When we think about forming habits, we often think first about hard, complex habits, like going to the gym every day.
Yet we shouldn’t overlook the value of simple habits. They can be much easier to form, but still have significant benefits.
Consider these ideas. (If you’re someone who likes following directions as they’re written, you can adopt these exact suggestions. If you like to do things your own way, hopefully the themes will spark your own ideas.)
1. Whenever someone gives you an important piece of paper, take a photo of it.
Yesterday, I had to dig out the report from a colonoscopy I had six years ago. I had expected my doctor to have it, but they’d changed computer systems and no longer had the information. Therefore, he wanted my copy. I wished I’d taken a photo of it, so I could have pulled it up on my phone.
Likewise, people often write down names, email addresses, appointment times, or other important bits of info on cards or Post-It notes. We sometimes write notes for ourselves on scraps of paper during phone calls. In all these cases, make a habit of snapping a picture. It’s usually easier to find the photo (especially if you use a service like Google Photos that has search functions.) If you lose the original, it won’t matter.
2. Schedule health checks for the same day each year.
It’s can be hard to get around to health checks like mammograms. We’re more likely to stick to a habit if it has a consistent cue—for example, if you always get your mammogram on the first Monday in April. Most of us feel decision fatigue, so remove the decision of when to go.
3. When you're in any hotel room, put your keys in a specific place.
Many of us have a place we put our keys when we walk in our front door. You might have a hook or a bowl on an entryway table. When you’re at a hotel, that place doesn’t exist—so create it. To the extent you can, make it the same no matter what style of hotel room you are on. You could even take a little, non-breakable bowl of some sort with you. To work, habits need this type of consistency and cueing.
A few months ago, I spent 20 minutes looking for my rental car keys in a hotel room. They had somehow ended up in the bedding! No one wants to lose out on precious vacation time, your travel mates will get annoyed with you, and if it’s a work trip and it causes you to run late, that could be extra stressful or increase your chances of having an accident from rushing. (I first heard a variation of this tip from author Gretchen Rubin.)
4. Create a reusable checklist and consistent routine for whenever you leave home for a trip.
There’s good research showing that simple checklists are excellent tools for self-regulation. Don’t reinvent the wheel when you’re shutting up your home to go away. Create a checklist of what you need to do, and follow it in the same logical order every time you go on a trip.
For example, make sure the back door is locked, you all have your IDs and they’re current, your A/C is set to vacation mode, and your security cameras are working and have new batteries in them. This relieves stress by helping you not forget anything, and each family member can have their own responsibilities.
5. Greet your loved ones mindfully and positively when you reunite each day.
Research from pioneering relationships expert John Gottman shows that our daily “reunions” are important moments for overall relationship health. When they reunite at the end of the workday, happy couples tend to greet each other positively and mindfully. They pay at least brief, mindful attention to each other and don’t immediately launch into complaints, like how bad the traffic was on the way home.
Whatever your circumstance is, when you reunite with your partner and children after being apart for a few hours, greet them mindfully and positively.
Why These Habits Could Benefit You
- These habits solve “productivity leaks” like hunting for an email address someone wrote down for you on a piece of paper or needing to call to check an appointment time that was written on a card you’ve misplaced.
- Simple but effective habits help you grow your identity as a competent adult. Research shows that what we do affects how we think at least as much as how we think affects what we do. Acting like a competent adult will help you feel that way.
- Simple and complex habits work the same way. When you perform a habit consistently, over time the self-control required to perform it decreases. For example, it won’t take as much mental effort to shut your home up and head out on a trip.
Which Simple Habits Should You Prioritize?
Habits benefit us the most when they relate to something important or stressful. For example, health checks are obviously important, whereas leaving for trips can be an inherently stressful time, so it makes sense to have a routine for that. Don’t add stress when you’ve already got a lot to juggle, when your mind is probably feeling overloaded, and it’s important your family are getting along with each other.
What simple habits already feel automatic and work well for you in your life? Everything simple counts, such as always plugging your laptop in to charge before you go to bed. Sometimes our habits have become so automatic we don’t recognize them as habits. Build on what already works for you. Where do you have room for improvement?
Boyce, A. (2022) 5 Simple But Effective Habits. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: