In early 2021, I made a list of my life achievements. I wrote down all the past accomplishments I was proud of, as well as bad habits I had broken and good ones I had forged over the years. For example, I noted that I became vegan in 2010. I celebrated how I quit my Neopets addiction to take on my first animal advocacy job in 2017. This list—or “inner trophy cabinet,” as I called it—proved valuable. It motivated me to keep going, and it made me curious to see what I could add to the list next.
Over the course of the year, plenty of my habit attempts flopped. Yet, I managed to pull together 10 awesome new habits I actually stuck with!
I wanted to share these 2021 wins, both to give you ideas for things you might do in 2022 and beyond, and also to illustrate the principles that personally helped me succeed. Apart from using an achievements list, another key was that I realized “daily” habits don’t have to be done every day for them to stick.
For me, I found if I do a behavior such as meditation 80–95% of the time, it’s enough for me to feel solidly committed to it and to stay on track. And it feels like less pressure, knowing I can award myself random rest days when I’m busier or more tired!
1. I stopped buying added salt
Vegan brand-name bars were my favorite snack, but I felt slightly addicted and would make entire meals of them. I actually solved this problem indirectly last January, by deciding I would stop buying things with added salt in them (unless it was a minuscule amount). That rules out a lot of pre-made junk food, doesn’t it? It’s been a whole year now!
Fewer cravings, and I’m relieved to be skipping all that packaging. Later on in 2021, I stepped up my leafy green game again, and I also got consistent about buying and taking all the reasonable nutrition supplements for my situation. May my baseline of healthy habits continue to grow stronger!
2. I started investing
I used to think investing was complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Once you make an account with a trading platform, such as Fidelity, the easiest way is to just buy stocks in an index fund (or an ETF). This means you are automatically investing in hundreds of companies at once, without having to think about it. The U.S. market has had a long-term annual return of roughly 10% a year. So that means if you put in $10,000 in 2022, by 2052 that money would be predicted to grow to $200,000, without you having to lift a finger. It’s the power of compound interest! Use this calculator to imagine how much your money could grow.
If you are determined to try and get more than 10% return a year, let me know what you think of Jia Jiang’s Love Investing strategy. Also, check out Courtney Renee’s article on how you can choose sustainable banks and funds.
3. I spoke to myself in the mirror
I have often, by default, looked critically at myself in the mirror. To change that, I did a self-love talk in the mirror for 5 minutes every night. It was a beautiful journey over several months of 2021, which I wrote about here.
Now, my automatic responses are different. I smile, wave, or say hello to myself in the mirror a lot. Even when I am not seeing my reflection in front of me, when I talk to myself even mentally I tend to picture my own face with a caring expression on it. I acknowledge how I am feeling, and I say things to reassure and encourage myself. At this point, I only have to speak to my reflection a smaller amount to sustain the benefits.
4. I keep a log of my sex life
Sexuality has always been hard. I decided to bring more mindfulness to it, by keeping a log. At first, I would just type up a sentence or two whenever I pleasured myself, to document what I had been thinking about while doing it. Lately, I’ve also been jotting down, say, if I see a cute romance scene in a TV show. Or if I’m attracted to someone on a Zoom call and get butterflies.
Honestly, not much has changed. I still wish I had a Harry Potter potion that would make me asexual. Nevertheless, it did feel like progress to simply be more observant of how I feel. This starter habit may lead to better change in the future.
5. Daily meditation
The sexuality log described above also led me to start a couple of other logs that have been useful—one for my daily acts of courage; another for anything I might do to celebrate life, holidays, or the season; and lastly, a meditation log!
Yep, I’ve finally done it! I got on track with meditating 8 minutes a day, initially. I was finding lots of different things to concentrate upon, making every meditation unique as I blogged about here. After a while, I settled into my favorite styles and techniques, such as box breathing, and doing loving-kindness meditation in the form of writing.
Being curious for what I will meditate/concentrate on in the next session is what glues me to the habit. Plus, the loving-kindness components have been especially feel-good; recently I’ve done longer sessions in the range of 15–30 minutes and I think it makes a difference for my anxiety!
