How to Choose Your Habits2 min read

Habits are rituals of daily commitment to your goal—where you allocate time and energy to advance your cause. If your aspiration is not translated into habits, it will never get fulfilled.

There are three types of habits.

  • Action Habit: A single activity, such as “Meditate for 20 minutes every morning” or “Write in my gratitude journal before going to bed”.
  • Replacement Habit: A new, healthier action to replace a bad habit. For example, “Whenever I feel like smoking, I will do three minutes of conscious breathing”.
  • Project Habit: A time commitment, for complex milestones with multiple activities (e.g., launching a blog, or buying your dream house). For example, “Work on my project from 7 to 9pm, five days a week”; during that time, you complete the necessary tasks, one after another.

First, list your ideal habits.

What habits do you need do implement to actualize your aspiration? What are the behaviors of the ideal version of yourself—the one who has achieved his/her goal? There are different ways to achieve a goal, so there are different habits that could support it. Each habit is a different strategy.

Look at your first milestone and list the activities it requires. Consider:

  • What life changes do I need to make?  
  • What activities help me make progress?
  • What are the different strategies/steps to achieve my goal/milestone?
  • What new beliefs and ways of thinking might I need?
  • What are the habits, routines, and virtues of people who have achieved my goal?

For the last question above, contemplate the role models you have for this particular goal. Alternatively, you can use your ideal future identity as a basis for this question.

Second, identify essential habits.

Review your list and identify the one or two essential habits—without which no real progress is possible. Here are some examples:

  • Health—daily exercise, regular sleep, portion control, intermittent fasting
  • Wellbeing—meditation, a break from our busy lifestyle 
  • Wealth—saving, reviewing investment opportunities
  • Career—spending an hour every day learning an important skill
  • Relationships—cultivating empathy, practicing appreciation
  • Personal growth—journaling, reading good books, reflecting

Third, find keystone habits.

There may be many habits that you want to create in your life—too many to start right now. Instead of overwhelming yourself with wanting to do it all at once, choose one or two keystone habits. These are habits that have a positive domino effect, making self-discipline easier with other habits too. Here are some universal examples of keystone habits:

  • Daily meditation
  • Regular physical exercise
  • Sleep hygiene
  • Morning routine
  • Journaling

There will also be keystone habits unique to your goals and aspiration. They could be:

  • For writing a book—spending an hour each day offline, just writing 
  • For improving your craft—focusing the first hour of your practice on mastering the basics
  • For a happier family life—making dinnertime sacred, technology-free, and engaging

Action Step: Choose your first keystone habit—whether universal or specific to you. Write down exactly what you will do, when, and how.

This article is a summary of key ideas taken from Chapter 6 of Mindful Self-Discipline. To dive deeper, get the book or audiobook.


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