Now that we know all about habits, how to create them, and how to break them, it’s time to dig into some specific positive habits that are worth building. These positive lifestyle habits are 1) research-backed and 2) designed to slot smoothly into your life. When built the right way, they become more automatic and less effortful over time—and so does your happiness, well-being, and productivity. Wins on all fronts, right?
9 Positive Habits For Your Best Self
1. Get fifteen minutes of sunlight. Every. Single. Day.
The list of benefits of getting outside and into the sunlight is huge. And we mean huge. Being outdoors helps you sleep better, ups your Vitamin D, makes your skin healthier, and just generally improves your overall well-being. Convinced yet?
There’s just one caveat here—yup, it’s sunburn. The key is to strike a balance between getting some natural sunlight and overdoing our time in the sun. Experts say about fifteen minutes per day of direct sunlight is a good starting point for most skin types.
Start here: Think about a time in your day when the sun is shining and you can squeeze in a few minutes to enjoy it. One easy idea? Get to work—or wherever you go in the a.m.—early and enjoy the sunshine for those extra minutes. Another option? Take a break from the grind and walk outside. You get double benefits for getting some sun and moving.
2. Be social at least once a week
Hands up if you’ve ever been secretly relieved when a friend cancels plans. Hands up if you’ve ever been the person doing the canceling. It’s okay; we’re guilty too. But this is a habit we need to break in light of a better one—keeping regular catch-up time on the calendar.
To protect your time with your friends—and the big benefits it brings to your body and mind—build regular social time into your schedule. It can be anything from going for a walk with the dogs, cooking together, meeting up for trivia night, or just grabbing a drink. When you schedule social, and dare we say fun, stuff on a regular basis, you’re more likely to stick to it. (One of those habit-building basics coming up to bat here.)
Start here: Think about the details first: When works for people during the week? And where? Once that’s sorted out, set an official recurring event in your calendar app. Send invites. Tell your friends they can count on you to be there every week and that you’d love to get that commitment in return.
3. Connect to your far-away friends and family with a weekly phone call
It’s confusing to most of us that phone calls used to be the only way to stay in touch with our far-off loved ones. What’s even more confusing is that our technologically-advanced phones somehow make it harder for us to feel real connection. And science suggests we need a change.
Research has found that the sound of a family member’s voice provides roughly the same physiological benefits as a hug, including the release of the stress-busting hormone oxytocin. You can use a normal phone or your favorite video chatting app, as long as the sound of your voices carries through in live conversation.
Start here: The key to making this one of your go-to positive habits, once again, is to put this phone call on a regular schedule. When your loved one’s phone starts ringing on the same day and time every week, this positive habit will become an automatic part of their routine, too.
4. Eat dinner together
The research about family meals is pretty stunning i.e., they’re worth it. Really worth it.
For example, research in children suggests that those who eat regular meals with their families are less stressed, have fewer behavior problems, have healthier diets, and have bigger vocabularies. What’s driving these awesome results? We suspect it comes back to the ways that quality time spent with the people you love nurtures and fulfills you. So make it a priority. And we’re using the term family to refer to any people in your life who love and support you. We often create our own family, and hey, that’s a beautiful thing.
Start here: Whether you have a traditional family or a few friends who feel like family, make it a habit to get together, put down your phones, and enjoy each other’s company over a meal once a week. Start with the easiest day in your schedule and get back to basics with the people you love: food and companionship. Can’t make it a weekly thing? Remember: positive habits start small. Can you do it once a month? Twice a month? You know the drill. Go from there.
5. Take a break from focused work every hour
If you find it difficult to focus for an hour or more straight, you are very far from alone. In fact, you’re most likely human–just like the rest of us. For example, even the most productive workers take breaks an average of at least once for every hour of focused work, according to a big study tracking workers’ use of computers.
So what’s happening in the brain here? Well, it’s complicated but we’ll give you the short version. Research shows that the unfocused mind unlocks a unique state in which the executive and default regions of the brain work in harmony. In other words, a focused brain is in a sort of sprinting mode that is helpful for taking care of narrow tasks but closed off from other important processes. An unfocused, wandering mind allows the brain to rejuvenate, make connections, and learn. Translation: Your brain needs rest. And a wandering mind is actually helpful. Best news ever.
Start here: At work, set an alarm for 50 minutes. Do your best to focus for that time, and then spend the next 15 minutes simply relaxing and looking around. That means no social media or reading. Instead, just let your mind wander and see where it takes you. If 50 minutes seems like a lifetime, try the Pomodoro Technique: 25 minutes of focus, 5 minutes of rest. Repeat.
