During a 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University, Jobs told the audience that for the past 33 years, he started his mornings with the same question. He’d look himself in the mirror and ask: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” If the answer was ‘no,’ he knew he needed to change something about his life.
This question was vital, certainly. But it was also expedient. Jobs didn’t have to schedule a time to ponder his life and remember to ask this question, he did it every day. It became a regular reminder that he was doing the right thing.
That’s the beauty of habits, says Gretchen Rubin, a blogger and author of Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives . “Habits are decisions that we put on autopilot, so they take no time, effort, energy or willpower to enforce them,” she says. They can save time and avoid what she calls “decision making fatigue.”
At the recent Northside Festival in Brooklyn, New York, Rubin shared her secrets for incorporating habits into your life and sticking with them. Here are three:
1. Think About How it Saves You Time
“You cannot expect to be motivated by motivation, and you cannot be motivated by consequences,” Rubin says. Rather, she says, people tend to only change their daily routine if they take an action that will save them time.
She shared the example of one friend who asked her for advice on how he could stop texting while driving. She said that instead of hiding his cellphone in the glove compartment of his car, he needed to put his cellphone in the trunk—somewhere where it would take him too long to try and reach for it.
2. Don’t Try to Tackle Two Things at Once
Although you may want to work out more, meditate every day, and spend less time on your phone, you shouldn’t try to make all of those changes at once. It’ll take up too much of your willpower to make multiple changes at once, says Rubin.
This may seem like obvious advice but tricky nonetheless. If, for example, you decide to write a to-do list every day, many people may suggest doing it first thing in the morning. But if you’re not a morning person, don’t try to write a to-do list in the morning. Basically, don’t try to become a morning person and a daily to-do list writer at the same time, suggests Rubin.
3. Don’t Force a Habit, Even if it’s Good For You
If you’ve decide to make a change to your routine that isn’t making you happier or saving you time, don’t be afraid to scrub the habit, says Rubin. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach to becoming productive. She adds that she recently tried to pick up meditation, thinking that it would help her become more mindful, but instead she just dreaded it every morning.
“I don’t think there’s anything that’s for ‘everyone,’” Rubin says. “You always have to be thinking: ’Is this habit working for me?’”
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