Self

20 Unsexy Micro-Habits That Save Me 30 Hours Every Week

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thankful woman

The ‘outwork others’ argument is dead or will die pretty soon. Work ethic may have been the most important predictor of any kind of success until now, but soon it won’t be the most important skill.

Don’t get me wrong; work ethic still matters a lot, and always will. But people are already working as hard as they can. And hence, the future calls for efficiency. And efficiency is simply to do less yet get disproportionate benefits.

When we think about it, ‘efficiency’ is a mindset. Some people always do stuff in a conventional way. On the other hand, some people will always be looking for ways to be efficient. I’m the former, trying to be the latter.

Hence, efficiency is a skill you need to practice. You won’t just wake up one day and become efficient. No. You need to ask yourself again and again — “How can I be more efficient?” before it manifests in your life.

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These are the kinds of questions we address when we think about efficiency:

  • How can we lose fat with exercises that take up the least of our time?
  • How can we boost our productivity with the simplest of habits?
  • How can we become the smartest version of ourselves even if we don’t have hours and hours to read?
  • How can we learn to control our emotions with simple daily rituals?

In this article, I want to share 20 micro habits that I hope will provide the answers to these questions. We’ll be looking at the easiest habits that can boost your physical health, mental health, productivity, and creativity.

Don’t try to adopt all 20 of them together. Focus on a few, say 4, and when those are ingrained in your life, come back to try out some more. Excited? Let’s dive in!

Here are 20 unsexy micro-habits that save me 30+ hours each week:

1. Get sunlight right after waking up

Chances are you don’t run out to the balcony right after waking up. However, perhaps you should. You might be thinking it’s for the Vit. D but it’s more than that. It will help recalibrate your circadian rhythm.

Our circadian rhythm is mostly determined by two hormones — melatonin and cortisol. To fall asleep quickly at night, our cortisol levels should be low and melatonin levels, high. When you don’t get sunlight in the morning, your cortisol levels might not peak enough earlier in the day, and hence stay elevated even when it’s bedtime.

Hence, by getting sunlight first thing in the morning, you make sure that your cortisol levels have peaked as soon as possible and by nighttime, they’ll have shrunken down to low levels enabling you to sleep better.

2. Do a course on stoicism

Micro-habit? Really? Yes, hear me out.

I discovered a lot of Stoicism after becoming a writer. When I ask my friends about it, to my surprise, many people don’t know in-depth about stoicism. Shame, because Stoicism is literally one of the best philosophies out there and still holds so much value in our modern world. It has the ability to make life so much easier.

However, the texts of Stoicism are hard to break down for everyone. Hence, I believe that everyone should buy a physical copy of the book The Daily Stoic, where the modern-day stoic Ryan Holiday has made Stoicism digestible in the form of 366 less-than-1-minute-to-read lessons, each designated for one day of the year.

3. Read out your purpose out loud

One of the leading experts on longevity, Ben Greenfield (who has reversed his biological age by 17 years) says that the number one key to living a fulfilling and longer life is to live with purpose.

And even though many of us might know that vaguely, Ben suggests that we must have a formal sentence written down that conveys our purpose and that we must read it every day. Ben’s is “to empower people to live more adventurous, joyful and fulling lives.” What’s yours?

Write it down and read it every morning. It will motivate you to work towards your goals and live a more fulfilling life.

4. Reassurance

A while ago, I watched a video on Youtube by The School of Life titled, “What Everyone Wants.” Intrigued, I watched it, and that’s when I learned that what each one of us wants is reassurance. We all have some battle we’re fighting. Fear is a constant in all of our lives. Even Elon Musk is afraid that perhaps, he’ll die before we get to Mars.

And hence, reassurance in the form of an “It will all be okay” can sometimes be the sweetest sentence we could hear. And because while we won’t always have another mass of flesh and bones to say it to us, we need to do it ourselves.

Hence, every morning I tell myself that it will be okay. I become mindful of my fears and insecurities and suffering, and I tell myself that it will be okay; that my suffering is impermanent. And after months of doing this, my anxiety levels are lower; I’m learning to take my days one at a time and live an uplifted life. I hope it does the same for you.

5. Contemplate the impermanence of your sensory pleasures

After starting to write, I began reading a lot about Buddhism and also wrote about it. One article I wrote was on the 5 hindrances that Buddha says every monk must overcome. First of those hindrances were sensory pleasures.

