How to Flourish With a “Garden” of Daily Habits

It takes vision, focus, symbiosis, prevention, hard work, persistence, and patience to develop successful daily habits.

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“Life is like an empty field. With intention it becomes a garden, without it weeds and debris will take over. Something will grow either way, but it’s your choice what takes root.”

– John Steinbeck

There’s nothing remarkable about the daily habits of people who live remarkable lives.

If you had to walk one day in their shoes, I bet you could do a reasonably job keeping up. They eat, sleep, and scratch their butts just like you.

What they have is remarkable: fit bodies, fat investment accounts, fabulous relationships, and fulfilling careers. But what they do on a day-to-day basis isn’t anything special.

What separates them is that they’re doing some of those things slightly differently. And they’re doing little things you’re not. This gives them what Jeff Olson calls in his book, The Slight Edgeβ€”a marginal adjustment above the status quo that compounds over time to create a huge improvement.

But if you can do it for a day, there’s no reason you can’t do it for a lifetime. It’s just a matter of getting the right daily habits started, then nurturing them. Sooner than you’ll imagine, your own shoes will be the ones other people will dream of walking in.

And to develop daily habits that give you a “Slight Edge,” here’s a suggestion:

Treat life like a gardener.

A Gardener’s Toolkit for Successful Daily Habits

Your future self cover image of me and future me smiling and high-fiving
What kind of life can you create that’ll earn you a high-five from your future self?

Know what you want before you get your hands dirty.

Every person on this planet’s goal in life is similar to that of every gardener: to transform the plot of dirt they’re given into the most glorious garden possible.

So the logical question to start with, but the one almost nobody makes a serious effort to answer, is this:

What do you want your life’s plot to ultimately look like?

The clearer your vision, the easier it is to work backward and figure out the daily habits you need to nurture to make it a reality.

Fairy tales and hazy dreams won’t do. They’ll have you working on the wrong things and result in an unharmonious mess. So too will flinging out random seeds willy-nilly and watering them.

Questions worth asking yourself:

  • What does winning at life mean to you?
  • What are you optimizing for? i.e., What scale will you use to measure success in life?
  • What life will your future self and the people who depend on you want you to have lived?
5 Love Languages summary and explanation cover image of Chris showing Kim the wrong love language
Some habits are more fun than others, but they all need your attention.

Care for your habits individually.

“How you live depends on which seeds you water.”

Jack Kornfield

While your envisioned future life looks terrific as a whole, to create it you’ve got to break it down into its individual components:

The plants.

“Plants” in your plot of life are knowledge, relationships, businesses, skills, fitness, and savings.

Each is the product of a daily habit. It doesn’t magically appear. Even if your daddy gives you something fully grown, he can’t look after it for you. Growing and maintaining remarkable plants takes discipline, perseverance, and patience.

And every plant develops differently:

  • Some daily habits pay off quickly. For example, within weeks of getting into the daily habit of exchanging “gratefuls” with my now-wife Kim, we the buds of something beautiful sprouting in the same spot we used to dump our crap all over each other.
  • Some take ages. For those who weren’t born with money trees on our plots, getting in the habit of stashing a bit away and smartly managing those savings is crucial. Eventually, it bears big-time fruit, but it can take decades of careful attention to get there.
  • And you can’t know how long others will take. This is often the case with creative pursuits. You plug away at them diligently with nothing to show for your efforts until one day, “all of a sudden,” it blossoms.
  • But you need them all. If you focus on only the most bountiful habits, the rest will die, and you’ll have an ugly garden.
Chris sprinting up a hill in Medellin
Keystone habits like exercise make it easier to develop other healthy habits, too.

Make it greater than the sum of its parts.

Foster symbiosis.

The symbiotic relationships of a biodiverse garden create strength and resiliency.

For instance, social habits like active listening, proactively organizing dinner parties, and gift-giving grow strong relationships, which fertilize your budding entrepreneurial adventures and buffer them against the elements.

And keystone habits like sleep hygiene and exercise grow trees whose roots and canopy prevent fragile shoots and saplings from getting washed away when life gets stormy.

Layer a network of knowledge below.

Speaking of roots, daily habits like reading, journaling, taking notes, and keeping an open mind form a subterranean network. Like the mycelium of mushrooms, this invisible network transfers information and nutrients amongst the plants above.

doing a daily mobility routine is the same as brushing your teeth
Brushing your teeth and brushing your body prevent nasty weeds from taking over.

Focus on prevention as much as growth.

Beware neglect.

A single dying plant can bring down a whole garden’s appeal. Even worse, it attracts infestation and rot that can spread elsewhere.

So even when your career is blossoming and full of excitement, or when your marriage is dealing with a bit of a blight, be careful not to give them so much attention that everything else starts to die from neglect.

Don’t forget to weed.

Weeding is doing dirty work daily habits like:

These habits will never sprout anything special, but they prevent nasty plants from strangling and suffocating the good ones.

Stop feeding the parasites.

The worst thing anyone can do is actively feed ugly, parasitic plants with unhealthy daily habits.

Examples include:

Harmful daily habits do double damage:

  1. They hog resources you could better apply elsewhere.
  2. They suck the life from your healthier plants.

On the bright side, if you manage to replace these negative daily habits in your life with positive ones, you’re doubling your growth rate.

Chris looking sad at empty plate
Challenges like multi-day fasts are useless unless they lead to persistent daily habits.

It takes hard work and persistence.

Getting started is the hardest.

