It’s that time of the year again. Are you excited?
It’s time to break your New Year’s resolutions! Woohoo!!
Okay, maybe it’s not quite time yet. Maybe you’ll last a few more days, or maybe you’ll even make it to February!
But chances are, you’ll break your resolutions sooner or later.
In fact, you have a 92% chance of failing with your New Year’s Resolutions.
And yet you keep torturing yourself — year after year — with this resolution nonsense. If you’re looking for a better option, then keep reading.
Genies and Willpower
The transition to a new year stirs up a deep, primal desire to grow — to become a healthier, happier, and perhaps even wealthier version of yourself.
But this kind of growth requires change.
You probably know this already. And you probably think that willpower is the secret to that kind of change.
I’d like you to try an experiment right now:
- Sit or stand comfortably.
- Close your eyes.
- Snap your fingers.
- Magically summon a new car, out of thin air.
Did it work? Are you like the Genie of the Lamp?
I’m guessing not.
Then why the hell are you trying to snap your fingers and magically create willpower?
That’s just not how willpower works. In fact, you’ve got it completely backwards!
You don’t create change by adding willpower; you build willpower by creating change!
4 Magic Words for Success
Okay, so we’ve established that you want to grow in the new year.
And we’ve established that you need to change in order to grow.
And we’ve also established that summoning up willpower is not the solution to change, just like snapping your fingers isn’t the solution to buying a new car.
So what’s the solution?
Here is an incantation that might as well be magic because it’s so powerful:
Add tiny healthy habits.
Those 4 words are POWERFUL. Don’t underestimate them. Read them again. In fact, just go ahead and memorize them.
Making the Magic Work for You
To make these 4 words work, you need to keep two things in mind.
First, the habits must be small.
They should be so tiny and so easy that they require zero willpower. Look at the list below for examples.
And secondly, you should be adding habits, not subtracting them.
For the time being, forget about subtracting negative habits. For example, forget about quitting smoking. In fact, I would argue that you really shouldn’t quit smoking.
Instead, add a tiny, healthy habit.
By adding tiny, healthy habits your energy (or qi) will flow better, and you’ll naturally build more and more willpower.
Later — after you’ve built up stronger willpower muscles — only then should you even begin to think about subtracting a negative habit from you life.
Tiny, Healthy Habits You Can Add Right Now
I recommend that you pick one or two of the habits listed below, and commit to doing them for at least 30 days.
If you miss a day, then you start your 30-day count from scratch! Sorry kiddo. With tiny, healthy habits, there is zero tolerance for failure. That’s precisely why they are so tiny.
In fact, you shouldn’t be missing too many days because the habits are so easy. If you’re missing days, then try easier habits.
Here are 9 tiny, healthy habits that you can add to your life right now.
1. Do 2 Minutes of Qigong
If you choose only one habit from this list, choose qigong.
I often describe qigong as the master key that unlocks all of your other good habits.
If you don’t know any qigong, you can go learn a 2-3 minute routine for free right here.
If you’ve never heard of qigong, then you can start with this FAQ.
2. Walk More
Have you ever seen people driving around searching for a parking spot close to the fitness center? I have. It’s madness!
It’s amazing how many people neglect a free and easy habit that can literally transform their lives.
The research is clear. Walking is one of the best things you can do for your health.
Throughout your day, there are countless opportunities to walk. Park your car on the far side of the lot, get off the bus a stop early, get a dog, or just go walking with a friend (see #7 below) every morning.
(Note that the following links are Amazon affiliate links. This means I get a tiny commission if you purchase using my link, at no extra cost to you. I read about 75 books per year, so I’m grateful for your help in feeding my reading addiction!)
What does a tiny walking habit look like? It can be as simple as going for a 2 minute walk ever afternoon. (If it’s raining or too cold, you can just walk inside for 2 minutes!)
Yes, you can — and should — make a habit of giving.
Why should you give?
First, because giving feels good. Humans seem to be hard wired for giving.
Secondly, because the more you give, the more you have. I recommend a wonderful book called The Power of Giving, which explains this concept beautiful.
In the Zen tradition, giving also creates good karma. This doesn’t need to be anything mystical. When you give, you immediately feel good. Instant karma.
The more I give, the more I receive. For example, my wife and I give every month via GlobalGiving. We’ve been doing this for years, even when we were struggling financially.
If you can’t give money, then give service. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, mentor a child, or give random acts of kindness.
As an aside, if you are battling depression, then you should absolutely volunteer. Go do it right now. Click here to read why I think volunteering is so important for depressives.
