How to Develop the Daily Habits that Make a Wonderful Life

Tend to your plot.

Unless this is the first blog post you’ve ever read, you already know that you need healthy daily habits to succeed. More than that, you probably know a bunch of habits you should have but don’t.

So what’s stopping you?

Lots of excuses, self-pity, and genetic deficiencies, no doubt.

But while those are certainly big issues for all of us, I’d argue that the biggest reason most people struggle to maintain healthy daily habits is this:

Lack of cohesive strategy.

If you had a better idea of what you were working toward and why, then broke it down to the individual habits that would get you there, you’d get off your heinie and do what you already know you should.

And you know who’s got the right cohesive strategy to follow?

A gardener.

If you tend to the plot of your life’s story like a gardener does a plot of land, you’ll flourish. So put on your metaphorical gardening gloves. Let’s get to work.

What You Need to Develop Successful Daily Habits

Your future self cover image of me and future me smiling and high-fiving
What kind of life can you create that’ll earn you a high-five from your future self?

Know what you want before you get your hands dirty.

Every person on this planet’s goal in life is similar to that of every gardener: to transform the plot of dirt they’re given into the most glorious garden possible.

So the logical question to start with, but the one almost nobody makes a serious effort to answer, is this:

What do you want your life’s plot to ultimately look like?

The clearer your vision, the easier it is to work backward and figure out the daily habits you need to nurture to make it a reality.

Fairy tales and hazy dreams won’t do. They’ll have you working on the wrong things and result in an unharmonious mess. So too will flinging out random seeds willy-nilly and watering them.

5 Love Languages summary and explanation cover image of Chris showing Kim the wrong love language
Some habits are more fun than others, but they all need your attention.

Care for your habits individually.

While your envisioned future life looks terrific as a whole, to create it you’ve got to break it down into its individual components:

The plants.

“Plants” in your plot of life are knowledge, relationships, businesses, skills, fitness, and savings.

Each is the product of a daily habit. It doesn’t magically appear. Even if your daddy gives you something fully grown, he can’t look after it for you. Growing and maintaining remarkable plants takes discipline, perseverance, and patience.

And every plant develops differently:

  • Some daily habits pay off quickly. For example, within weeks of getting into the daily habit of exchanging “gratefuls” with my now-wife Kim, we the buds of something beautiful sprouting in the same spot we used to dump our crap all over each other.
  • Some take ages. For those who weren’t born with money trees on our plots, getting in the habit of stashing a bit away and smartly managing those savings is crucial. Eventually, it bears big-time fruit, but it can take decades of careful attention to get there.
  • And you can’t know how long others will take. This is often the case with creative pursuits. You plug away at them diligently with nothing to show for your efforts until one day, “all of a sudden,” it blossoms.
  • But you need them all. If you focus on only the most bountiful habits, the rest will die, and you’ll have an ugly garden.
Spint training on a hill
Keystone habits like exercise make it easier to develop other healthy habits, too.

Make it greater than the sum of its parts.

Foster symbiosis.

The symbiotic relationships of a biodiverse garden create strength and resiliency.

For instance, social habits like active listening, proactively organizing get-togethers, and gift-giving grow strong relationships, which fertilize your budding entrepreneurial adventures and buffer them against the elements.

And keystone habits like sleep hygiene and exercise grow trees whose roots and canopy prevent fragile shoots and saplings from getting washed away when life gets stormy.

Layer a network of knowledge below.

Speaking of roots, daily habits like reading, journaling, taking notes, and keeping an open mind form a subterranean network. Like the mycelium of mushrooms, this invisible network transfers information and nutrients amongst the plants above.

doing a daily mobility routine is the same as brushing your teeth
Brushing your teeth and brushing your body prevent nasty weeds from taking over.

Focus on prevention as much as growth.

Beware neglect.

A single dying plant can bring down a whole garden’s appeal. Even worse, it attracts infestation and rot that can spread elsewhere.

So even when your career is blossoming and full of excitement, or when your marriage is dealing with a bit of a blight, be careful not to give them so much attention that everything else starts to die from neglect.

Don’t forget to weed.

Weeding is doing dirty work daily habits like:

These habits will never sprout anything special, but they prevent nasty plants from strangling and suffocating the good ones.

And stop feeding the parasites.

The worst thing anyone can do is actively feed ugly, parasitic plants with unhealthy daily habits.

Examples include:

Harmful daily habits do double damage:

  1. They hog resources you could better apply elsewhere.
  2. They suck the life from your healthier plants.

On the bright side, if you manage to replace these negative daily habits in your life with positive ones, you’re doubling your growth rate.

Chris looking sad at empty plate
Challenges like multi-day fasts are useless unless they lead to persistent daily habits.

It takes hard work and persistence.

Getting started is the hardest.

It takes hard work and motivation to start a daily habit. You have to break through fresh ground, till the soil, plant the seeds, and remember to give your young plant extra care early on.

This is why the likes of 30-day challenges, multi-day fasting, or couch-to-5K runs are so popular. They give you step-by-step instructions for getting started and a goal to motivate you to keep at it. And they generally produce noticeable results by the end.

