It’s Not Too Late to Change Your Habits

A (slightly) older reader wrote to me recently, wanting to know how to change her bad habits ingrained after so many many years of doing them. She wanted to know, “Is it too late to change?”

And I can understand the feeling. Doing bad habits for years makes them deeply entrenched, and getting out of that trench might seem impossible, hopeless.

I once was stuck, and felt the weight of built up bad habits crushing, smothering, burying me. I felt helpless, like I had no control over myself, and was too discouraged to even try to change.

This discouragement is what does it. It’s not that changing bad habits is impossible. But if we are so discouraged we don’t try, we will never change them. To try and to fail is of little consequence, but to never start at all is fatal to the habit change.

And I’m here to tell you, that changing bad habits is not impossible. No matter how long you’ve done them, no matter how many decades.

It can be done. By you. By taking a single step.

Here’s how.

Know as you start that you aren’t changing a mountain. You don’t have to change years of bad actions. Those actions are gone — they’ve evaporated into the ether, and you can forget them. Forgive yourself for them, then forget them.

You don’t need to run a marathon to change a habit. You just need to take a step. And you can take a step.

Consider for a moment your bad habit. You might have a dozen, but choose an easy one. Not the one you’re most afraid of — the one you think you can lick.

Take a step back and think about this habit. When do you do it? What things trigger the habit — stress, food, drinking, socializing, boredom, sadness, waking, being criticized? What need does the habit fulfill for you? Know that it does fulfill a real need, and that’s why you keep doing it.

Realize something — stop here to drive home for yourself a crucial, crucial point: you must realize that you don’t need this habit to fulfill this need. You don’t need the habit. You can deal with stress in healthier ways. You can beat boredom. You can cope. You do not need the habit, and you will learn better ones with practice.

You might be feeling a bit overwhelmed at this point, but you’ve done the hardest part. Now you just need to take one more little step.

Commit to yourself to make a small tiny insignificant but powerful step each day. Commit fully, not half-assed. Commit by writing it down, and putting it up on your wall. Commit by telling a friend about it, and asking for help. Commit by putting it on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, your blog, a forum you frequent. Be all in.

Find a replacement habit. One that is healthier. One that fulfills the need. One that is easy. One that you can do after your trigger, instead of your bad habit. One that you enjoy and will look forward to. If you need to relieve stress, for example, consider walking, or pushups, or deep breathing, or self-massage.

You’re now ready to climb out of your trench. Remember, just a tiny tiny step.

Notice your urge to do the habit. Pause. Don’t do the bad habit. Let the urge pass, then do your new replacement habit.

Repeat, noticing the urge, letting the urge pass, not doing the bad habit, doing the good habit instead. You might mess up, but that’s OK. You’ll get better with practice.

Practice as often as you can, every day. You’ll get really good at it. Don’t worry about how long it takes. Keep doing it, one urge at a time.

Know, Consider, Realize, Commit, Find, Notice, Repeat, Practice. These are easy steps that don’t take a lot of work. You can do them as you sit here, reading this post.

It’s never too late. There is no habit that can’t be broken by the pressure of a single footprint. Make that footprint by taking a single step, today.

It’s Not Too Late to Change Your Habits was originally posted on Zen Habits on 2/21/12.

The Five Things You Need to Know About Finding the Work You Love

“You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers … If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” – Steve Jobs in a Stanford commencement speech

One of the keys to happiness — as well as productivity and effectiveness at work — is finding work you love, that you’re passionate about. Work you want to do, instead of just have to do.

If you really want to do it, it barely seems like work at all.

I’ve finally found that work, in blogging here at Zen Habits and with writing in general. I don’t drag my feet to go to work anymore — now I can’t wait to get up early and start working.

And I’m just one of many who’ve done that — there are people all over the world pursuing their dreams, working with passion, losing themselves in their work. Are you one of them? Do you want to be?

The difficult thing for many people is finding what that work is in the first place. They don’t know where to start, and it seems a hopeless cause.

