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The 7 Habits That Changed My Life

7 Life-Changing Habits | The Bold+Balanced Life by Alex Benkast

“You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily.”― John C. Maxwell

Here are the 7 habits that changed my life:

1. Taking responsibility for my life rather than finding excuses.

Making changes is uncomfortable. At least in the beginning. But the truth is, you won’t make progress sitting on your butt feeling sorry for yourself. When I had to get clear about the kind of people I want to coach one-on-one, I knew right away that it has to be someone who is willing to dig for the root causes rather than applying band-aid solutions. You can’t change your life if you aren’t willing to put in the work.

I hear so many people complain about the same problems over and over, but then they don’t take the steps necessary to improve their situation. And the excuse I hear the most is “I don’t have time” (this link takes you to a post that shows you how to have more time). Something I also do regularly is to look at examples of people who overcame great obstacles. One such example is the story of Tasha, an immigrant teen mom who after years of hard work built a 6-figure business.

At the end of the day, I ask myself: “Did I choose courage over comfort today?” As cliche as it sounds, life really does begin at the end of your comfort zone. The more you push through the initial discomfort, the more your confidence grows, and the easier it will get.

2. Limiting my exposure to advertisements, news, television, and social media.

This habit started transforming my life as a teenager when comparing ourselves to others is probably the most damaging to our self-worth. My parents, to this day, mute the television when the program gets interrupted for advertising. I started out the same way, but when I turned 23, I decided I’d be better off without television. To this day, the only thing I watch occasionally is Netflix (and 80% of the time it’s stand-up comedy).

I graduated high school in the summer of 9/11, and that was also the year I decided I would no longer watch (or read) the news daily. This constant state of alarm drove me crazy. For a while, I didn’t want to have kids because I didn’t want them to grow up in a world like this. The same goes for social media—it’s best enjoyed in moderation. And even if you severely limit your exposure to the news, I promise you, you’ll still be aware of what’s going on in the world.

At the very least, I recommend striving for the 5:1 ratio. Science suggests that it takes 5 positives to cancel out 1 negative. A good way to achieve this balance is to read or listen to uplifting books or podcasts (or check out the site Upworthy for news and stories that restore faith in humanity). A daily dose of laughter is also high up on my to-do list.

3. Choosing to walk whenever I can.

Admittedly, because I don’t drive, starting this habit didn’t take much effort on my part. I simply have to walk or bike everywhere or I’m stuck at home. (I’m living proof that one can get by without a car in the US, and I live in the suburbs now where public transportation is almost nonexistent). There are two major benefits to walking whenever you can. 1.) It keeps you fit—and young. And 2.) It’s a great way to clear your head.

“Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”—Edward Stanley

I strongly believe (and science backs this up) that movement, especially outside, can help cure a lot of ailments. I’m by no means an athletic person and I’m not a fan of diets, but walking (and dancing for fun) has kept me in shape all my life. It keeps me young and healthy both physically and mentally.

Walking, to me, is also a form of meditation. It keeps my mind from spinning out of control. And at the same time, it spurs my creativity. I conceived so many ideas for my novels while I was on my 45-minute walk to work when I still lived in San Francisco. These days, I use my (combined 45-minute) walk to drop off and pick up my kid from preschool to educate myself about how to start and build my business.

4. Prioritizing self-care.

As someone recovering from burnout, it’s a must for me to make time for things that restore my energy. I’ve been practicing mindfulness daily, even if it’s just a two-minute meditation. If I don’t do this, I get frustrated with everyone and everything. Making self-care a priority has improved my relationships and my health tremendously.

Practicing gratitude is probably my biggest happiness booster. No matter how crappy or exhausting my day was, if I intentionally shift my focus to find just one little thing to be thankful for, it comforts me. Alternatively, you can try reading a few pages of the classic Chicken Soup for the Soul before you go to sleep.

I’m also a big advocate of journaling. I started it when I was an angsty nine-year-old suffering from epilepsy. To this day, there’s nothing more cathartic to me than writing and making art. Honestly, in my darkest days, it’s the thing that has kept me alive.

5. Being a lifelong learner.

It’s my mission to learn something new every day for as long as I live. I think that’s one of the best things about being human. We have a myriad of things to explore and discover. I get excited just thinking about all the possibilities. All the places I want to see. The people I want to meet. The things I want to try. We need obstacles and adventures to grow and feel alive.

I really make an effort to cultivate a growth mindset in all areas of my life. A growth mindset means believing that I can develop my most basic abilities through hard work. Research suggests having a growth mindset promotes courage, persistence, and higher self-esteem. The most important part for me has been—and still is—to rethink failure.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”—Samuel Beckett

6. Getting up early.

The happiest I’ve ever been was at 5 in the morning, watching the sun rise over San Francisco while I was writing my first novel. There’s something magical about the early morning hours. The colors, the quiet. Peaceful and refreshing. If I didn’t have an unpredictable toddler, I’d still get up at that hour. Regardless, I get up between 6 and 7 AM, even on weekends. When I was younger I had no problems staying up late and getting up early, but these days, I definitely need to make sure I’m in bed by 10 PM to get about 8 hours of restorative sleep.

My biggest reason for getting up early is that it sets me up for a productive and less hectic day. Especially as a parent, it’s a juggling act to make sure everyone gets out of the house on time without meltdowns or shouting matches. I’m much more likely to succeed if I give myself enough time. Even if you’re living on your own, starting your day without rushing will put you in a better mood. Which in most cases makes for a better day.

I also recommend Hal Elrold’s The Miracle Morning or, if you’re short on time, the article “10 Benefits of Rising Early, and How to Do It” by Leo Babauta.

7. Getting organized.

I recently came across a book called It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys and thought that phrase basically sums up my life’s journey up until this point. Because getting organized had such a profound impact on my life, I made it my mission to help people break free from physical and mental clutter.* I truly believe that getting organized is paramount to being able to relax, focus, and get things done. Plus, it frees up time to spend on the things that truly matter to us.

If you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed and need help in this area, I created a How to Get Organized blog post series (see links below) to get you started. I also offer live workshops (both online and in person), as well as one-on-one coaching for those who need more guidance or custom solutions.

Are any of these habits part of your life? Feel free to share your own life-changing habits in the comment section below.

*I grew up in a house so full of stuff that it felt suffocating at times. My method of organizing back then was to create piles and cover them with a blanket. Whenever I tried to get dressed, an avalanche of clothes fell out of my closet. I always said my room reflected my state of mind. But even on days when I got it to resemble some form of order, it never lasted for long.
Then, as a teenager, I stumbled upon an audiobook called Simplify Your Life (I wish I could find it again and tell you the author’s name. I only remember that it was a woman). It was eye-opening. For the first time, I became aware that I had too much stuff and that it was part of why I felt so stuck and overwhelmed. Still, it took me until 2016 when I was pregnant and “nesting” that I started getting truly organized. During that time I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and became obsessed with the YouTube channel Clutterbug and Real-life Organizing. I’ve been helping family members and friends get organized over the years, and enjoyed it so much that I kept thinking I wish I could do this for a living. So I got certified in late 2018 and starting this month, I hope to make a real difference in my local community and online.

Image: Nadi Whatisdelirium