Each year, thousands of people set New Year's resolutions—to exercise, eat better, lose weight, save more money, enjoy their life more, etc.—but most will fail. Miserably and repeatedly. When I say "most," I mean 92%. According to Statistics Brain, only 8% of people will keep their New Year's resolutions!
But if you want to master your life, you want to master your habits. The reality of your daily life is the result of the habitual actions you take and decisions you make every day, and the better your habits, the better your life.
The truth is that the healthiest people, the happiest people, the most successful people aren't born differently than you! They just have better habits. They are doing more of the right things automatically and unconsciously, but you can do it, too! The only thing standing between you and the life you want are your habits—whether it's the good habits you want but don't have or the bad habits you have but don't want.
A habit is a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur unconsciously; these are actually a physiological process. There is neural wiring inside your brain that connects the beginning of an action to the end. If you're doing something new, all the neurons along this path are firing. It takes a lot of mental work. But then you do it again and again and again, and it gets easier and easier and fewer and fewer neurons fire. When something is a habit, just the neurons at beginning and the end of the task fire. The bulk of the action is on autopilot—freeing up all that mental activity. You've experienced this process in your life—like when you learned how to drive. I learned how to drive on a stick shift, and not only did I have to pay attention to the lights and the signs and the other drivers, but I was also learning how to press in the clutch, put the car in gear, and then step on the gas while releasing the clutch with the right pressure. It was stressful and overwhelming in the beginning. But now? Have you ever gotten in your car in your driveway and arrived at your destination thinking, "How did I get here? I hope I stopped at every stop light, because I don’t even remember driving!" That's the habit creation process. When driving becomes a habit, you don't have to pay very close attention. Only the neurons at the beginning and the end had to fire, and in the meantime, you can think about what you have to get from the grocery store and what phone calls you need to make when you get into the office.
Habits are incredibly powerful tools for productivity and living your best life. Some things you have to think about and some you don't. Stop thinking about those things you don't need to think about: the exercising, the eating right, the spending quality time with your family. Let those become like brushing your teeth in the morning. Let those important things happen automatically, and you have more time and energy left over for your work or your family or your hobbies—whatever is important to you.
There are 7 foundational habits, and when these habits become part of your life, your life will naturally unfold as a life that is good for you and good for others. Some of these habits are about you taking care of you. That's because you are the foundation, and that foundation needs to be strong and solid. When your cup is full you can show up at home and at the office with the physical energy and mental resources you need to reach your personal and professional goals.
While taking care of yourself is critical, so is taking care of others. One of your deepest human needs is to make a contribution. At the end of your life, you're going to look back and ask, "Did my life matter?" And you can answer that question with a resounding "Yes!" when you have deep relationships with family and friends and when you've improved the lives of the people in your community and in the world. And when your cup is full because you've given to yourself what you need, you actually have more to give to others. Your best life happens when you balance giving to yourself and giving to others, and that's why I call them the Generosity Habits.
Here are the 7 Generosity Habits you want to make a part of your daily life in 2017.
- Habit: Physical Health.
When you have good physical health you have more mental, emotional, and physical capacity to be generous with others. Even if that wasn't true, physical health is still fundamental, because it is an act of generosity to yourself. When you love yourself, you take care of your physical health.
And because I know how many people are so hard on themselves about how much they weigh, I have to define what good physical health is and is not. Good physical health is being physically active every single day, eating foods that are good for you, sleeping well, and drinking enough water.
Good physical health is NOT being skinny. You are not your weight. How much you weigh measures one thing: the amount of gravity exerted on your body. That's it. It doesn't tell you if you're healthy. It doesn't tell if you are a good person or a bad person. It doesn't tell you how much willpower you have. And you need to know that your weight is not just affected by food and exercise but also by genetic, biological, and digestive behaviors you have little to no control over.
You focus on what you can control: being physically active, choosing good food, drinking plenty of water, and getting a good night's sleep. Those are habit you can do.
- Habit: Mindfulness.