It takes hard work and motivation to start a daily habit. You have to break through fresh ground, till the soil, plant the seeds, and remember to give your young plant extra care early on.

This is why the likes of 30-day challenges, multi-day fasting, or couch-to-5K runs are so popular. They give you step-by-step instructions for getting started and a goal to motivate you to keep at it. And they generally produce noticeable results by the end.

But the work never stops.

Completing any short-term challenge is a feat worth celebrating, but you can’t abandon your little bud once it’s appeared to move on to something else.

Those challenges are simply the beginning. If you don’t keep nurturing them, the bud will die and you’re time and energy will have been wasted.

Me messing up a volleyball shot
If you don’t find the fun in screwing up, you’re screwed.

Take your time.

Everyone’s in a rush to turn their lives into beautiful, bountiful, flourishing gardens.

Too much of a rush.

Why hurry?

Enjoy the process.

As Tim Gallwey puts in his little book on learning, The Inner Game of Tennis, at all stages of growth, we don’t condemn or criticize a rosebud for what it is not. We see the potential and the process taking place and understand and appreciate that.

Look at the results of your daily habits the same way.

And if you hate doing them, do something else. You’re doomed for disappointment if you work hard on daily habits you despise to create the garden of your dreams. Because even the most remarkable gardens still require constant effort to maintain.

Don’t push it.

Seek to grow faster by improving at what you’re doing and reapplying best practices, but don’t overdo it.

Dousing a plant with fertilizer may make it grow unnaturally fast, but you’ll end up with something weaker and less fruitful than if you grow it organically.

Use your time wisely.

Time is the water in our hoses. We’re all given the same steady flow, so it’s not a lack of time that’s preventing you from developing and maintaining daily habits; it’s your misuse of it.

Maybe try keeping a time log to find out where you’re wasting it.

How to be more patient cover image of me watching seedling grow
A beautiful garden doesn’t grow itself.

What are you waiting for?

“It’s never too late to start. It’s always too late to wait.”

Jeff Olson, The Slight Edge

Quit stalling by reading blog posts like this and get started on the unremarkable daily habits that, with vision, care, persistence, and patience, grow together to create a flourishing life.

It’s not that hard. To paraphrase Jim Rohn, the simple habits that lead to success are easy to do, but they’re easier not to do.

So start envisioning what kind of life you hope to grow. Then ask yourself,

What one daily habit can you start now?


Daily Habits to Consider

Here’s a far-from-comprehensive list of possible daily habits to peruse, pluck from, and start planting:

Morning Routines

  • Start your day with a glass of water with some lemon and salt, a bit of fresh air and sunlight.
  • Grab a book instead of your phone first thing in the morning.
  • Review your weekly goals and pick one to accomplish.

Fitness

  • Brush your body with a daily mobility routine.
  • Do something that makes you sweat. (Ideally, outside.)
  • Get off your couch and stretch while watching TV in the evening.
  • Work part of your day standing up and/or sitting on the floor.
  • Take the stairs instead of elevators or escalators.

Diet

  • Start every day with a glass of salted water and lemon.
  • When you’re thirsty, drink water instead of anything with calories or sweeteners.
  • Restrict yourself to three (or two) meals a day and stop snacking.

Finances

  • Review, categorize and track your daily expenses.

Learning

  • Read a certain number of pages of a book every day.
  • Get in the habit of saying “I was wrong” to stay open-minded. Ask questions before you give answers.
  • Limit or reduce your news consumption.
  • Write down one new thing you learned or changed your mind about to keep an open mind.
  • Come up with five new ideas a day.
  • Practice some hobby or foreign language.

Mental Health

  • Meditate.
  • Go for an “empty pocket walk” in nature.
  • Take a few minutes to do some sort of breath exercise.
  • Write down one thing you’re grateful for.
  • Take naps or try non-sleep-deep rest (yoga nidra).
  • Cold showers.

Relationships

  • Tell your partner something different about them that you’re grateful for.
  • Make an effort to remember the names of people you meet. Express your appreciation for even the smallest gestures.
  • Smile and warmly greet your partner every time they return home.
  • Do something in your partner’s “love language.”
  • Chat or hang out with a friend or family member.

Productivity

  • In the evening, think of the one big thing you want to accomplish the next day to let your subconscious get started on it overnight. Then start the day with it.
  • Schedule a block of distraction-free, single-task work.
  • Stick to one or two scheduled windows for email/social media/browsing.
  • Keep a time log to be conscious of how you’re spending your time.

Evening Routines

  • Go to bed at a consistent time with a pre-sleep routine that programs your mind to shut off.
  • Write down any of your worries before bed so you can deal with them the next day rather than wrestle with them as you try to fall asleep.
  • Write down one story from the day. (Matthew Dicks’ calls this “Homework for Life” in his book, Storyworthy.)
  • Tape your mouth overnight to get back in the habit of breathing from your nose. (I was recently inspired to do so by Breath by James Nestor.)

Fun

  • For one thing you do every day, ask yourself, “How can I make this 10 percent more fun?”
  • Play an instrument, sing, or doodle.
  • Do, listen, or watch something every day that makes you smile.

Resources and Inspiration

Video

YouTube video

Books

About the author

πŸ‘‹ I'm Chris. Everything you read on TheZag.com is my fault. This site is like a gym for your comfort zone, full of challenges to make your status quo sexier. Join my 'Consider This' newsletter for a fun new challenge every 10 days. Try it!

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