Philipp Marxen

Implementing Habits: Key Strategies for Creating Lasting Change

It took me some time to realize the power of tiny habits and small habit changes. 

Habits, whether they’re positive or negative, give daily life structure. That structure is either prone to be ripped apart during a typhoon or stand the test of time. Think of them as the patterns that shape our existence and our potential. For me, understanding how negative habits hold us back and how positive habits propel us forward is key. That’s why I passionately believe in the power of small, consistent actions and changes. They can create a domino effect, leading to monumental improvements over time.

A desk with a planner, water bottle, and potted plant. A clock on the wall shows 6 am. A person's hand reaches for the planner

For me, it’s fascinating to see how a tiny adjustment in routine can lead to significant improvements in our lives. Take, for instance, swapping out a sugary drink for water or dedicating ten minutes a day to meditation. These simple switches can gradually turn into ingrained behaviors that foster better health and well-being.

It’s true that breaking free from the gravitational pull of old, negative habits can be challenging. However, I’ve learned that replacing them with positive ones isn’t about making monumental shifts overnight. It involves setting the stage for small, sustainable changes. By doing so, we can rewrite our personal narratives, transforming our actions into the positive habits that shape healthier and happier lives.

The Psychology of Habit Formation

A person placing an object in a designated spot repeatedly

I find that understanding the mechanics behind habit formation can be a profound tool for personal growth. It involves recognizing patterns, implementing small changes, and being aware of the psychological cues that drive our behaviors.

Triggering Behavioral Change

For me, behavioral change begins with identifying the triggers that initiate a particular habit. I’ve learned that habits are often formed when actions are repeated in response to specific contextual cues. It’s not just about what I do; it’s also about the setting and the moment when I do it. To create a new habit, I start by making tiny, incremental gains. That means breaking down a goal into manageable steps so as not to overwhelm myself. For stress mitigation strategies, I’ve adopted simple routines like deep breathing or a short walk, which serve as triggers for a calmer response in stressful situations.

For example, let’s say I want to develop a habit of reading before bed:

  1. Trigger: I place my book on my nightstand, creating a visual cue.
  2. Routine: I set the goal to read just one page each night.
  3. Reward: I find that the relaxation I get from this activity becomes a natural incentive.

By focusing on these small actions, I lay the groundwork for a larger, more consistent reading habit.

Avoiding Common Pitfalls

One common pitfall in habit formation is the lack of mental openness or the inability to adapt to new routines. It’s vital for me to approach changes with a flexible mindset and a willingness to adjust my strategies as needed. When a particular habit isn’t sticking, I make an effort to understand why and how I can refine the trigger or the action itself.

Here is a list of reminders that help me avoid common pitfalls:

  • Stay Realistic: I set achievable expectations for new habits to avoid discouragement.
  • Be Patient: I remember that forming a new habit is a process, not an overnight change.
  • Self-Compassion: I don’t berate myself for slip-ups, as they are part of the learning curve.

By being aware of and avoiding these pitfalls, I’ve found that I can more effectively cement healthy habits into my daily life.

Health and Wellness Habits

A bright, airy room with plants, yoga mat, and healthy snacks. A journal and water bottle sit nearby

Adopting health and wellness habits can make a significant impact on my overall well-being. From ensuring regular physical activity to monitoring what I eat, every little change can contribute to a healthier lifestyle. Let’s explore some specific habits that can foster health and wellness.

Warming up my back

First thing in the morning: I try to do a 1 minute mini exercise to stretch and warm up my back. This takes almost no time but the results are phenomenal. On average, I will have a much better posture throughout the entire day, just by investing this mere 1 minute. In practice, I pull myself up from an invisible cord attached to my head. I also warm up my shoulders and back, bring my arms to the side and do some little circles. Sometimes I also add 2-3 slow squats. In other words, this is not a workout, it is an extremely light warmup but with good results.

Starting the day with a glass of water

Then I drink half a glass or a full glass of water. This helps me hydrate and gives me energy and helps flush out any toxins that are still in the body over night. 

Pre 10 am natural light

Another mini habit that I try to follow is to go outdoors for at least 3-5 minutes before 10 am. It doesn’t matter to have direct sunshine or just a lot of natural light. Often, I try to look towards green plants and alter from near objects to wide objects. I also try to breathe deeply once or twice. Sometimes, I might just take my cup of coffee and drink it outdoors.

Incorporating Daily Exercise

Committing to frequent exercise is a transformative practice. I find that even 30 minutes a day can boost my mood and energy. When I say exercise, it is usually a gym session as this is the training I need most. 

But apart from that, I naturally walk a lot every day and often take a bike ride.

Nutrition and Eating Patterns

Good nutrition is fundamental for health, and my eating pattern plays a critical role. 

Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains provides the nutrients I need to function at my best. 

Intermittent Fasting

In the last 2 years, I have tried intermittent fasting. My perfect routine is a vegan shake with plenty of nuts, seeds and fruits around 10 am and a warm dish around 5-6 pm. 