Mindfulness is noticing each thought, feeling, body sensation, and surrounding environment in the moment as you're experiencing it without judging it as good or bad. It can include meditation, but it's much much more than that.
Over the last couple decades, scientific study reveals that mindfulness boosts your immune system, increases positive emotions, decreases depression and anxiety, grows additional gray matter inside your brain, improves your ability to focus and complete tasks, fosters compassion and altruism, and enhances relationships and feelings of intimacy.
Mindfulness is fundamental. Any habit you want to create or task you want to complete becomes easier as you spend more and more time being mindful.
- Habit: Connect With Others.
Meaningful and deep relationships with other people are directly associated with greater physical and mental well-being. Relationship habits like being a good listener, greeting your partner with your full attention, and treating them with respect are critical habits for maintaining quality relationships.
- Habit: Connect With Yourself.
One of your most important relationships is the one you have with yourself. The right habits help you know and honor ALL of who you are. To name a few, that includes your good, your bad, your ugly, your sad, your angry, your vulnerable, and your joyful. The right habits help you nurture your spirituality. And all of that means that you’ll feel more confident, enjoy your life more, and feel more peace and happiness. Your relationship with yourself forms the foundation from which you have relationships with others, so make a habit of Connecting with Yourself on a regular basis.
- Habit: Gratitude.
Gratitude is a keystone habit whose good effects cascade through your life improving nearly every area: physical, emotional, spiritual, professional, and personal relationships. You name it, gratitude helps.
University of California, Berkley, has documented the impact of gratitude on people's lives in hundreds of studies. They conclude that gratitude is one of the most reliable methods for increasing happiness and life satisfaction; it boosts feelings of optimism, joy, pleasure, and enthusiasm. It reduces anxiety and depression, strengthens the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces symptoms of illness, and makes us less bothered by aches and pains. Gratitude makes people more resilient and helps people recover from traumatic events, and PTSD. It encourages us to exercise more and take better care of our health. Grateful people get more hours of sleep each night, spend less time awake before falling asleep, and feel more refreshed upon awakening.
- Habit: Simplicity.
Simplicity is one of the essential 7 habits because simplicity makes room for what is important in your life. When your mind, your schedule, and your home are cluttered, spending time and energy on what's most important to you is more difficult to do because it is more difficult to see. Or you're diffusing time and energy among too many interests and responsibilities and reducing your impact.
Simplicity isn't about not being busy, it's about being busy on the things that are important to you, that bring you joy and happiness, that help you reach your goals and letting go of everything else.
- Habit: Philanthropy.
Philanthropy is where the rubber meets the road. It's where the tongue in your mouth lines up with the tongue in your shoe. If you want to make the world a better place, then you have to DO SOMETHING about it. Philanthropy is you doing something about what you believe so that the world will be a better place. Whether you're giving time or money, there is no such thing as a small donation, and it does make a difference when it's done thoughtfully and intentionally.
Those are the 7 Generosity Habits. If you take care of your physical health, practice mindfulness, connect with others and yourself, express gratitude, practice simplicity, and give time and money to causes you care about, your life will naturally unfold as a generous life that is good for you and good for others.
To transform these from a good intention into something you do every day without thinking about it, then listen closely to this secret… Repetition is the mother of habit. If you can create a bad habit, you can create a good habit. Habits are agnostic. Whether the action you're taking is good for you or bad for you, they form the same way. As you repeat an action over and over the neural pathways in the brain get deeper and deeper, allowing fewer and fewer neurons to fire in order to complete the task—which means it becomes easier to do. The easier it becomes, the more likely you are to do it—which in turn again deepens those neural pathways, making it even easier to do. Habits are just reinforced patterns of behavior we've become accustomed to, and that's why willpower isn't sufficient. Creating new neural pathways takes longer than your willpower and motivation can last.
365 Ways to Live Generously: Simple Habits for a Life That's Good for You and for Others was designed to help you take those repetitive actions to make a habit of the thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that will serve your greatest good and help you live your best life.