These small, but powerful daily habits will help you to become more productive, regain perspective on your priorities, build great relationships and achieve your goals.
1.) "Memento Mori" - Remember your death
The idea of reminding yourself that you are not immortal has been around forever. Especially in ancient times when death was ubiquitous — through war, famine and sickness — the idea of “Memento Mori” (Latin: “remember that you will die”) became popular among philosophers as a tool to develop humility.
Nowadays, while most of these threats don’t exist anymore, we tend to lose touch with our own mortality. For most of us, death is an event in the distant future, until accidents, sickness or the loss of someone close remind us how soon the curtain can fall on our life.
Steve Jobs, in his famous 2005 Stanford Commencement speech, said the following about the importance of regularly reminding yourself of your mortality, with regard to his own cancer diagnosis:
"Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."
But isn’t reminding yourself of your own death depressing? Shouldn’t we rather focus on the idea of “Carpe diem” (Latin: “seize the day”)?
The truth is that “Carpe diem” follows directly from “Memento mori”.
It should be seen as an invigorating thought that gives a sense of urgency, of perspective and let’s you focus on what is truly important, instead of wasting time on trivial, unnecessary things.
Death doesn’t make life meaningless, but rather meaningful, when using each day of the short time we have on this planet to live according to our values and in line with our own purpose.
How can we put this realization into action?
Seneca put it as follows:
“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day. … The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.”
Make “Memento mori” part of your routine in the morning. Write it down in your journal, next to your values and long term goals, or simply on a sticky note where you can see it every morning.
Try to spend a short moment each day pondering that idea and allow it to put things into perspective.
With this mindset you can truly seize the day.
2.) Reach out to someone you haven’t talked to in a while
A recently published 75-year study from Harvard showed that the key to a fulfilling life is to develop and nurture meaningful relationships.
But how often do we really nurture our relationships?
How often do you reach out or see old friends or members of your family — your cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and even your siblings and parents — especially if you live in different places?
Life is busy and apart from Christmas and birthdays there are often only few other instances where we make the time to connect once again.
How do we reach out more often and thus improve our relationships?
Try to come up with a list of all the people you don’t talk to regularly, but feel like you should talk to more often.
Then, schedule 10 minutes each day, for example before your evening routine or during lunch break, to reach out to the person on top of the list.
It can be a quick voice note or even a short text message. If you feel like it is better to call that person via phone, either make some more time or just do a short call and schedule a longer one when it suits both.
The following day reach out to the next person on the list. Rotating through the list you make sure that you reach out to everyone once in a while and keep improving these relationships step by step.
3.) Get out of your comfort zone
Regularly doing something you’re afraid of is one of the most difficult, but also most effective and rewarding things you can do to grow as a person.
It is easier said than done to face your biggest fears, may it be to ask your boss for that raise, talk to that cute girl/guy at the bar, do public speaking or call someone to sincerely apologize.
But to be able to do these things anyway, getting out of your comfort zone and facing that resistance deep inside you must become a habit. Only then will you be able to cope with that feeling and not let it stop you.
How do I get out of my comfort zone every day?
Start small by doing things that don’t make you completely freak out, but that push you a little.
One way would be to let the water become a bit colder every time you take a shower, with the goal to soon take ice-cold showers.
Another one would be to look people into their eyes while walking down the street (with a friendly expression, don’t be a creep) and to generally stop avoiding eye contact.
Try to find your own methods to step it up each time and hold yourself accountable at the end of each day whether you really faced the feeling of resistance and also went through it.
Over the long term try to develop the mindset that whenever there is resistance, you have to do it. Try to change the frame and view it as a compass that shows you where to go in every situation.
The resistance will most likely never go away, but you can learn to deal with it and act in spite of it, or even better, because of it.
“Without fear there cannot be courage.” - Christopher Paolini
4.) Leave someone better than you found him/her
The idea for this mindset comes from Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scouting movement. One of his principles was to “leave this world a little better than you found it.”
In my opinion, one of the best ways to live up to this principle and spread it across the globe is to apply it to others, therefore leaving a person better than you found him/her on a daily basis.
Apart from donations, volunteering and helping the homeless, you could also start with small things, that you can implement every day.
Smiling at people, greeting them, asking them about their day, giving someone a helping hand, thanking someone for everything he/she does, giving genuine compliments, and generally being positive and upbeat…
All these things are for free, but can make someone’s day.
Combining it with reaching out to someone who hasn’t heard of you in a while and was not expecting your message, you will definitely leave someone better off that day.
How can I make sure to implement this on a daily basis?
Make that mindset part of your values and principles, which you review every morning to internalize them.
As you go through your day, anybody can be the one whose day you will improve. Your family, colleagues, friends or even strangers on the street.
The general idea is to simply serve more, since over the long term what you receive is in direct proportion to what you give.
It is not by coincidence that deserving literally includes serving.
5.) Be Grateful
In recent years research has shown the benefits of expressing gratitude. Yet it is something whose importance we tend to forget in our busy every day lives, rather longing for more than being grateful for what we already have.
The paradox is that we think we find happiness at the end of the road instead of along the way. We think that only in the future, when something happens that we desire, can we be happy.
The Roman stoic philosopher Epictetus put it nicely in his Discourses:
“It is quite impossible to unite happiness with a yearning for what we don’t have. Happiness has all that it wants, and resembling the well-fed, there shouldn’t be hunger or thirst.
So don’t let happiness become dependent on some event in the future. You can be happy right now, at this very moment. Be grateful for what you have and see what happens.
How can I implement a daily gratitude ritual?
Make it part of your routine before going to bed, review how your day went and find at least three things you’re grateful for. It may be things that happened to you during the day or subtle things like your food, your nice and warm bed, your family or your health.
Even if difficult, try to be grateful for the “bad” things that happened to you during the day. Being grateful flips the script and makes you see the positive side of something and how you can learn and grow from it.
How can I be grateful for bad things?
Let’s say you got angry at someone and started a fight.
Even after you realize that you don’t want to be controlled by your impulses and react that way, you can still express gratitude towards that anger for serving as a reminder that you need to work on your overall presence and mindfulness throughout the day and increase control over your impulses. Thus, you reframe that event as something to learn from.
In combination with the other things you are grateful for, this allows you to enter a state of abundance and therefore ends the day on a positive note with an optimistic outlook on the next day.
Call To Action
As with all habits, rather focus on one at a time until it is an integral part of your day.
Try to chose one of the tips that will most likely benefit you the most and would be easy to implement for you. Making sure you do it every day until it truly becomes a habit and you start to reap the benefits.
Which of these tips are already an important part of your day? Let me know right below which one you find most helpful and which had the most impact on your life.