A Guide to Optimize Self-Development Habits

In the era of biohacking, it’s easy to get bogged down by everything you want to do to optimize your life, but essential practices have not changed.

Dear stressed-out life hackers, I’m with you. Have you ever stressed yourself out by trying to incorporate too many stress management tactics? Have you lost sleep trying to fit more into your sleep routine?

Dear stressed-out life hackers, I’m with you. Have you ever stressed yourself out by trying to incorporate too many stress management tactics? Have you lost sleep trying to fit more into your sleep routine?

Have you spent a meditation practice thinking about what you can do to find more time to meditate? Or, perhaps, you have grown resentful about how hard it is to fit in a gratitude practice? If any of this rings true, take heart. You are not alone.

Like so many in the fitness world, I love personal development and human optimization.

In the aggregate, this passion has been very positive for me. But, on occasion, I stress myself out with all the hobbies, habits, and life hacks that I want to adopt.

I find myself scrambling to fit it all in and, in the process, diminishing the effectiveness of each practice.

Similarly, to squeeze more time out of the day, I’ve found myself sacrificing some less-celebrated yet vital habits, like sharing an evening routine with my wife or being present with my kids when I get home from work.

It’s important to remember that every decision has an opportunity cost.

Habits like family dinners are not traditionally categorized as personal-development practices, but they significantly impact my well-being. Too often, we neglect the benefit of these seemingly mundane habits when we are setting new goals.

But by doing so, you risk eliminating something essential, and you make it far less likely that you’ll stay consistent with any new practice.

The failure to account for opportunity costs may be the most common reason people fail to maintain their personal development goals.

Take Stock of Your Behavior and Goals

These patterns have played out repeatedly in my life over the past few years. But, recently, I did something different. After another round of self-induced overload, I decided to engage in another self-development staple—a personal inventory where I took stock of my behaviors and goals.

Within this process, it occurred to me that I should create a list of everything I would want to do on a daily or near-daily basis if time was infinite.

My list included:

  • Exercise
  • Mobility
  • Meditation
  • Wim Hof breathing
  • Cold shower
  • Sauna
  • Write for a few hours each morning
  • Naikan gratitude/reflection practice
  • Family dinner
  • Spend the last hour of each day with my wife and go to bed at the same time
  • Sleep eight hours
  • Study timeless wisdom
  • Read educational non-fiction
  • Read fiction or easy non-fiction at night
  • Listen to my favorite podcasts
  • Call a family member
  • Take a 20-minute nap
  • Go biking
  • Go on a walk or hike
  • Spend time in nature (grounding)
  • Learn to play the piano or guitar
  • Play chess, solve riddles (cognitive development)
  • Do Brazilian jiu-jitsu, play tennis, or play some other active game with/against other people

You might assume that seeing everything laid out all at once would create more stress. But, surprisingly, it took off a lot of the pressure. Something about writing everything down gave me a sense of control over it.

The Benefits of Putting It in Writing

  1. It helped me notice how many positive habits I accomplish each day, even when I missed more formalized practices. Seeing what I had accomplished took off a lot of the pressure. If you already exercise, eat well, sleep well, and have good relationships, then relax. Sure, you can add more when life allows it, but it will get much better than that. Once you have those essential habits, you might be better off giving yourself a bit more freedom.
  2. It helped me to let some things go until a time when they fit better. You can’t do it all right now, but over a few decades, you probably can. Perhaps I’ll take on Brazillian jiu-jitsu and acoustic guitar when my kids are old enough to start with me. Maybe I’ll have more time for a Naikan journal when I’m not writing four hours a day and working a full-time job.
  3. It helped me to identify habits that overlapped, thus, offering the best bang for the buck. For example, daily walks get me out in nature, provide mild exercise, and have a similar effect to meditation. Biking to work allows me to exercise while catching up on podcasts and listening to audiobooks. Double-dipping!
  4. And, most importantly, it helped me identify what habits are essential and, thus, must be prioritized. I found that four habits—exercise, writing, time in nature, and time with family—offer more benefits than all the others combined.

It’s worth reflecting upon this final point. In the era of biohacking, it is easy to get bogged down by everything you can be doing to optimize your life. But, essential practices have not changed.

In particular, physical exercise, quality nutrition, sleep, and social connection have more benefits than everything else combined. I’ve long evangelized the benefits of meditation, but in a pinch, it isn’t even close to getting an excellent lifting partner or playing racquetball with your best friend.

For anyone who has more goals than time, I highly recommend taking the time to list out everything you want to do.

Get it all down in a journal or on a computer document so that you can add to it when new ideas come to you. This process will give you a sense of perspective when times are overwhelming, and you lack motivation, or when life seems stagnant.

It is an ideal reflection for anyone who wants to live better.

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