Aside from keystone habits (habits that make other habits easier) like good sleep and exercise, there’s no one habit to rule them all.
A fulfilling life typically consists of a number of healthy routines and practices. I do enjoy giving out tips and tricks on my favorites, but here’s one I often forget about:
Start your mornings without looking at your phone.
The mornings should be about control. They’re your time to take charge and set the stage for the day.
If I have a sluggish and lazy morning, the rest of my day is sure to follow suit.
And nothing pulls me out of the driver seat like looking at my phone right when I wake up.
You never know what you’ll see in your messages or on social media that will pull you away from the present moment. You could get stressed. You could get pissed off. Hell, maybe nothing will happen.
But that’s the point. Checking your phone is like pulling on a slot machine; it comes with infinite uncertainty. And uncertainty is not the best way to start the day.
I’m not saying you should neglect your obligations. But consider taking an intentional pause before you dive right into them.
Taking just 10 or 20 minutes to drink water, make some coffee, or do some stretches will do wonders for your mindset and your ability to have a productive day.
Your emails and notifications aren’t going anywhere.
I go the first hour or two with my phone on airplane mode each morning. I work for myself, so I know that’s unreasonable to ask of most people.
I’m also aware that some folks have wild schedules, families, and jobs where they are basically on-call.
But if you can’t take 10 mindful minutes out of your morning to pause before you start your day, then you are the person who most needs this in their life.
Last night, I made a game-time decision to drive up to Philly to beat the snow and visit my friends for the weekend.
Three short lessons and I’ll have you back to the rest of your day:
1. Before you pack up the car, write a list of every item you want to bring on paper or in your Notes on your phone.
As you put items in the car, cross them out or delete them. This may feel tedious at the time, but it’s the only way to ensure you remember 100% of what you want to take (leaving or returning).
The same thing is true when you go grocery shopping. When I shop without a list, I always come back with more donuts than anticipated.
I made a list for this last-minute trip, but it was too vague. I wrote ‘Work Stuff,’ so I brought my laptop and notebooks. But I forgot my mouse and keyboard.
I’ll be fine without them, but taking six seconds to write those things down would’ve saved me the inconvenience.
2. Visit your damn friends.
There are only so many opportunities to spend memorable, quality time with the people you care about. Take advantage of them.
Take the long weekend. Buy the plane ticket. Pack the car.
It’s always worth it.
3. Have conversations with your friends with no phones in the room.
And old friend told me years ago, “When you’re with someone and they have their phone out in front of them face up, it’s basically a big fuck you.”
Some of you might get defensive when you hear this, but it’s true. It tells the person that they are not the priority. It says, I’ll give you my attention until I get a notification.
Look around the dinner table and see how many people have their phones out.
Unless you’re waiting to hear back about your brother in the hospital, put your fucking phone away when you’re spending quality time with friends. A few dives into your phone can completely upend a conversation.
Last night, the three of us sat and talked and caught up for three hours. Not one of us looked at our phones. It can sound corny, but this meant our only option was to look at each other and actively listen to everything that was being said.
99% of the time, you don’t need your phone.
Put it away. Keep it in your coat pocket. Hell, leave it in your car.
Something resonated with me as I finished another chapter in the final book of the series: The Deathly Hallows.
Harry, Ron, and Hermoine have just completed a suspenseful, dangerous mission. Their goal was to steal a Horcrux: a locket containing a piece of Voldemort’s soul, the story’s antagonist.
After barely making it out alive with the Horcrux, they set up camp to plot their next move. Harry’s emotions at this moment provide a valuable lesson.
“He had thought that he would feel elated if they managed to steal back the Horcrux, but somehow he did not; all he felt as he sat looking out at the darkness, of which his wand lit only a tiny part, was worry about what would happen next. It was as though he had been hurtling toward this point for weeks, months, maybe even years, but now he had come to an abrupt halt, run out of road.
There were other Horcruxes out there somewhere, but he did not have the faintest idea where they could be. He did not even know what all of them were. Meanwhile he was at a loss to know how to destroy the only one they had found, the Horcrux that currently lay against the bare flesh of his chest.”
In other words, you can accomplish your biggest, baddest goal…solve the most complicated problem on your plate right now…and the only guarantee is that you’ll now have different problems to solve.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t pursue your goals. The point is to step away from the mindset that “Once I do or accomplish x, then I’ll be good.”
But you’re never “good.” You can certainly be better, but the work never stops.
