But if you want to master your life, you want to master your habits. The reality of your daily life is the result of the habitual actions you take and decisions you make every day, and the better your habits, the better your life.
The truth is that the healthiest people, the happiest people, the most successful people aren't born differently than you! They just have better habits. They are doing more of the right things automatically and unconsciously, but you can do it, too! The only thing standing between you and the life you want are your habits—whether it's the good habits you want but don't have or the bad habits you have but don't want.
A habit is a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur unconsciously; these are actually a physiological process. There is neural wiring inside your brain that connects the beginning of an action to the end. If you're doing something new, all the neurons along this path are firing. It takes a lot of mental work. But then you do it again and again and again, and it gets easier and easier and fewer and fewer neurons fire. When something is a habit, just the neurons at beginning and the end of the task fire. The bulk of the action is on autopilot—freeing up all that mental activity. You've experienced this process in your life—like when you learned how to drive. I learned how to drive on a stick shift, and not only did I have to pay attention to the lights and the signs and the other drivers, but I was also learning how to press in the clutch, put the car in gear, and then step on the gas while releasing the clutch with the right pressure. It was stressful and overwhelming in the beginning. But now? Have you ever gotten in your car in your driveway and arrived at your destination thinking, "How did I get here? I hope I stopped at every stop light, because I don’t even remember driving!" That's the habit creation process. When driving becomes a habit, you don't have to pay very close attention. Only the neurons at the beginning and the end had to fire, and in the meantime, you can think about what you have to get from the grocery store and what phone calls you need to make when you get into the office.
Habits are incredibly powerful tools for productivity and living your best life. Some things you have to think about and some you don't. Stop thinking about those things you don't need to think about: the exercising, the eating right, the spending quality time with your family. Let those become like brushing your teeth in the morning. Let those important things happen automatically, and you have more time and energy left over for your work or your family or your hobbies—whatever is important to you.
There are 7 foundational habits, and when these habits become part of your life, your life will naturally unfold as a life that is good for you and good for others. Some of these habits are about you taking care of you. That's because you are the foundation, and that foundation needs to be strong and solid. When your cup is full you can show up at home and at the office with the physical energy and mental resources you need to reach your personal and professional goals.
While taking care of yourself is critical, so is taking care of others. One of your deepest human needs is to make a contribution. At the end of your life, you're going to look back and ask, "Did my life matter?" And you can answer that question with a resounding "Yes!" when you have deep relationships with family and friends and when you've improved the lives of the people in your community and in the world. And when your cup is full because you've given to yourself what you need, you actually have more to give to others. Your best life happens when you balance giving to yourself and giving to others, and that's why I call them the Generosity Habits.
Here are the 7 Generosity Habits you want to make a part of your daily life in 2017.
To transform these from a good intention into something you do every day without thinking about it, then listen closely to this secret… Repetition is the mother of habit. If you can create a bad habit, you can create a good habit. Habits are agnostic. Whether the action you're taking is good for you or bad for you, they form the same way. As you repeat an action over and over the neural pathways in the brain get deeper and deeper, allowing fewer and fewer neurons to fire in order to complete the task—which means it becomes easier to do. The easier it becomes, the more likely you are to do it—which in turn again deepens those neural pathways, making it even easier to do. Habits are just reinforced patterns of behavior we've become accustomed to, and that's why willpower isn't sufficient. Creating new neural pathways takes longer than your willpower and motivation can last.
365 Ways to Live Generously: Simple Habits for a Life That's Good for You and for Others was designed to help you take those repetitive actions to make a habit of the thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that will serve your greatest good and help you live your best life.
Sharon Lipinski (Loveland, CO) is the founder of the non-profit Change Gangs: Virtual Giving Circles, which helps people make small donations that make a big impact by pooling their small donations with the donations of other people who care.