By Leo Babauta
One of the most frequent questions I get when people read Zen Habits, looking to change their lives, is:
“Where do I start?”
From getting in shape to flossing to getting productive to waking earlier to learning languages and much more … there are so many habits to change that people often become confused, overwhelmed, to the point where they don’t start.
I know, because I’ve been there. For me, before I learned how to change habits, the confusion of where to start resulted in two problems: 1) I would often try too many things at once, because I wanted to change a lot of things; or 2) I would just not even try, because it was too hard to figure out.
How did I solve it? I picked one thing, and just started.
This is what I recommend: pick something fun and easy. One thing. Anything, really. What you pick to start with matters little, because you’ll get to everything you want to work on eventually. Where it does matter is in how difficult the change is — if it’s too hard, you might fail and get discouraged and lose confidence. If it’s easy and fun, you’re more likely to succeed and move on to the next challenge.
That said, looking back on things, I have a few suggestions for great habits to start with. I recommend picking one of the following, depending on how much it appeals to you, and how much fun you might have doing it.
1. A Mindfulness Practice. There are a few good options here: 5 minutes of meditation, a mindful tea ritual, or 5 minutes of mindful eating at one meal per day (do nothing but be mindful as you eat, no distractions like reading or TV). Not only are these beautiful, calming practices, they actually set an amazing foundation for future changes. At the most fundamental level, they are practice for being mindful as you do anything, including undergoing other habit changes. One of the best things I’ve ever done is learning to be more mindful.
2. Simplify. Simplifying practices like decluttering or simplifying your schedule are great ways to create space for the important things in your life. I’ve found that a beautiful, uncluttered space is perfect for other things like exercise, reading, meditation, writing, and so on. Decluttering your schedule (find one thing to eliminate or simplify each day) is a great way to create space for other habit changes to follow.
3. Fun Exercise. What? Exercise can be fun? Well, sure — it is for me! I look forward to exercise, whether because running allows me to clear my head, walking allows me to mull over different ideas, or because working out with a friend is a wonderful way to socialize. If exercise doesn’t seem fun to you, you might just need to find the right partner, coach, team, or game to play. Exercise is a great habit to start with because it makes your whole day better, makes your mind more focused, and gives you the confidence to tackle other habits.
4. A Small Heathy Eating Habit. I love this habit because it makes you feel lighter, healthier, and happier. That change can affect everything else you do. A simple eating habit might be to eat fruit and raw nuts for a snack instead of greasy or sweet snacks, or drinking water or tea instead of soda, or eating veggies instead of something fried or starchy for dinner. Enjoy the cleaner, lighter taste, the lack of heaviness, greasiness and bloatedness you feel afterward. You don’t have to revamp your entire diet — just one small eating change is a great way to start.
What if you want to do all four of these? Pick the one you are looking forward to the most. If there’s a tie, then pick randomly. It doesn’t matter where you start. What matters is that you start.