It’s not. You can find that work, but it’ll take some effort. Here’s what you need to know about finding the work you love:

  1. It won’t find you — you have to seek it. Doing the same ol’ thing everyday isn’t the way to find the work you love. Sometimes, you get extremely lucky and it just lands in your lap. Most people, however, aren’t that lucky — you’ve got to take action, and you’ve got to seek it.
  2. You can’t stop looking until you find it. As Steve Jobs said, never settle. If you find something that’s just a bit better than your current job, that’s better … but don’t stop there. Keep looking. Don’t give up the search.
  3. You’ll have to look in lots of funny places. Really explore. Try new hobbies. Talk to new people. Read articles on different blogs, in different magazines and books. Inspiration might come from someplace you never imagined.
  4. You might not love it completely until you get good at it. Most likely you’ll know that you love something once you find it … but at that point, you’ve got to work at getting better at it, with all your might. Once you get good, it’ll be something you can’t stop doing, because you’ll get a thrill at doing something great.
  5. Once you find it, you have to pour yourself into it. If you find the work you love, you’ve been given a gift. Don’t spoil it — truly pour yourself into that work. That doesn’t mean you should ignore the other loves in your life, including family and friends, but when you’re working, you should devote yourself completely to that work.

Here’s how to go about seeking your passion:

  1. Break out of your routine, and dare to ask. You’ve got to stop what you’re doing (maybe not at this moment, but today, or tomorrow, not next week) and be bold enough to ask yourself if you love what you’re doing. And if you don’t, then what is it you really love? And if you don’t know, then are you going to look for it?
  2. Spend time thinking about it. It’s good to take an hour or two to really think about the question. It’s worth the investment. Really think about what you love, about your life, about what you want to be doing.
  3. Think of what you already love. Do you have hobbies you’re passionate about? What do you like reading about? What do you talk about with others? Is there something you always wanted to do but forgot about, or were too afraid to pursue?
  4. What are your dreams? Is there something you’ve always wanted to accomplish in life? Almost everybody has some dream like that, sometime in their lives, but often they don’t think it’s realistic. Give it more thought now.
  5. What are you good at? What are your strengths? Do you have any talents? Is there something you’ve always excelled at? Pursue these things.
  6. Take action. If you don’t actually do anything, you’ll never find it. Start doing research, start making calls, make appointments, take career assessment tests. Take action, now.
  7. Explore new things. Try out new hobbies that sound interesting. Read about new things. Find new ways to explore — break out of your patterns.
  8. Once you find something interesting, pursue it. Read about it. Learn, and try it, and do it, and get better at it. Don’t be afraid to pursue it — fear is what stops most people from finding this happiness.
  9. Then take action – again. Now that you’ve learned about it, give it a try! You might be able to pursue it within your current job, or do it as a side job or just as a hobby at first. Write to people who are doing it to find out how they got started. Check out a few books on the library and do some research online to find out about the first steps you need to take — and then take them! Pursue your dreams!

“Getting up in the morning and having work you love is what makes life different for people. And if you get into a position where you really don’t love what you’re doing, get off it. It’s easy to be on someone else’s track or something that sounds like a safety play.” -Bob Woodward

The Five Things You Need to Know About Finding the Work You Love was originally posted on Zen Habits on 8/8/08.

25 Ways to Help a Fellow Human Being Today

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama

Too often the trend in our society is for people to be separated from either other, to be cut off from the great mass of humanity, and in doing so to be dehumanized a little bit more with each step.

Cars have taken us off the streets, where we used to greet each other and stop to chat. Cubicles have taken away a bit of the humanity in working, as have factories and even computers to some extent. Television has planted us firmly in our living rooms, instead of out with other people. Even movie theaters, where many people get together, cut us off from true conversation because we’re staring at a big screen.

And while I’m not railing against any of these inventions (except perhaps the cubicle), what we must guard against is the tendency of that individuality to have us focused on ourselves to the exclusion of our fellow human beings. The tendency towards selfishness rather than giving, on helping ourselves rather than helping our brothers and sisters in humanity.

I’m not saying we’re all like that, but it can happen, if we’re not careful.

So strike back against the selfishness and greed of our modern world, and help out a fellow human being today. Not next month, but today.

Helping a fellow human being, while it can be inconvenient, has a few humble advantages:

  1. It makes you feel better about yourself;
  2. It connects you with another person, at least for a moment, if not for life;
  3. It improves the life of another, at least a little;
  4. It makes the world a better place, one little step at a time;
  5. And if that kindness is passed on, it can multiply, and multipy.

So take just a few minutes today, and do a kindness for another person. It can be something small, or the start of something big. Ask them to pay it forward. Put a smile on someone’s face.

