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  • Baldwin Diep

The 5 Most Effective Habits I've Adopted

Journal and Reflection

The single most effective habit I think I’ve picked up is prescribing myself to journal my thoughts and reflect on my life and daily actions. What did I achieve today? How do I feel about the things that have happened? What do I really want and how do I get there? Taking the time to write these things down allows me to get in touch with what is really important to me, and what will make me feel happy and fulfilled.

It also prevents me from something I don’t want: being lost. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone about my day feeling like I’ve wasted it or having the frustrated thoughts of not making any advancement in my life. By journaling and reflecting on my life, it provides me with the direction I need to move forward and feel like my days have meaning again.

Without reflecting and going over what you have done and accomplished, you can start to lose sight of why you started in the first place. Success may come, but in the form of emptiness because you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing anymore. You’ve reached your sales goals, working hard every day, but the feeling of achievement doesn’t really come. Whereas the more often you can reflect on your day, you get to recenter yourself and get a better sense of satisfaction.


Yes, I included meditation and it's on every list because it actually really works.

I can’t begin to list the benefits of meditation on my daily life. I had always turned away from this practice as I thought it was too "woo-woo" and honestly too difficult to do. But I realized later that it’s that same difficulty that makes it so effective.

I admit, the effect is not distinctly noticeable. By this I mean that you can’t really see or tell the difference it has on you immediately. It’s only after a long, patient trial of practice that you really see how it improves your life. I’ve experienced less anxiety, less mental clutter, less stress, more focus, and the very keen ability to organize my thoughts in the moment. It has immensely helped my relationships and professional life as well as helping me get a clearer picture of what I want out of life.

It’s no doubt a very difficult practice, but one of the ways I can try to explain it is that you are trying very hard to focus on one thing. And it’s that same act, that mental exercise which gives you the ability to focus better. Like anything else, it’s the actual practice of trying to focus that helps you focus better.

I used to use the Headspace App because it was good at teaching and reminding me how to meditate correctly. But after a while I preferred complete silence during my sessions so now I use the Waking Up timer with a gentle gong noise every five minutes.


Planning ahead is one of the other best ways to keep my mind from feeling cluttered and overwhelmed. If you take the time at night to plan for the next day, you’ll find yourself being much more focused throughout the day because you know exactly what you need to do. I also take every morning to plan out my agenda down to every hour, even if I don’t follow it all the time. Then I list my top priorities and goals for the day, which is - what do I need to do that will make today a successful day?

By thinking of your tasks earlier, it clears you up on what needs to get done.

And although most people create to-do lists, I find that it’s much more effective to plan out your day by time. A task list without thought will eat up the entire day.

I use the Best Self Journal and they work perfectly for me because of it’s goal-oriented prompts and hourly agenda. It’s not for everybody but I encourage you to find one that fits your personal needs.

Taking a walk outside

Steve Jobs used to take a walk everyday and used it as an opportunity to talk with his friends through the issues he was facing in the workplace.

We all can learn a thing or two from Jobs’ ritual. For him, it gave his mind the space to explore his thoughts and free himself from his daily responsibilities that would normally take up most of his mental energy. The daily practice of taking a walk outside has more benefits that you can imagine. Many cultures cite it as the reason their life expectancy is so high. Indeed, the exercise, though minimal, is effective at keeping your body active. And the exposure to nature as opposed to staying indoors all day acts as a kind of therapeutic activity that reduces stress.

I know that for me, walks can be cumbersome because it’s low on the priority list and sometimes I can just get too lazy to do them. But every time I do, I notice that I ultimately feel more relaxed every time. So if you’re ever feeling the stress and need to take a break, consider taking a walk outside and you’ll be glad you did.

Adopting Routines and Rituals

This topic can be a whole article by itself, and I'll probably write a separate one at another time.

I really recommend reading this book, The Paradox of Choice, or learning a little bit about the concepts presented. In it, Psychology Professor Barry Schwartz describes how too many options gives us “choice paralysis” and debilitates our ability to make good choices, leaving us with a feeling of dissatisfaction with the outcome.

I extrapolate this concept a little bit and add to it with the concept of decision fatigue. And as this article mentions, decision fatigue is where the more choices you have to make throughout the day, the less mental energy you have and that usually ends up with you taking shortcuts or making irrational decisions just to get them over with.

Think of your mental energy as a battery. Throughout the day, we have a certain amount of willpower, and each time we need to decide, it depletes our battery of making decisions further throughout the day.