If you win an Oscar—regardless of the euphoria and elation you feel giving your acceptance speech in front of the all-stars of Hollywood—eventually, your speech will end and you’ll be escorted offstage. You’ll give a few interviews, chat it up with Leo or Meryl, and go home.
The feeling of being an Oscar winner will surely stay with you for a short while, but for how long?
Soon you’ll have to find your next role. You’ll have to parent your kids. You’ll have to get back into your exercise routine. Life doesn’t just stop when you achieve something brilliant. Cancer or stress or relationships…these things don’t give a shit about your little golden trophy.
When we put all of our self-worth into accomplishing certain things, we feel a natural ache as that good feeling dissipates.
There’s a way around this.
If instead, you become fully aware and prepared for the short-term nature of these victories, you will be able to appreciate them and move on.
I doubt you’ll be hunting down jewelry with your enemy’s soul in it any time soon. But consider this the next time you put a ton of value in accomplishing something.
Appreciate buying a house. Then, prepare yourself for the HOA, mortgage adjustments, renovations…
Appreciate your new job. Then, prepare yourself for new coworkers, a new routine, different responsibilities…
Appreciate your increased income. Then, prepare yourself for taxes, lifestyle creep, greed…
The problems never stop. They just lead to different problems. Keep solving them.
Fiction books and sitcoms are lovely. But they end at the resolution. They never show us what happens after.
Once Harry defeats Voldemort, I reckon he’ll need to find a job.
I almost killed a guy yesterday.
Well, not really. But I thought about it.
It was just one of the numerous negative thoughts boiling in my head as I was driving around. Running on just five hours of sleep, I was truly the worst version of myself. That’s when I realized:
How many of us are out and about in the world–sleep deprived, groggy, improperly fed–interacting as a shitty version of ourselves?
Let me explain.
After I caught myself contemplating running over that dude (To be fair, it was a biker on a narrow, winding road–How dare he?), I finished up my errands and went to the gym.
Despite wanting to just go home and lay down, I dragged myself through an intense workout. Without fail, I walked out feeling almost high with endorphins. There was a smile on my big, dumb face and as cheesy as it sounds…I felt like myself again.
It was as if I woke up from the Matrix. The thought of bringing harm to another person (even one of those damn bikers) was anathema. When I stopped by the store for a protein bar, I had this incessant urge to compliment people through my mask. I said I liked this dude’s Red Hot Chili Peppers shirt. He and his wife laughed. He said, “Ah, thanks man!”
I tell this story to highlight two key things:
1) I don’t care how many times you’ve heard it before. Every single one of us needs to get good sleep and exercise regularly.
I understand people’s frustration in having this preached at them. These are two simple practices, but they require a series of difficult habit-changes. It’s not as simple as: “I’ll just get better sleep,” or, “I’ll start exercising regularly.”
If it were that easy, we’d all be the best versions of ourselves.
The hardest part of doing either of these is getting over what I call the habit void.
When you’re trying to do something that’s good for you, the habit void is the uncomfortable stretch of time where it just sucks and you’re seeing zero benefit.
The first month at the gym is sweaty, insecure, and exhausting. Once over the habit void, the sixth month at the gym is fluid, exciting, and energizing.
The first week of going to bed earlier is restless, frustrating, and stressful. Once over the habit void, the fourth week of going to bed earlier is relaxing, peaceful, and fueling.
We can justify and make excuses all we want. Whether you like it or not, sleep and exercise are two things you absolutely need. You may see them as asshole-acquaintances. The best solution is to make them your best friends.
Which brings me to #2.
2) If each of us (or at least most of us) got great sleep and regularly exercised, how much better off would the world be?
I know that sounds grandiose. Hear me out.
If another hour of sleep or a single workout can transform me from cranky, easily-irritated, and judgmental…to peaceful, patient, and compassionate…what the hell would society look like if we all took doses of these healthy practices?
I don’t think we’d all hold hands and sing Kumbaya (especially during a pandemic). But I do believe we’d feel a greater sense of community, connection, and genuine care toward one another.
We would feel better. We would be more confident. We would be happier.
These are NOT small things. They bring with them a snowball effect of countless other positive features.
We would be more efficient. We would be more willing to help others. We would be more present.
Maybe this is all a pipe dream. But I don’t think so. We’ll never get everybody to do the things they need to do.
But we can control what we do and make it more accessible and appealing to others. At the very least, we can experience the benefits of healthy practices ourselves and use them to brighten someone’s day.
Even if it’s just one dude and his Red Hot Chili Peppers t-shirt…