Don’t know where to start? Here’s an extremely incomplete list, just to get you thinking — I’m sure you can come up with thousands more if you think about it.

  1. Smile and be friendly. Sometimes a simple little thing like this can put a smile and warm feeling in someone else’s heart, and make their day a little better. They might then do the same for others.
  2. Call a charity to volunteer. You don’t have to go to a soup kitchen today. Just look up the number, make the call, and make an appointment to volunteer sometime in the next month. It can be whatever charity you like. Volunteering is one of the most amazing things you can do.
  3. Donate something you don’t use. Or a whole box of somethings. Drop them off at a charity — others can put your clutter to good use.
  4. Make a donation. There are lots of ways to donate to charities online, or in your local community. Instead of buying yourself a new gadget or outfit, spend that money in a more positive way.
  5. Redirect gifts. Instead of having people give you birthday or Christmas gifts, ask them to donate gifts or money to a certain charity.
  6. Stop to help. The next time you see someone pulled over with a flat tire, or somehow in need of help, stop and ask how you can help. Sometimes all they need is a push, or the use of your cell phone.
  7. Teach. Take the time to teach someone a skill you know. This could be teaching your grandma to use email, teaching your child to ride a bike, teaching your co-worker a valuable computer skill, teaching your spouse how to clean the darn toilet. OK, that last one doesn’t count.
  8. Comfort someone in grief. Often a hug, a helpful hand, a kind word, a listening ear, will go a long way when someone has lost a loved one or suffered some similar loss or tragedy.
  9. Help them take action. If someone in grief seems to be lost and doesn’t know what to do, help them do something. It could be making funeral arrangements, it could be making a doctor’s appointment, it could be making phone calls. Don’t do it all yourself — let them take action too, because it helps in the healing process.
  10. Buy food for a homeless person. Cash is often a bad idea if it’s going to be used for drugs, but buying a sandwich and chips or something like that is a good gesture. Be respectful and friendly.
  11. Lend your ear. Often someone who is sad, depressed, angry, or frustrated just needs someone who will listen. Venting and talking through an issue is a huge help.
  12. Help someone on the edge. If someone is suicidal, urge them to get help. If they don’t, call a suicide hotline or doctor yourself to get advice.
  13. Help someone get active. A person in your life who wants to get healthy might need a helping hand — offer to go walking or running together, to join a gym together. Once they get started, it can have profound effects.
  14. Do a chore. Something small or big, like cleaning up or washing a car or doing the dishes or cutting a lawn.
  15. Give a massage. Only when appropriate of course. But a massage can go a long way to making someone feel better.
  16. Send a nice email. Just a quick note telling someone how much you appreciate them, or how proud you are of them, or just saying thank you for something they did.
  17. Show appreciation, publicly. Praising someone on a blog, in front of coworkers, in front of family, or in some other public way, is a great way to make them feel better about themselves.
  18. Donate food. Clean out your cupboard of canned goods, or buy a couple bags of groceries, and donate them to a homeless shelter.
  19. Just be there. When someone you know is in need, sometimes it’s just good to be there. Sit with them. Talk. Help out if you can.
  20. Be patient. Sometimes people can have difficulty understanding things, or learning to do something right. Learn to be patient with them.
  21. Tutor a child. This might be difficult to do today, but often parents can’t afford to hire a tutor for their child in need of help. Call a school and volunteer your tutoring services.
  22. Create a care package. Soup, reading material, tea, chocolate … anything you think the person might need or enjoy. Good for someone who is sick or otherwise in need of a pick-me-up.
  23. Lend your voice. Often the powerless, the homeless, the neglected in our world need someone to speak up for them. You don’t have to take on that cause by yourself, but join others in signing a petition, speaking up a a council meeting, writing letters, and otherwise making a need heard.
  24. Offer to babysit. Sometimes parents need a break. If a friend or other loved one in your life doesn’t get that chance very often, call them and offer to babysit sometime. Set up an appointment. It can make a big difference.
  25. Love. Simply finding ways to express your love to others, whether it be your partner, child, other family member, friend, co-worker, or a complete stranger … just express your love. A hug, a kind word, spending time, showing little kindnesses, being friendly … it all matters more than you know.

How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a weary world.
– William Shakespeare

25 Ways to Help a Fellow Human Being Today was originally posted on Zen Habits on 5/23/08.