But the work never stops.

Completing any short-term challenge is a feat worth celebrating, but you can’t abandon your little bud once it’s appeared to move on to something else.

Those challenges are simply the beginning. If you don’t keep nurturing them, the bud will die and you’re time and energy will have been wasted.

Me failing to hit a shot.
If you don’t find the fun in screwing up, you’re screwed.

Take your time.

Everyone’s in a rush to turn their lives into beautiful, bountiful gardens.

Too much of a rush.

Why hurry?

Enjoy the process.

As Tim Gallwey puts in his little book on learning, The Inner Game of Tennis, at all stages of growth, we don’t condemn or criticize a rosebud for what it is not. We see the potential and the process taking place and understand and appreciate that.

Look at the results of your daily habits the same way.

And if you hate doing them, do something else. You’re doomed for disappointment if you work hard on daily habits you despise to create the garden of your dreams. Because even the most remarkable gardens still require constant effort to maintain.

Don’t push it.

Seek to grow faster by improving at what you’re doing and reapplying best practices, but don’t overdo it.

Dousing a plant with fertilizer may make it grow unnaturally fast, but you’ll end up with something weaker and less fruitful than if you grow it organically.

Use your time wisely.

Time is the water in our hoses. We’re all given the same steady flow, so it’s not a lack of time that’s preventing you from developing and maintaining daily habits; it’s your misuse of it.

Maybe try keeping a time log to find out where you’re wasting it.

How to be more patient cover image of me watching seedling grow
A beautiful garden doesn’t grow itself.

What are you waiting for?

“It’s never too late to start. It’s always too late to wait.”

Jeff Olson, The Slight Edge

Quit stalling by reading blog posts like this and get started on the unremarkable daily habits that, with vision, care, persistence, and patience, grow together to create something remarkable.

It’s not that hard. To paraphrase Jim Rohn, the simple habits that lead to success are easy to do, but they’re easier not to do.

So start envisioning what kind of life you hope to grow. Then ask yourself,

What one daily habit can you start now?

Daily Habits to Consider

Here’s a far-from-comprehensive list of possible daily habits to peruse, pluck from, and start planting:

Morning Routines

  • Start your day with a glass of water with some lemon and salt, a bit of fresh air and sunlight.
  • Grab a book instead of your phone first thing in the morning.
  • Review your weekly goals and pick one to accomplish.

Fitness

  • Brush your body with a daily mobility routine.
  • Do something that makes you sweat. (Ideally, outside.)
  • Get off your couch and stretch while watching TV in the evening.
  • Work part of your day standing up and/or sitting on the floor.
  • Take the stairs instead of elevators or escalators.

Diet

  • Start every day with a glass of salted water and lemon.
  • When you’re thirsty, drink water instead of anything with calories or sweeteners.
  • Restrict yourself to three (or two) meals a day and stop snacking.

Finances

  • Review, categorize and track your daily expenses.

Learning

  • Read a certain number of pages of a book every day.
  • Get in the habit of saying “I was wrong” to stay open-minded. Ask questions before you give answers.
  • Limit or reduce your news consumption.
  • Write down one new thing you learned or changed your mind about to keep an open mind.
  • Come up with five new ideas a day.
  • Practice some hobby or foreign language.

Mental Health

  • Meditate.
  • Go for an “empty pocket walk” in nature.
  • Take a few minutes to do some sort of breath exercise.
  • Write down one thing you’re grateful for.
  • Take naps or try non-sleep-deep rest (yoga nidra).
  • Cold showers.

Relationships

  • Tell your partner something different about them that you’re grateful for.
  • Make an effort to remember the names of people you meet. Express your appreciation for even the smallest gestures.
  • Smile and warmly greet your partner every time they return home.
  • Do something in your partner’s “love language.”
  • Chat or hang out with a friend or family member.

Productivity

  • In the evening, think of the one big thing you want to accomplish the next day to let your subconscious get started on it overnight. Then start the day with it.
  • Schedule a block of distraction-free, single-task work.
  • Stick to one or two scheduled windows for email/social media/browsing.
  • Keep a time log to be conscious of how you’re spending your time.

Evening Routines

  • Go to bed at a consistent time with a pre-sleep routine that programs your mind to shut off.
  • Write down any of your worries before bed so you can deal with them the next day rather than wrestle with them as you try to fall asleep.
  • Write down one story from the day. (Matthew Dicks’ calls this “Homework for Life” in his book, Storyworthy.)
  • Tape your mouth overnight to get back in the habit of breathing from your nose. (I was recently inspired to do so by Breath by James Nestor.)

Fun

  • For one thing you do every day, ask yourself, “How can I make this 10 percent more fun?”
  • Play an instrument, sing, or doodle.
  • Do, listen, or watch something every day that makes you smile.

Resources and Inspiration

Video

Books

Avoid Getting Stuck in the Status Quo

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Kim and Chris are fighting the status quo to win at life, then sharing their best tactics on The Unconventional Route. If you want to join, subscribe to Consider This for a fresh dose of ideas every 10 days.

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