We all have some sensory distractions that stop us from achieving our goals. For most of us, it’s sugary food and binge-watching. We cannot resist delicious food, and hence we fail to lose that belly fat. And Netflix has never been more efficient at stopping us from working.

It’s okay to enjoy these. However, when we overindulge, it becomes a problem. Hence, every morning, try to spend some time becoming mindful of your particular sensory distractions and try to contemplate their impermanence. Tell yourself how the pleasure lasts for so little time but holds the capacity to do so much damage in the long term.

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6. Brush with your non-dominant hand

As I dream of becoming a neurologist someday, I read books and blogs by various famous neurologists. Once I read that many neurologists are encouraged to use their non-dominant hands to do tasks to help build dexterity and strengthen neural connections in the brain.

While you don’t have to do everything with your non-dominant hand, brushing your teeth like that is a good place to start. It will help your brain become healthier while at the same time, making you more creative in the long run.

7. Time-block

If you don’t already know about time-blocking, I’m sorry, but you might want to think about living someplace other than under a rock. Time-blocking is a simple time-management technique by Cal Newport that takes less than 1 minute but leads to so much clarity in your day.

Simply divide your day into 30-minute blocks (or 5-minute blocks if you’re Elon Musk) and assign tasks to them. This will help eliminate taking decisions at the moment and also help you deal with procrastination. This is what it looks like.

By author.

8. Dip your head in cold water

I know you’re sick of people telling you to have cold showers. I know you hate them. So I’ll do you one easier. Don’t have a cold shower, but at least dip your head in a bucket with cold water.

Your brain has a blood-brain barrier whose job is to keep certain harmful substances away from the neural tissue. However, this blood-brain barrier gets leaky with age, allowing important stuff to leak out, and toxic stuff to get in. As Ben Greenfield mentions in this video, exposing your head to cold is a fantastic way to improve this barrier's quality.

Hence, if you’re not up for a cold shower, at least try to dip your head in a cold bucket of water.

9. Wash our fruits and veggies with a vinegar solution

According to research, approximately 5.6 billion pounds of pesticides are used each year worldwide, with the United States accounting for 1 billion pounds. Did I just scare you out of your senses? Maybe not. However, the numbers are still staggering. And unless you’re eating 100% trusted organic food, you’re consuming some of this pesticide.

Hence, it’s a really wise choice to start washing your food the right way. Simply mix 1 part vinegar with 4 parts water, and soak your fruits and veggies in it for 2–5 minutes, followed by rinsing with normal water. Don’t consume all those chemicals when you don’t have to.

10. Do 30 seconds of pre-meal exercise

We’re taking a page out of Ben Greenfield’s wisdom again. Ben says that controlling glycemic variability is perhaps the most important thing to live longer.

And the easiest way to do that? Just do 30 seconds of exercise like burpees, squats, or jumping jacks before meals. This increase in heart rate will help optimize glycemic variability due to that meal. Yes! 30 seconds of exercise can help you live longer. Combine this with 10 minutes of walking post-meal, and you get the best out of that meal.

11. Eat with a smaller spoon

With all the talk of how incredible the human brain is, it’s also pretty easy to trick. One way to do that is to eat with a smaller spoon. Some studies show that eating with smaller spoons can reduce calorie intake as it reduces both bite-size and consumption rates.

It’s almost laughable, but it works. And with obesity being the new pandemic — damn, we have enough pandemics — it won’t hurt to make this tiny shift. After all, it’d be really nice if we could fit into those jeans we used to a year ago.

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12. Practice Hara Hachi Bu

It can be argued that when you’re 80% full, you’re actually 100% full. It’s because even after enough food reaches your stomach, there’s a delay in a signal which causes your brain to tell you to stop eating later than it should. This leads to overeating.

Eating food only until you’re 80% full is the Okinawan practice called Hara Hachi Bu. Besides the science that I mentioned, Hara Hachi Bu promotes an important mindset shift as well. The western world eats until they are able to say “I’m full” while Okinawans eat until they’re able to say “I’m no longer hungry.”

13. Use “do it today + make it incredibly small”

All of us have that one project that we need to start working on. And we keep pushing it off to tomorrow, forgetting the adage that says “tomorrow never comes.” However, recently I found a helpful technique to better deal with this problem.

It’s simple — do it today + make it incredibly small. Want to start working on your abs? Instead of starting a full-blown workout on Monday, do 2 crunches right now. Want to finally start writing that article? Instead of waiting for hours of free time, write only one sentence right now. This strategy helps make an overwhelming task simple enough to do at the moment.

