prepare.
On my Google calendar, bless that piece of internet gold, the green events indicate when scheduled payments come out of my bank accounts. Four times a year, additional green events remind me to pay my taxes quarterly, two weeks before they are due, so I have leeway to get my money in order. My yoga instructor’s birthday is written down every December 10 until 2023. There’s a work project I’m supposed to review in early summer, but I’d never remember it on my own; anything work related is color coded coral. I put oil changes on my calendar weeks before I need them, so I have them on my radar in case my schedule fills up and I need to push it back.
7. Bring one thing with you.
My nightstand would be stacked with a collection of water glasses, teacups, and kombucha bottles if I didn’t take one with me every time I went to the kitchen. When you find yourself with a free hand, ask yourself: “What can I take with me?” Apply this to a certain room, your office or your car, any area of your life that can quickly become overwhelmed with clutter.
8. Learn to prioritize your future self.
Sounds boring, right? It won’t be boring when you can retire early and laze on Spanish beaches all day because you’ve made decades of decisions to get there. On the other hand, a lifetime of living in the moment can be self-destructive and set you back in the long run with all varieties of health: physical, mental, relational, and financial.
Take a micro-moment to consider. What could be the consequences of having unprotected sex with him? I have to drive home, should I have one more drink? Do I buy these shoes or contribute to my IRA?
The good news is that sometimes the wild decision is what is best for your future self. Sometimes the 2:00 am frozen pizza is the option you think ahead to, if it helps keep you from having a hangover tomorrow. Learn your perfect, and probably ever-changing, balance between what you need now and what you’ll need in the future.
9. Being rejected more.
I was rejected no less than four times today. I didn’t feel good, per se, but I bounced back faster than the last four rejections. What is there to lose? Remember, the worst they can say, whoever they is, is not
If there’s one lesson I repeatedly learn, it’s that we have to ask for what we want in life. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t. But you have to ask.
If there’s one lesson I repeatedly learn, it’s that we have to ask for what we want in life. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t. But you have to ask. Whatever you want, career or relationship, get exposure therapy for rejection, microdoses of being told “no” over and over again. It will make the occasional “yes” even more satisfying.
10. Use frustrating moments to practice your patience.
We’ve all been there, in the cafeteria or at the bank, behind the seemingly slowest person in the world. In those moments, when there is nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no need to get irritated, I say to myself, “What a perfect time to practice your patience.”
Apply the phrase to frustrating moments as well, like when your potty-training toddler has an accident or you’re tempted to write a sarcastic work email. Take a few breaths. Look at your surroundings. Have some perspective. And, yes, practice your patience.
Megan is a writer, editor, etc-er who reflects on life, design, and travel for Domino, Lonny, Hunker, and more. Her rules of life include, but are not limited to: zipper when merging, tipping cash, and contributing to her IRA. Be a friend to her and sign up for her Night Vision newsletter or follow her on Instagram.