Think of your mental energy as a battery. Throughout the day, we have a certain amount of willpower, and each time we need to decide, it depletes our battery of making decisions further throughout the day. And by the evening, you may find yourself agonizing over what to eat for dinner. Most famous writers are well known to have a routine that removes the clout of uncertainty so they could focus their efforts on their main tasks at hand.

How can you do this? As you can read from this article, prescribing yourself to a routine or ritual takes out the mental energy of making decisions.

Start by planning and fine-tuning your schedule to optimize your energy levels throughout the day. According to this theory by best-selling author Daniel Pink, you can optimize your productivity throughout the day by understanding your personal daily physiological rhythm, which affects our moods and, thus, our performance at work. Pink explains that in a single day most people go through three stages:

  1. Peak: Our mood rises in the morning. This is the best time to do analytical work that requires head-down, focused attention, such as strategizing, analyzing a financial statement or writing a report. “That’s the time of day we are vigilant and able to knock away distractions,” Pink says.

  2. Trough: Our mood declines in the early to mid-afternoon. This is the best time to do more administrative work or “routine garbage,” such as answering emails and filling out expense reports.

  3. Recovery: Our mood boosts back up in the early evening but you’re less vigilant, Pink explains. “This combination of enhanced mood while being less analytical makes a good time for brainstorming and creative work,” he says.

For some (night owls), this cycle goes in reverse. But the idea here is that if you understand your own natural rhythm, you can be much more efficient by assigning tasks that fit the appropriate stage of the cycle.

Have the same breakfast or lunch everyday. Plan your outfits. Have a very precise morning routine like meditation, journal, breakfast, etc. Clear away any visual clutter from your workspace that might distract you.

As that annoying Masterclass ad tells me every time I go on Youtube: being productive is really about preventing yourself from being interrupted. So plan your day the night before and be disciplined in following it if you want to maximize your mental energy throughout the day. Set hard edges in your schedule, so you can maximize your productivity in a given time. If you know you have to stop working by noon, you’ll be much more committed to being productive in those early morning hours.

Some Quick Hitters...

Here are a few quick hitters that I learned from James Clear's best-selling novel, "Atomic Habits". I think the most powerful concept is, when thinking to establishing effective habits, goals are not as powerful as systems. That is, creating an optimal structure or process for yourself to make these habits easier to adopt and practice.

Goals are not as powerful as systems.

Design and optimize your environment - The law of least effort states: Human behavior gravitates towards least effort. Create environment where doing the right thing is easy, and bad habits difficult. Prime habits by making it easier.

  • Live in an environment filled with productive visual cues because it can guide you toward a habit. Have a clear division of environments to get you in the right mental space.

Habit stacking - This is a technique to overhaul your habits. Each action can lead to a next behavior. Identity a current habit that you already do, and stack another habit to it. “After [current habit], I will.. [new habit]”. Take advantage of the momentum and it leading to the next. But you need to be specific and clear on when to act so it’s easier to implement and remember.

  1. When I wake up, I will use the bathroom and wash up.

  2. After I wash up, I will grab my phone and open up meditation app. When this happens, I will meditate for 10 minutes.

  3. When I finish meditating, I will go to the kitchen and make coffee and toast, then breakfast.

  4. After I make breakfast, I will come to my room and write my daily goals and schedule my day.

Reduce your exposure to bad habits - Disciplined people can structure their lives in a way that doesn’t require heroic willpower and self control - spending less time in tempting situations.

Temptation bundling - Linking an action you want to do (reward) with an action you need to do (habit). We need to make our habits attractive because it will get us to act. Our brains spike in dopamine levels in anticipation to something we want - so it’s the anticipation and not the fulfillment of the action that motivates us or gives us pleasure. This is why the anticipation is more enjoyable than the doing.

2 minute rule and “gateway habits” - When you start a new habit, it should take less than 2 min to do. This refers to the "priming action" before your desired habit. Instead of “I’m going to meditate”, instead think “I’m going to take out my yoga mat”. This is because once you start doing the first step, it’s much easier to continue the rest... gateway habits.

Final Words

Hopefully you’ve already considered trying out a few of these and just have never really committed to them long-term. But since we have all of this free time because of the COVID-19 shelter-in-place, it’s the perfect opportunity for you to finally work on those habits you’ve been meaning to do. But remember, the key lesson here is repetition and practice. The more often you do it, the easier it gets and you’ll find yourself looking forward to these habits as you see the benefits piling up over time. And eventually, it’ll even become hard to live without them!




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