6. Only watching TV while exercising
For a while, I had this rule: I never watched TV alone—only with friends or family. However, I missed my Carmen Sandiego, and the cartoon would have been a difficult sell to my parents. Meanwhile, I had been following along to low-impact cardio videos for the past several months, but didn’t feel motivated enough to do the videos daily. Solution? I began a nightly tradition of “Cardio with Carmen!”
Since September 21, I’ve gotten my heart rate up for around 20–25 minutes a day while watching fun cartoons. More recently, I added in a touch of flexibility training, and I’ve been starting to pair my workouts with more educational materials. (Animal Justice Academy, anyone?)
I’m a daily exerciser now, it seems to be headed towards long-term, and I still can’t believe that finally happened. My knees and other body parts thank me.
7. Listing my income and expenses
There’s a plethora of money-tracking apps, but I figured I’d make my own list to categorize things the way I wanted. (You know how I love my logs and lists!) After shopping, it only takes a minute to type up the new expenses. Seeing exactly how much I earn and spend—and on what—has motivated me to reduce my grocery bill from $400 the first few months, to around $250 the last two.
I have been vigilant about canceling subscriptions, and I just feel proud to be able to write down how much I earn each month from editing, ghostwriting, etc. If finance feels boring, gamify it. Pretend you’re playing with “gold pieces” or neopoints! My goal is for every income and expense to feel as good as possible, like all the numbers positively reflect who I am, and smile back at me from the screen.
8. I clean before and after each meal
I’ve tried some habits to stay more conscious around mealtimes. I tend to have a lull in energy when I eat, I eat too much, or I lose my self-discipline and just want to veg out after.
My favorite trick now is that I do 4 quick things both before and after each meal: I move, mingle, meditate, and make things immaculate! Yep, I made everything start with M so I could call it the Mmmmmm Rule!
In practice, my Mmmmmm Rule might look like a minute of jumping jacks, texting a friend, a few deep breaths, and doing a dish or two. I keep it short so the habit can be easy to sustain. Just those simple actions are a way of preventing myself from slipping into unconsciousness. Plus, my room and kitchen have stayed cleaner!
9. Food away and get ready for bed around 7
I have yet to break my insomnia habit, but I at least stop myself at 7 p.m. now and say, “Let’s do all the things I need to do to stay on top of my life, and get ready for bed, before continuing any non-essential fun.”
Hence, I am able to pass out as soon as I am able. Instead of being like, “Shoot! It’s 2 a.m. and I still need to finish an editing assignment and take off my makeup!”
10. Eco home habits
I sought to be more eco-conscious and utility-saving, but I wasn’t sure how to create a committed habit for that. Eventually, I launched the habit of just picking a happy middle path whenever I am tempted to indulge or be lazy. For instance, I was considering lowering my thermostat to 60, but another part of me wanted to be winter-cozy at 70. So what did I do? I gave 65 a chance.
I have gotten better about turning off lights, conserving water, and taking my reusable bags to the store. The amount I am saving might seem laughably small, but I am practicing the habit of going just a little out of the way each time. This is a great mindset for us to get into if we wish to combat climate change and be more responsible about reducing suffering on the planet.
The 10 great habits I created in 2021 make me sound more disciplined and successful than I actually am. I still feel I am lagging behind in life in many ways. I’ve been unemployed averaging $200 a month as a creative, and my 2021 mental health would have to be graded a C. And again, the majority of my attempts did not last long; these were just the habits that survived and are now on their way to becoming long-term blessings. I probably changed a lot fewer of my behaviors back when I was working or studying 9 to 5. People can be self-compassionate and allow different times in their life to see progress and investment in different areas, besides just the general “habits” one I have touched on here.
However, I am glad I refrained from being self-deprecating in my delivery of this message. Writing this has helped me behold the full glory of the habits I have created. I hope you celebrate and amplify the heck out of your habit creations, too! Even if plenty of parts of our lives feel scary or uncertain, the great habits we make happen in 2022 will lead to SO much good down the road.
Also by Phoenix: 7 Things I’ve Embraced Being Terrible At
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