6. Take a walk to boost your thinking
Sitting in the same place for too long isn’t just boring, it also gets in the way of your thinking. For years, people have instinctively taken walks as a way to clear their heads, and it turns out that they had the right idea all along. Research shows that walking promotes high-quality creative thinking, whether it’s done on a treadmill or outdoors, by allowing ideas to flow more freely.
Coupled with the big health benefits of light exercise, a daily walk deserves a top place in your positive habits.
Start here: Choose a time in your day when you can fit in a 10-minute walk. It could be just after lunch or in the afternoon when you tend to feel antsy or drowsy. Use a calendar reminder or an alarm on your phone until this is one of your go-to positive habits every day.
7. Turn the screens off two hours before bed
We’re lucky to have endless entertainment at our fingertips, but all of those screens aren’t doing our sleep and health much good. Most of us know this already; most of us aren’t paying attention. But we should be.
Researchers have found that exposure to digital screens makes your sleep quality worse and suppresses the release of melatonin. The best solution is to switch from digital to other forms of entertainment in the last couple of hours before bed.
Start here: What time do you actually want to be asleep? Subtract two hours from it, set a reminder, and turn off all of your devices at that time. And we mean all of them–TVs, phones, tablets, and smartwatches. Enjoy those last two hours before sleep with some combination of books (the real ones), conversation, exercise, or whatever calms you down.
8. Go to bed at the same time every night
Humans have been sleeping for a long time i.e., forever. You even might say that sleep is the oldest habit in the history of humanity, and it even comes with visual cues from the sun rising and falling. With all of that history, you’d think we would have this sleep thing mastered by now. But we don’t.
Our awesome “new” tech like lightbulbs and smartphones screws up our daily routine and the rhythms we used to have with the sun. But decades of sleep science research confirm that the most important habit for healthy sleep is to keep a consistent sleep schedule. (Experts call it sleep stability.) The biggest issue for most of us? The weekends. While perfect consistency would be best, experts say that at least going to bed within a couple of hours of the same time every night brings benefits to both sleep quality and quantity.
Start here: Yup, more math. First, figure out the earliest time you need to wake up to get to work or just to be human in general. Subtract eight hours from that time, and you have your weekday bedtime. On the weekends, add no more than one or two hours at most to your sleep and wake times. Use alarms and reminders to help establish these positive habits for better sleep.
9. Make your bed
Even though he’s not a trained psychologist, Admiral William H. McRaven makes a compelling case for the benefits of making your bed each morning in a commencement speech he made in 2014. He even writes like a seasoned researcher, explaining how making your bed provides a small sense of accomplishment and brings those positive feelings over into the rest of your day. Oh and Charles Duhigg, the go-to expert on habits research, calls bedmaking a keystone habit—one that sets your day up for success and starts you off on the path to making better choices all day long. That’s reason enough for us.
Start here: Need some help adding this to your list of positive habits? Turn it into a game. Glance at your watch, see how long it takes to make your bed, and then try to beat your own time the next morning. With each passing day, this habit will be faster and more automatic. Though just a warning, there are speed limitations to consider once you reach a certain point. But if you figure out how to do it in less than 20 seconds, let us know.
To sum it all up
Positive habits don’t just happen—they take time and effort to build into the rhythm of your days. But once you get them down, you’ll find it a little easier to enjoy your life, protect your time, and support your overall happiness and well-being, all by making certain tasks as automatic as brushing your teeth.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the thought of building all nine of these positive habits, just choose one. After all, most habits start small. So pick one from the list and get going.
Here’s a reminder to keep you on the path to a positive healthy lifestyle:
- Get outside for at least 15 minutes a day.
- Connect regularly and in real life with the people who sustain you.
- Call your far-away loves ones consistently for a boost.
- Eat regular meals with your biological or chosen family.
- Take breaks every hour from tough work for a necessary brain recharge.
- Walk every day.
- Ditch the screens a few hours before bedtime for ultimate sleep.
- Speaking of sleep, aim to get into bed and out of it at the same time every day.
- When you get out of that bed, take a few minutes to make it for a habit that keeps you on a positive track all day.
Your turn: Do you have any other positive habits that make your days better? Share in the comments.
Author: Scott Trimble
Scott researched human motivation at The University of Texas at Austin. He spends most of his time traveling, reading, teaching, and writing.