4. Smile from the Heart
This Zen technique is as profound as it is simple.
Smiling from the Heart is something that we practice in our 5-Phase qigong routine. But you can do it any time, and virtually anywhere.
Pro tip: set a reminder on your smartphone to Smile From the Heart every day at a specific time.
I just started using the Breathe app reminder on the Apple Watch to accomplish this. Works like a charm!
5. Practice Gratitude
Happiness is not determined by the things or even the people in your life.
What brings real happiness is fully appreciating the things and people that are already in your life.
In other words, those who practice gratitude are also practicing happiness.
And practicing happiness builds willpower.
Notice that I wrote “practice gratitude” rather than “be grateful”. I did that on purpose. Gratitude is an art, and it should be practiced regularly. There are countless things and people in your life that you can practice gratitude towards.
I practice gratitude every morning via my preferred day planner, called a Panda Planner. It prompts me to write down 3 things I’m grateful for.
I also practice gratitude during my qigong sessions.
6. Be Mindful
Zen masters throughout history have encouraged disciples to be mindful not just during meditation or while practicing qigong, but while doing their daily tasks.
Whether it’s an enjoyable task (like eating), or a menial task (like cleaning), the Zen disciple was taught to give his or her full attention to the present moment.
We call this mindfulness. This is the secret to turning daily tasks into meditation.
The infinite is in the finite of every instant. – Zen Proverb
Try it. Pick a habit that you already have, like brushing your teeth, shaving, or cooking.
Now make a habit of being right here and right now with that habit. If you can remember to do it, then you’ll increase your work efficiency, decrease your stress, and boost your willpower.
You’ll also find that time slows down, and that life doesn’t just pass you by.
7. Find a Friend
People who are approaching the end of their lives never say, “I wish I had made more money.”
Instead, they say things like, “I wish I had spent more time with my friends and family.”
Humans are social animals. We crave a sense of community, and we need it too.
This concept of community is a huge part of the Zen tradition. Spiritual progress is always achieved with the help of a community, whether it is a monastery, a group of friends, or a school.
I’m a big believer in this concept, which is why I always work hard to create a sense of community in my students, both online and in person.
Some of the other habits that I mentioned above, like walking with a friend, or volunteering at a soup kitchen, will also help to build a sense of community.
You can kill two birds with one Zen stone!
8. Practice Loving Kindness
Metta Meditation, or Loving Kindness Meditation, is an ancient Zen practice that can change your life.
Of course, it’s not just from the Zen tradition. Jesus taught similar ideas, but used different words.
The way that I teach Metta involves 4 stages:
- Stage 1: Send loving kindness to someone you love (pets count).
- Stage 2: Send loving kindness to a neutral person, like a Starbucks barista.
- Stage 3: Send loving kindness to someone you dislike (one or both of the presidential candidates, for example).
- Stage 4: Send loving kindness to yourself.
Here’s a 10-minute guided audio where I lead you through all 4 stages. It’s free.
If you practice this meditation, and find it difficult – congratulations! You’re human!
It’s hard work. But it’s good work. It’s important work.
And it will build willpower like nobody’s business.
9. Breathe in, Breathe Out
You don’t need to breathe deeply, or use any special technique. Just breathe. More importantly, enjoy your breathing. You can do it right now, sitting at your computer. Or go outside and breathe.
You say that you are too busy to meditate. Do you have time to breathe ? Meditation is your breath. – Ajahn Chah
Breathing is one of the simplest and most effective ways to meditate throughout your day. You can do it anytime, anywhere, and without any training.
You can do it while watching TV, while driving, even during a meeting.
It may see trite, but it really is that simple. Make a habit of coming back to your breath, over and over, throughout your day.
To create change in your life, add good habits. Start now. Pick a habit, and start.
I mean it. Start right now, this very second.
Smile from the heart, breathe, feel grateful, go for a walk, or whatever.
If you are serious about making changes in your life, then start building your discipline muscles right this very instant.
Start small. Make it easy at first. Gradually build up your willpower muscles over time.
As you get stronger, add more good habits. By the end of the year, you’ll not only have built strong willpower muscles, you’ll also have a bunch of healthy habits in your life.
This how you can pave the way to subtract bad habits in the future.
This is also how you’ll grow mentally, emotionally, and spiritually year after year. Mindfully yours, Sifu Anthony I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. I’ve already taught thousands of people from all over the world how to use qigong for their own stubborn health challenges. As the director of Flowing Zen and a board member for the National Qigong Association, I'm fully committed to helping people with these arts. In addition to my blog, I also teach online courses and offer in-person retreats and workshops.