Over the past couple years I’ve experimented with dozens of habits. Some high effort, high return. Others low effort, low return. After reflecting on all of the habits I’ve started, stopped, tried to pick up, and continue to do today, there are three that have had a “better bang for buck” than any of the others: drinking a glass of water every morning, writing in a gratitude journal, and reading.
Before going to bed, I fill up a water bottle. When I wake up, I chug it like my life depends on it. Low friction. With real benefits. Definitely something I recommend trying. Every night we get dehydrated. Drinking a glass of water is a great way to start the day off on the right foot. As a side benefit, you won’t be quite as hungry. So you’ll be less likely to take that unnecessary extra serving of breakfast, whatever your go-to is. For me, on a healthy day, that’s some extra Icelandic yogurt and almond butter. On a not-so-healthy day that’d be an extra overly large bowl of peanut butter puffins. Which are kinda like the organic chocolate bars of cereal. On the surface they seem healthy, but in reality they are just one step and a cute Puffin away from Captain Crunch. I digress.
Writing in a gratitude journal is part of my morning and nightly routine. It started as a fairly casual journal where I’d write down 3 things I was grateful for before going to bed each night. About two and a half years ago I added a bit more structure and started using The Five Minute Journal, and couldn’t recommend it more highly. Each day now begins with: an inspirational quote, a prompt for me to write down 3 things I’m grateful for, 3 things that would make today great, and a daily affirmation. Before going to bed it prompts me to write down 3 amazing things that happened today, and how I could have made today even better.
While it’s slightly more work than a simple 3 things you’re grateful for, the extra effort is worth it. Exercising your gratitude muscles is extremely impactful. At least it has been for me. In our ad-filled age of consumerism and social media we have a natural tendency towards desiring more and more. Strengthening your gratitude muscles will make it much more apparent that in reality we have more than we need, and that the vast majority of us (at least the ones who are reading this and contemplating habits) have more than enough to be thankful for.
Growing up I was never much of a reader. Or writer. The latter may not be too surprising. I was more of a numbers guy who hated English, History, or anything else that required a lot of words to be read or written. Unsurprisingly, I never became a big reader. There were always interesting books I wanted to read. However, just like the majority of movie previews, my desire to see it was not enough. For the majority of my adult life reading several books was considered a good year.
All that changed 3 years ago. Driven by a desire to win back my attention, I decided to cut back on reactive eye-candy on Hacker News or whatever random article piqued my interest on Medium (kinda like this one). Instead I wanted to read more books. The main driver was that I wanted to lengthen my attention span beyond several sentences of a random article I clicked through on Twitter. I’ve since learned that the benefits span much wider.
Since then I’ve read on average about 25 books per year. While this habit is quite difficult to pick up, I couldn’t be happier that I decided to pursue it. My attention span has gone from 30 seconds of a Medium article to 3+ hours sitting in a coffee shop with a book I’m excited about. Additionally, I’ve found it is an incredible way to learn new information on subjects I’m interested in. Especially for non-fiction, books allow you to tap into the brain of a very smart person who has spent years of their life researching and distilling a given topic. It’s the equivalent of a video game style knowledge cheat code. Lastly, I’ve found true pleasure in reading. Especially with fiction (which I’d like to start reading more of), I find it deeply relaxing. As a side benefit I also get to experience many different worlds and perspectives.
Reading is the hardest of these three habits to create, but in the long run it will be the most impactful. If you’re interested in reading more check out this blog post with a couple tips I’ve picked up over the years.
What habits are you going to start or stop this year?
 As a side note, I don’t recommend focusing on number of books, but rather quality of reading time and takeaways. Moving forward I’m planning to read fewer books, and take more time to digest them and record my key takeaways.