With every new job, relationship, habit—you name it—I consider learning in baby steps. You didn’t pop out of your mother’s womb knowing how to walk, much less run, did you? First, you laid there, for months, before rolling over, then crawling, then pulling yourself up, before you wobbled a couple of steps and everyone around you cheered. You got goose eggs on your head and bruises on your knees, falling down and tripping for years to come, but eventually, you got the hang of walking and now you probably take for granted how much easier it makes your life.
The same slow and steady learning process can be applied to these life-changing micro-habits too. The trick to getting a habit to stick is starting now, starting small, and mostly just starting in general. Here are ten of my tried-and-true micro-habits that’ll have you feeling more organized and in control in a wildly unruly world.
1. Ask yourself, “What’s the nice thing to do?”
When I have the option to wait a few seconds to hold the door open for someone, I do. If I’m able to spend five extra minutes in savasana, I take it. If my friend’s been struggling with a difficult pregnancy, I check in. Why? Because it’s the nice thing to do.
Doing the nice thing is not about recognition; it’s a many-times-daily reminder to do the kind thing for both others and yourself, especially when no one is looking. You’ll condition your brain to think considerately, however small the deed. Remember though: If the “nice thing” takes advantage of you, your time, or your generosity, then it isn’t nice to begin with. Know your boundaries.
2. Enforce a one-minute rule.
Credit to The Happiness Project author and all-around very smart woman, Gretchen Rubin, for this life rule. It’s easy: If a task takes less than a minute to complete, encourage yourself to do it on the spot. Recycle the junk mail, hang up your coat, respond to that text, close the silverware drawer, screw the lid on the peanut butter.
It’s easy: If a task takes less than a minute to complete, encourage yourself to do it on the spot. Recycle the junk mail, hang up your coat, respond to that text, close the silverware drawer, screw the lid on the peanut butter.
Most of these mundane chores take mere seconds, but when compounded onto each other, they can quickly feel overwhelming. “I’ll do it tomorrow” turns into another “I’ll do it tomorrow” and then “What’s one more day?” Don’t even think about it. Do it now.
3. Add one more.
Include one more vegetable on your dinner plate. Drink one more glass of water each day. Learn one more phrase in Arabic. Once those one mores become a 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 awful your credit card debt is. Becoming financially secure and confident begins with consistently having an accurate idea of how much money is in your accounts. Make it a habit to check in on your accounts often, whatever that means for 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 every time you’re tempted to spend frivolously.
Keep in mind—and this comes from someone with severe money anxiety!—there’s a fine line between having a grip on your accounts and becoming obsessed with every penny. I’m the biggest cheerleader for financial literacy, but when the markets crashed this spring I deleted the shortcut to my financial advisor’s site from my browser and chose blissful ignorance over stress from something I couldn’t do anything about. Understand what you can and cannot control and focus your attention on what you can, such as squirreling away for an emergency fund or not buying that impractical jumpsuit.
5. Write it down.
Do you really think you’ll remember that funny thing your toddler said this morning by dinnertime, much less a couple decades from now? And why are we trusting our brains, which have been through enough lately, to remember exactly what we need at the grocery store to make that Alison Roman recipe?
Whenever that little flag in your head—the “I gotta remember that” one—starts waving, immediately write it down. That could mean quotes, present ideas for the hard-to-buy-for ones 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 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 carving out time to organize your online calendar helps you see important happenings, like upcoming bills, birthdays, and events, weeks and months in advance, signaling you to prepare.
In my Google calendar—bless that piece of Internet gold—green events indicate when scheduled payments are coming out of my banking accounts. Four times a year, additional green events remind me to pay my quarterly taxes—two weeks before they’re due, so I have wiggle room to get my money in order. My yoga instructor’s birthday is noted every December 10 through 2023. There’s a work project I’m supposed to check in about in early summer, but I’d never remember that on my own; anything work-related is color-coded coral. I plug oil changes in my calendar weeks before I need them, to get them on my radar in case my schedule fills up and I need to push it back.
7. Bring one thing with you.
My bedside table would become overrun with a collection of water glasses, tea mugs, and kombucha bottles if I didn’t take one with me each time I took a trip to the kitchen. When you find yourself with a free hand, ask yourself, “What can I bring 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, doesn’t it? It won’t be boring when you can retire early and lounge on Spanish beaches all day because you’ve made decades’ worth of decisions to get you there. On the other hand, a lifetime of living in the moment can be self-destructive and set you back long-term with all varieties of health: physical, mental, relationship, 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, sometimes the wild and crazy decision is what’s best for your future self. Sometimes the 2:00 a.m. frozen pizza is the future-thinking choice, if it’ll help you from being hungover tomorrow. Learn your perfect, and likely ever-changing, balance between what you need now and what you’re going to need in the future.
9. Get rejected more.
I was rejected no fewer than four times today. It didn’t feel good, per se, but I recovered faster than the last four rejections. What’s to lose? Remember, the worst they can say, whoever they is, is no.
If there’s one lesson I’m repeatedly learning, 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’m repeatedly learning, 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 it is you want, career or relationship-wise, subject yourself to exposure therapy for rejection, microdoses of being told “no” over and over. It’ll make the occasional “yes” all the more satisfying.
10. Use frustrating moments to practice your patience.
We’ve all been there, at the coffee shop or bank, behind the seemingly slowest person in the world. In those moments, when there’s nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no need to get riled up, I say to myself, “What a perfect time to practice your patience.”
Apply the phrase to frustrating moments too, such as when your potty-training toddler has an accident or you’re tempted to write a snarky work email. Take a few breaths. Notice your surroundings. Have some perspective. And, yes, practice your patience.