Every couple of months, I do a “life audit” to check in with myself. I evaluate what’s working and what’s not and then reset. I’ve learned that integrating small habits have made the biggest impact over time. I used to think that in order to have major breakthroughs in life, I need to make big lifestyle changes. In reality, any attempt to do so has been more discouraging. I’d like to share how 10 small habitual changes have made a big impact on my life.
1. Exercising frequently
Running a marathon was always on my bucket list. But I didn’t start thinking about finishing one until I built a solid foundation. It started out with 15 minutes of jogging around the block and then up to 6 miles. Months later, I built up my base mileage to around 12 and put myself through rigorous training programs to help me race the marathon. Right now, I’m taking an extended break from marathoning but I’m still exercising five to six days a week because working out is part of my life. For the past three new years, I haven’t had to resolve to “get back into shape” because exercising is already a habit.
2. Waking up early
I didn’t always enjoy waking up early but many aspects of my lifestyle since college (like cross country training) have required me to do so. Now, I wake up early and savor the morning before the hustle of the day. I use that time to think about upcoming meetings, deadlines, chores and errands, and everything in between. I do realize that thinking too much about what I need to do can get overwhelming so I have to exercise a lot of self-awareness and start getting things done before something feels overwhelming. But something about starting the day when it’s calm is quite magical.
3. Doing seasonal decluttering
Decluttering on a frequent basis prevents me from accumulating unnecessary stuff. I’m aware of things I use often and only hold onto things I absolutely need. If there are items I stopped using or not serving a functional, I either donate them to Goodwill or throw them out. I’ve become good about detaching emotion to physical items and this gives me a lot of mental freedom. I am also lucky to live in NY where there is visible seasonal change, which forces me to do multiple purges because I need to rotate clothing anyway. Decluttering seasonally also means less effort compared to one giant annual purge.
4. Spending less on stuff, more on experiences
I used to love shopping. Well, I still do but I’m much more careful about what I buy. Rather than to spend money on material items that add very little value, I opt to spend it on experiences instead. Nowadays, I find myself spending money on fitness classes, online classes, e-books and podcasts, travel, and of course, food. Splurging on experiences allows me to bond with important people in my life and not accumulate junk that I would eventually have to clean up later on.
5. Being more digital
The technology that I have access to in this generation is pretty advanced so I take full advantage by investing in good digital tools to help me maintain my stuff without the clutter. I paid to have a bigger Google Drive capacity. I usually digitize documentation and get rid of the physical copies if they’re not necessary. In fact, I’ve signed up to receive electronic documents if it’s an option. I rarely buy physical books and am building my Kindle library instead. Surprisingly, many things can be kept digitally. This small change helps me stay clutter free.
6. Writing and reading often
I love reading and writing. They go hand in hand. I work in a field that requires me to constantly learn and produce work in the form of the written word so I dedicate time to read and write. My toolkit wont stay sharp on its own. I really need to make an effort to do it. In order to sustain this, I started small so I can fall in love with writing and reading. Rather than creating ambitious goals, I focus on the book I’m reading in the moment and write for pleasure. I do both in small chunks so reading and writing never feels like a chore.
7. Verbalizing with better intentions
One of my bad habits was apologizing all the time, especially when it didn’t necessarily warrant it. But saying “sorry” all the time diminished my opinions. Replacing a few words in my vocabulary and being intentional with how I communicate has given me confidence to have difficult conversations and stand behind my opinions. There’s a lot of power in saying “no” when respectfully disagreeing with an idea or declining something I can’t promise. I respond to appreciation with “you’re welcome” to acknowledge that I did have a role in it. Using the right words is empowering!
8. Underpromising and overdelivering
I’m glad I learned the value of underpromising and overdelivering early in my career. Typically, projects become much bigger than what anyone anticipates so I buy myself wiggle room so I can properly scope out what needs to be done, even if it’s an easy ask. I’ve learned how to push back when I need buffer time. This habit made me a reliable professional who can present quality work on a given timeline without stretching myself too thin.
9. Building systems around my habits
I used to build habits around things that weren’t functional but rather aesthetic. I love ankle boots but wearing that around New York City isn’t always practical. Now, I focus on building habits that serve practical purposes. I loved having big, continental wallets but they were difficult to use in the city while commuting so I’ve downsized to a small card case. I’ve also implemented run-commuting to and from work so that I am not duplicating time spend on the subway when I could be getting my running workouts checked off my schedule.
10. Advocating for myself
I used to believe that if I worked hard, the universe would grant me opportunities. I believed this for a long time, more than I’d like to admit. During the process of making a career change, however, I recognized that I was far from reality. I have to advocate for myself and prove that I can add value to other people’s lives. Otherwise, no one will believe in me. I can’t rely on this magic to give me opportunities. I had to chase them myself and prove my worth to others and there’s no shortcut to that.
It’s easy to assume that a big life breakthrough can only happen by implementing magnanimous change. But in reality, it’s all about making small habitual changes and being extremely intentional about implementing them until they stick. That’s when big changes will start to happen. My big career breakthrough and my marathon journey didn’t happen overnight. They were due to cumulative efforts of small changes that led to big impact. I’ll never underestimate the power of small changes. You better believe that the next time I’m looking for a major breakthrough, I’ll be starting with the small.