Frustrated! That’s exactly how I felt seven years ago. I was unhealthy, financially disorganized, disconnected from my spouse, and unfulfilled. I knew that things could get better but it seemed like such a big leap. Looking back, I now know that all it took was a series of small habits.
Today I can say that each year, my husband and I feel healthier than the previous year. We have very little financial or relationship stress. And despite the curveballs life throws our way, we’re pretty darn happy.
The changes we wanted to make in our lives became a reality. Not because we pushed hard and muscled through. Our lives changed because we shifted our focus from big impossible changes to small daily habits.
How does it feel when you tell yourself, I need to lose 50 pounds? Or I need to pay off $150,000 worth of debt? Just thinking about it makes my chest feel tight. I feel nervous, incapable, and overwhelmed.
Instead, what if you said, I’ll drink three liters of water and go for a walk each day? Or I’ll bring lunch to work and invite my friends over for happy hour instead of going out? Totally doable, right?
All big changes are made up of tiny habits. The moment you shift your mindset from the big daunting goal you’ll begin to feel less overwhelmed. Focusing on small daily habits will help you achieve your goals more quickly and ensure they are sustainable.
Here are the ten habits that have made the greatest impact on my journey to freedom. They’re small and take very little time out of your day. In fact, these habits might actually help you find more free time.
10 Habits to Create More Freedom in Your Life
1 – Gratitude
Gratitude is number one for a reason. This habit has changed my outlook on life and has made me happier.
On Valentine’s Day 2012, I started a new note in Evernote titled, Gratitude Journal. Each morning after brushing my teeth, I jumped on the elliptical machine and opened this note on my smartphone. I then wrote down at least three things I was grateful for.
The first thing I wrote down on that day was the first thing I listed today, my loving and supportive spouse. Yes, that’s right, I still use this habit today. It’s the very first thing I do. When my alarm goes off, I hit snooze and list everything that I am grateful for.
There’s no better way to start your day. It doesn’t matter how you do it. What matters is that you’re able to create the habit. Maybe you place a small journal next to your bed. Or go through it mentally while brushing your teeth. Just start doing it and watch your life change.
2 – Hydrate
Water is the cheapest and most underrated health food available. It’s the key to healthy skin. It helps fight fatigue and controls hunger.
A good rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces each day, more if you exercise. I like to track my water intake using a reusable bottle. It’s become so consistent that I can feel it when I don’t get my 96 ounces.
3 – Give
My favorite habit. Each day I create value by giving my time or resources to someone else, without expecting anything in return. It takes very little time and shifts the focus from myself to serving others. You can read more about it here.
4 – Play and Connect
I could easily work 16 hours a day. I like to stay busy and love the feeling of accomplishment. But more important than success and productivity is finding time to play and connect with my spouse.
Over the years we’ve found ways to do this that connect to other habits like giving, moving, and enjoying fresh food. Finding time to play and connect every day is an important part of achieving your goals long-term.
5 – Center
Whether you prefer meditation or prayer, finding a centering practice will change the course of your day. I’ve made it a part of the first hour of each day. It helps me let go and find clarity so that I can bring my best to everything I do.
Start small by setting aside five minutes to repeat a prayer or sit silently, focusing on your breath. There are many great resources for guided meditations. I personally like the guided meditations by Tara Brach.
6 – Move
Our bodies are not designed to sit at a desk all day. They’re designed to move and work. Neglecting our body’s design can take a serious toll.
Make a point to move every single day. You don’t need to be a gym rat to build a healthy body. A simple walk around the block after dinner or thirty minutes of yoga will change your body almost immediately.
7 – Fresh Food
Healthy eating is confusing. Should you go vegan or paleo or do a juice cleanse? Let me make it simple for you.
Our family motto is just eat real food.
Here’s a simple way to start. Commit to eating one serving of fresh food with each meal. Add a handful of berries to your morning oatmeal. Swap out the French fries for a side salad at lunch. Enjoy some fresh veggies as an afternoon snack or an orange after dinner. As you get used to the habit, you can add more fresh food to each meal.
8 – Learn
After finishing high school and college, it’s natural to want to take a break from studying. But not continuing to learn was one of the biggest mistakes I made. There has never been a better time in history to learn new knowledge and skills.
Make time each day to grow your mind. Read a new book, watch a TED Talk, listen to a podcast, take a class or attend a seminar. Nothing will move you to the next level more quickly than making time to learn.
9 – Disconnect
Find time to do the previous eight habits by turning off the noise and distractions. TV, social media, email, and notifications on our phones can take control of our day.
When I worked in the corporate world, I would spend long days in the office and feel like I wasted the entire day. Twelve hours in and I accomplished nothing. I decided to take control by logging out of messenger, closing my email, turning off my ringer and disabling notifications on my phone. When I did this, I found that I could accomplish all of my necessary tasks in a few hours.
This lesson has carried over into my personal life. I keep the notifications turned off on my phone and I’ve deleted most social media apps. We got rid of our TV and couldn’t be more pleased. Clearing the distractions has allowed us to focus on what’s most important and has brought with it a sense of peace.
10 – Rest
Our minds and bodies need seven to nine hours of sleep to function at their best. Lack of sleep can cause a host of problems and can shorten our lives. Create great bedtime habits to make sure you’re getting your share of rest. Turn off your screens, dial back the heat, make it extra dark, and stick to a schedule.
How to Make it Happen
Depending on where you are, this list might seem overwhelming. Pick one thing and start small. Create a routine by doing it at the same time each day. When you’re comfortable with that habit, expand on it or add another. The key is to make it sustainable so you can reap the benefits throughout the remainder of your life.
When I’m trying to build new habits, I find it very helpful to track them. I use an app called Coach.me. It’s free and easy to use.
Most people do better when they know someone is there to watch and support them. Find an accountability partner who will hold you accountable and catch you when you fall. If you can afford it, coaches are a fantastic way to accelerate your growth.
Be generous with grace toward yourself. You’re human and that’s what makes you amazing. You’re going to screw up. That’s how you learn. Love yourself enough to give yourself grace and keep moving forward.
Habits are the foundation of lasting change. These ten habits will help you make the most of your journey to freedom. They’ll bring you peace and happiness on a level you never thought possible. You don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to start.