A few months ago, I realized I had completely fallen off my exercise routine, was regularly turning to food and alcohol for comfort, and wasn’t making time for what was most important to me. I knew I needed to make some serious changes to get out of a funk and do things that were actually good for me. So I took a break to reflect, read self-help books, and make a plan. Lo and behold, I had one of the best months of my entire life, successfully balancing and excelling at my personal life, work, and relationships. Not to brag, but I feel like I cracked the code on life. Here are the five new habits I implemented that turned it into the best month of my life.
1. I journaled every morning and night
Throughout my childhood, I was a big journaler. I carried a notebook around with me everywhere, and I wrote in it whenever I could. But when I started my first big girl job, I no longer had hours of free time to sit and write. For the past ten years, I have looked through old journals with sadness, wondering why I ever stopped and how I would ever be able to start again. So during my attempt at a glow-up, I decided to start small and adopt a prompted daily journaling habit.
Every morning, I set myself up for the day by practicing gratitude and manifestation. And every night, I take a few minutes to reflect on how my day went. I record my mood, what went well and what could have gone better, and a memory for the day. I may not write pages and pages about my life regularly like I used to, but I’ve gotten back what I loved so much about journaling as a child and teenager: the space to process what I am feeling and the ability to remember the little joys that make up life.
2. I picked a daily affirmation
Until very recently, I found the whole practice of affirmations to be a bit woo-woo. I pictured myself standing in front of a mirror, repeating the same sentence over and over, every single day of my life. And while this is absolutely an acceptable way of utilizing a daily affirmation, I knew it wouldn’t work for me. Instead of trying to find one daily affirmation that completely embodied who I was and wanted to be, I decided to purchase a 365-day affirmation calendar.
Now, as part of my morning routine, I flip to the next page in the calendar, read the affirmation, and write it down in my journal. I may repeat it while looking at myself in the mirror, write it on sticky notes, or recite it out loud like other people may enjoy their affirmations, but I do take the time to fill my mind with a positive thought every morning. To get started on your affirmations, check out this list of 50 positive affirmations that will change your life or 100+ powerful affirmations for women.
3. I created a top three to-do list
For my entire life, I have been the type of person who creates one never-ending to-do list. I write my tasks in a notebook, adding to it as more things get put on my plate. On those days when I cross off two things and add eight more, I can’t help but be disappointed. Now, while I still have a larger to-do list of all of the things I know I need to get done, I also keep a daily to-do list that only ever has three things on it. This allows me to quickly prioritize the many tasks on my plate, and it allows me to feel a sense of accomplishment. While I often get more than the three things done in one day, on the days that don’t go as well, as long as I cross those three things off the list I know that I’ve done what I set out to do.
4. I reevaluated how I spend my time
I spent months being frustrated that I couldn’t do it all, feeling like I never had time for both what I was supposed to do and what I wanted to do. Then I read Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin and learned about the “false choice loophole.” The false choice loophole is one of ten loopholes that Rubin identified when studying why people avoid building habits, and it’s when you believe you can’t do something because you’re already busy doing something else.
Let me explain. I was working on a novel but rarely found time to write. As I listened to authors talk about their processes, the one piece of advice I repeatedly picked up on was to write first thing in the morning. This sounded like exactly what I needed, but how was I supposed to do it when I was already getting up earlier than I wanted in order to fit in a workout? I believed that I couldn’t write because I was already busy working out in the mornings. But what was stopping me from doing both?
So at the beginning of 2023, I switched up my morning routine. I set my alarm even earlier, giving myself enough time for about an hour and a half of writing and an hour of exercising. And it worked! Did I want to cry when I dragged myself out of bed knowing the sun wouldn’t be up for hours? Yes. Did I often take a nap on the couch before dinner? Yes. But did I finish the first draft of my novel and stick to my exercise routine? Yes! And each success was more fulfilling because I didn’t have to give up something else that was important to me in order to achieve it.
5. I focused on only what can be controlled
I’ll admit it: I am an emotional person. The smallest thing—my favorite coffee shop out of my preferred milk alternative, being forced to sit through a meeting I didn’t need to be in, a surprise thunderstorm during my daily Hot Girl Walk—can immediately shift my mood, turning a good day to a bad one in a matter of seconds. While I fully believe in the importance of allowing yourself to feel your feelings, the level with which I was wallowing in my negative thoughts had become unhealthy, reaching a point where I wasn’t able to enjoy the things I could control because of the things I could not control. So to fix this, I gave myself 15 minutes to seethe: I could go for a walk and complain to my husband, I could blast an old angry emo song, I could bawl my eyes out. But at the end of those 15 minutes, I had to get back to my day.
Has it been easy? Of course not. Have I wanted to numb myself by drinking several glasses of wine on a weeknight? Definitely. But giving myself the time to process what I am feeling and then only focus on what I actually can control has changed my mindset. I have read more books, spent more time with friends, and had happier nights at home with my husband.