Vegetarian Diet

Mostly, I follow a vegan/vegetarian diet. I haven’t eaten meat starting in 2011 but still might eat insects or fish, even though that is rather an exception. Well, I might only have eaten insects two or three times in more than 10 years.

Optimizing Sleep

A cozy bed with a dimly lit bedside table, a soothing essential oil diffuser, and a book on sleep habits

I’ve discovered that focusing on sleep quality is paramount for overall health and daily performance. To truly benefit, I’ve learned that it involves both establishing a consistent routine and understanding the impact of sleep on productivity.

Developing a Sleep Routine

In my journey to better sleep, I found that the key lies in consistency. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day creates a biological rhythm that my body can anticipate. To do this, I do my best to:

  • Expose myself to sunlight before 10 AM: This helps set my internal clock, signaling to my body when it’s time to start the day as I have written above. This is a routine I heard from Huberman podcast.
  • Engage in a relaxing activity before bed: I often spend around 30 minutes reading or practicing gentle stretches to wind down.
  • Keep my bedroom environment conducive to sleep: A dark, quiet, and cool room works wonders. I make sure to keep devices out of my sleep space to avoid distractions.
  • Magnesium: The best tool for deep sleep for me is a bit of magnesium before sleeping.

It’s essential for me to aim for at least 7 hours of sleep each night to ensure I’m rested and ready for the next day.

The Role of Sleep in Productivity

I experience firsthand the difference a good night’s sleep makes to my productivity. Without adequate sleep, I find it harder to concentrate and more challenging to complete tasks efficiently. Here’s what I do to maintain productivity through quality sleep:

  • Sleeping on my back: This position is beneficial as it supports my spine and can reduce pain, leading to a more restful night. Still, I often do not sleep on my back. It is a habit that I still want to implement in my life.
  • Avoid stimulants: I steer clear of caffeine in the afternoon and large meals before bedtime to avoid any disruptions to my sleep pattern.

By prioritizing these habits, I ensure that my sleep is restorative, thus maximizing my daily productivity levels.

Cognitive and Mental Habits

A person sitting at a desk, surrounded by books and papers, deep in thought, with a focused expression on their face

In my journey to enhance my cognitive and mental agility, I’ve discovered that integrating specific habits into my daily routine has been instrumental. By prioritizing and placing a strong focus on mental training tasks such as meditation and memory exercises, I’ve experienced a noticeable improvement in my mental clarity and cognitive functions.

Building a Meditation Practice

Once in a while, I  engage in meditation. This practice helps me to establish a sense of calm and focus. 

  1. Allocation of Time: A quiet time, preferably outdoors.
  2. Creating the Environment: A quiet, comfortable space minimizes distractions.
  3. Duration: Starting with just five minutes a day and gradually increasing the time as it becomes a routine.
  4. Technique: I began with guided sessions and slowly transitioned to silent meditation as my comfort with the practice grew.

Daily Learning and Memory

To keep my mind sharp, I commit to daily learning and memory exercises:

  • Daily Anki session: I use Anki, a spaced repetition software, to retain new information and practice languages. Spending 15–25 minutes daily helps me cement new daily language learning concepts into my long-term memory.
  • Memory Exercises: I challenge myself with puzzles or learn new facts related to topics I’m passionate about.
  • Application: Whether through writing or conversation, I actively use the new vocabulary I’ve learned to get my brain to build out some synapsis.

I track my progress, which helps me stay motivated and recognize my improvements over time. Through these practices, my mental agility has soared, and the once-daunting tasks have become manageable and even enjoyable.

Professional & Creative Habits

In my experience, balancing productivity with ingenuity in my professional life hinges on two core practices: fostering the ability to focus intensely and nurturing a creative mindset complemented by rest.

Fostering Deep Work

I’ve found that deep work is essential for excelling in entrepreneurship and other demanding fields. To achieve this, I often use the Pomodoro Technique, which I integrate into my daily routine. This method involves working in focused 25-minute segments (pomodoros), followed by a 5-minute break. Here’s how I structure my deep work sessions:

  • Pomodoro Session: 25 minutes of uninterrupted work
  • Short Break: 5 minutes to step away from my desk
  • Repeat: Complete four pomodoros, then take a longer break (15-30 minutes)

By cycling through these intervals, I maintain high levels of focus without burning out.

Cultivating Creativity and Rest

To foster my creativity, I’ve recognized the importance of balancing my work with periods of rest. Techniques I employ include:

  1. Scheduled Downtime: I reserve time in my calendar strictly for relaxation and hobbies.
  2. Physical Recreation: Engaging in physical activity, like a walk or a run, clears my mind and often sparks new ideas.

I believe that rest isn’t just about being away from work; it’s about giving my mind the space to wander, which is crucial for creative breakthroughs. Taking care of myself in this way enhances my effectiveness as an entrepreneur, ensuring my mind is refreshed and ready for the next challenge.

By actively practicing deep work and weaving rest and creativity into my lifestyle, I’ve seen substantial improvements in both my professional output and my personal satisfaction.

Habits for Social Wellbeing

Establishing positive habits can significantly enhance my social wellbeing by fostering strong relationships and managing my digital interactions.

Nurturing Relationships

I make it a point to reach out to friends and family consistently. This habit helps me to maintain and strengthen the bonds I have with them. Sometimes, I am an introvert that requires a lot of me-time. Sometimes, I am an extrovert. During the last years, I have become more of an introvert, but this might change again at a point.

Digital Communication Moderation

Moderation in digital communication is crucial for my social health. I find that occasional digital detoxes help me maintain this balance.

  • 40 days no Twitter: Lately, I have X’ed out Twitter for 40 days. Tomorrow, these 40 days will be over and I feel this was a good success. 

Lifestyle Changes for Habit Implementation

When I decided to implement new habits, I focused on two main areas: adopting a minimalist lifestyle and transitioning to more sustainable choices. These shifts required dedication and a strategic approach, but the rewards have been well worth it.

In the future, I still have a number of changes I want to implement.

Physical Activity Routines

Embarking on a journey to embed physical activity into my daily routine, I’ve found that setting achievable goals and making exercise enjoyable are key. Let’s dive into how I establish daily movement goals and infuse fun into my fitness regime.

Setting Daily Movement Goals

Walking: I do not set any walking goals. I just love walking and often listen to podcasts in different languages. In that sense, I like to stay in cities that are walkable. Taipei, Bansko, Panama City, Hong Kong, Singapore, Ulaanbaatar, Frankfurt, Bogota are some places that I like because of that.

Incorporating Fun into Fitness

Sports: I’ve always believed that enjoying what you do is half the battle won. That’s why I include sports I love as part of my routine. Playing a sport can be an effective way to build stamina, flexibility, and strength without feeling like it’s a workout.

Dancing: Absolutely love dancing. Salsa, Bachata, a bit of Zouk and Swing dancing.

By focusing on small, daily goals and integrating activities I love, fitness has become a natural and enjoyable part of my life.

Habits Around Special Occasions

Implementing new habits can be especially challenging during special occasions and holidays. Yet, these times also offer unique opportunities to create and maintain beneficial habits.

Leveraging Festivities for Habit Formation

Using Lent to implement a habit: I find that the reflective period of Lent, with its 40 days duration, is an excellent time to adopt a new habit. It’s structured and symbolic, allowing me to focus on personal growth and mindfulness. While some people might give up a vice, I opt to add positive actions during this time. By aligning a new habit with the timeframe of Lent, I effectively add structure to my effort, whether it’s daily meditation or offering kindness gestures. If you’re contemplating this, Lent could be your chance to embrace a spiritual habit with a lasting impact.

Maintaining Routines During Holidays

Habits during festivals can be tricky to maintain. Festivals involve unique events and sometimes chaotic schedules that can easily derail my usual routines. To combat this, I’ve learned to set specific, achievable goals for myself during these times. For instance, I might focus on staying hydrated amidst the revelry of a summer festival or ensure that I stay active by joining in traditional dances.

I retain a sense of normalcy by affixing new mini-habits to existing parts of the holiday. This could mean always doing a bit of stretching before a big holiday meal or taking a moment to write down what I’m thankful for during Thanksgiving. By attaching these new habits to fixed points of the holiday, they are more likely to endure beyond the festive period.

Special occasions don’t have to be a break from routine; rather, they’re opportunities to create routines that last. By cleverly incorporating habit formation into the structure of festivals, I can use these periods as catalysts for personal development and maintain my routines in the midst of celebration.

Technology and Habits

Incorporating technology wisely into our daily routines can both enhance and disrupt our habitual behaviors. As someone who’s navigated the intersection of technology and habits, I’ve seen firsthand the impact that smart management of screen time and habit-tracking apps can have.

Managing Screen Time

Establishing a routine for not using some apps helps warding off the potential for social media addiction. Here’s how I structure my day:

New Habits that I would like to implement in the future

What are my next goals and habits that I might want to implement: 

Language Youtube Videos

Watching one short Youtube Video each day in French, Mandarin and Portuguese to advance my skills in these languages.

No Milk Products

I want to completely cut out most milk products from my nutrition. This is based on some slight pain if I consume too many milk products.

Anki own decks

Working with Anki has been great, but I need to develop my own decks as this will be much better and personalized.

Nightly recap in Mandarin

Before sleeping, I want to start thinking about the day in Mandarin. This will set me up to dream in Mandarin, something I only experienced once in my life.

Sleeping on my back

In the future, I want to establish a routine of sleeping on my back. Since I sometimes sleep very quickly, this could be a good thing to implement.

Reading books

I want to read more books again.

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