14. Overshoot a little at something every day

"All the greats do one more and all the average don't." — Ed Mylett

Overshooting is a technique inspired by the above quote. This is how it works. Whatever your desired goals for the day, try to do a little more in at least one of them every day. Let’s take an example — say that I have these 3 goals for my day —

  • Run 7 laps in the park.
  • Read 40 pages.
  • Write 1500 words.

On Monday, I might decide to run 8 laps. On Tuesday, I might read 45 pages. And on Wednesday, I might decide to write 1600 words. This will keep sending a message to my brain every day that I’m capable of doing more. This is how overshooting may help build mental strength over time.

Note: Don’t overshoot by a lot, and don’t overshoot for the same goal every day. Keep it mellow and mix it up.

15. Use a work-shutdown ritual

Cal Newport is a silly genius. Every day, without fail, he ends his typical workday by actually saying the phrase — “Schedule Shut Down, Complete” — and like a robot, moving away from work. After uttering this phrase, if any work-related issue pops up in his head, he answers it in the following manner:

  1. I said the termination phrase.
  2. I wouldn’t have said this phrase if I hadn’t checked over all of my tasks, my calendar, and my weekly plan and decided that everything was captured and I was on top of everything.
  3. Therefore, there is no need to worry.

I’ve adopted this ritual in my life as well with my phrase being a simple “Work Done”. I say that every day around 6, and I switch off my work side. Doing this has helped me reduce my work-related anxiety, and I highly recommend it to everyone else.

16. Do yoga for your spine

Yoga as a whole is a wonderful way to keep your joints healthy. However, if you can’t find the time to invest in Yoga for your entire body, please try to find a minute or two to take care of your back. Research shows that spine problems are off the charts, dominated by lower back pain. This is partly due to the lack of exercise and long hours at our desks.

Hence, I think it’s time we all started to take care of our spines. Here are a few poses. Pick one of them, do it for a week or two, switch to another, and keep going.

  • Sphinx pose
  • Locust pose
  • Child’s pose
  • Thread the needle
  • Cat and cow

17.  Awe walks

The pressure of the modern world can be hard to deal with sometimes. One habit of dealing with this that I’ve come to fall in love with is awe walks. Awe walks are when you remind yourself of the immensity of the universe and that it’s okay if you don’t have a perfect life. They’re shown to boost mental well-being.

How do you do them? Simple. Walk out of the house at night, put on your headphones, and listen to music – perhaps Coldplay is a good option – and watch the stars. Simply put, look at the universe with awe.

18. Measure what you care about

Only what gets measured, gets managed. — Peter Drucker

My friend’s brother is afraid of walking onto the weighing scale. You know why. We prefer ignorance rather than the truth. But when you engage in self-awareness by measurements, you make it easier to take action in the right direction. Hence, measure what you would like to be managed.

  • Step on the weighing scale every day, if you want to look leaner.
  • If you want to waste less time, place your screen time widget on the homepage and write it down in your journal every day.
  • If you want to be smarter, measure how many books you’re reading.

19. Write down one idea every day

James Atlutcher writes down 10 ideas every day. They can be article ideas, ideas on how to make money or to live better. Anything. As a beginner, 10 might seem overwhelming. Hence, start with one. Write down one idea (small or big) every day about living a better life. Perhaps you could write ideas on how to manage those things you measured in the last habit. Here are a few examples.

  • Start drinking apple cider vinegar.
  • Stop taking your phone to the washroom.
  • Start taking power naps.

20. Practice self-compassion

Every day we set out to accomplish something. There are days when we do. And then there are days when you fail. And while it’s important to learn from your micro-failures, you mustn’t beat yourself up for those.

Hence, before sleeping, practice self-compassion. Research shows that people who practice self-compassion are happier. After all, there’s nothing noble about going to bed mentally beaten up and guilty. Say “I forgive myself” and go to bed with a clear conscience.

This article was inspired by Amardeep Parmar’s amazing article, where he shares some great micro-habits as well. At the end of his article, he asked his readers to come up with their own micro-habits, and I think that’s a useful challenge for everyone.

So, do yourself a favor and come up with your own micro-habits as well. Ask yourself — “How can I do less yet get more?” And when you’ve come up with enough, write an article about it if you’re a writer, and if you’re not a writer, share them with a writer who can communicate them with the rest of us!

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Akshad Singi, M.D. has been published in Better Humans, Mind Cafe, and more. 

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.