By Rachel Gillett and Áine Cain
Challenge yourself to lead a better life.
Making a change for the better isn’t always easy, but it’s worth the effort all the same.
So what tough-but-worthwhile tricks can you start applying to your life today?
The posters on this handy Quora thread had some excellent suggestions. Business Insider also scoured the web for other ways you can challenge yourself to live a better life.
Here are some uncomfortable habit changes that could ultimately help you improve your life:
Wake up extremely early
Ekin Öcalan said he loves to wake up before sunrise because it provides the perfect study-and-work environment. While everyone else sleeps, waking at 5 a.m. is the perfect, albeit challenging, way to begin the day in silence, he wrote.
Start the day with exercise
Yeah, there are super humans among us who crave that pre-sunrise workout (that, or they’re just really good liars). Still, for everyone else, waking up at the crack of dawn to sweat and get sore probably doesn’t sound ideal.
But the morning is probably the ideal time to exercise. By starting your day with exercise, you’ll prevent yourself from putting it off.
Think about it this way: If some of the busiest people in the world can find time to workout, so can you. For example, “What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast” author Laura Vanderkam notes that former Xerox CEO Ursula Burns schedules an hourlong personal-training session at 6 a.m. twice a week.
“These are incredibly busy people,” Vanderkam said. “If they make time to exercise, it must be important.”
Take cold showers
Taking a frigid shower at the end of a long day doesn’t sound too relaxing.
Track what you eat
Keeping track of all the food you eat and all the exercise you do in a day can be challenging, but Tina Marshall said using her MyFitnessPal app helped her see the harm she was doing to her body.
“I didn’t realize how little of some nutrients I was getting and how much sugar and fat I was getting daily until I started to do this regularly,” she wrote.
Being the most honest you’ve ever been with someone in your life will be one of the most uncomfortable things you can do, Ryan Brown wrote, but it could also be the most valuable.
To do this, he suggests writing a list of all the people to whom you have something — good or bad — to say; writing down the honest feelings you need to convey to them in a letter, handing the person the letter, and writing down what happened and how the experience affected you and the other person.
“If you’re being really honest, each letter you write should make you quite emotional as you are writing it,” Brown wrote. “That is how you know you have tapped into your actual emotions and feelings — that it actually means something to you.”
“Don’t forget what you have learned from the experience,” he suggested. “Let it be with you forever.”
“The most uncomfortable thing one can do is to question everything that is taken for granted and seek answers,” wrote Malli Gurram. “Try to see the other side of the norm.”
Eat only nutritious food
After you track your food, start eating only what is truly nutritious — Doug Whitney wrote that this will change your life forever.
“The short answer here is to prepare your own food, eat organic as much as possible — yes, it’s expensive, but it’s cheaper than the medical bills and lost performance — focus on lean meats and veggies, avoid grains (they’re disastrous for most of us), and when you do eat something that isn’t good for you, notice the difference in how you feel. This is key!”
He said this will be uncomfortable for a number of reasons: It’s hard; it’s socially limiting; it can be more expensive if you are used to eating off the dollar menu; it’s not as tasty when you start, and it takes more time.
But he said the outcome is 100% worth the effort. “Being a weird health nut and outperforming everyone else is so much more fun than blending in — and that’s not just athletically. It’s mentally as well.”
Watch your pennies
From auto repairs and life insurance to coffee and french fries, keep track of every penny you spend for several months, suggested Bruce A. McIntyre.
And try paying for everything you can with cash. “If you have to reach in your wallet and pull out cash, you will often think twice about how much you need something.”
You’d be surprised how much debt you can pay off when you literally watch your pennies.
Save for retirement
Life is so expensive. When you’re dealing with student loan debt, soaring rent, or just a slew of everyday expenses, it’s easy to feel like saving for retirement is impossible.
But that attitude will come back to bite you.
“Waiting just a couple years to start saving for retirement can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in opportunity cost and missed gains, and delaying only 10 years can cost a couple million dollars,” Investopedia contributor Daniel Schutte wrote.
So start saving up now.
Practice public speaking
It may be scary to think about, but you never know when you may be called upon to speak in public. Practice, while daunting, is the key to improving your communication skills.
Gurram recommended joining a nearby Toastmasters group or an improv group in your city. “Its scary as hell until you realize that everyone around you feels the same,” he wrote.
Read for pleasure
Reading for fun is one of the best habits you can get into.
Of course, many of us might feel too busy to leaf through a book — or a tablet — every single day. But you should still make the time. You won’t regret it.
Make time for your side hustle or hobby
Your side project is easy to skip when you’re leading a busy life.
But you should make time for your side pursuits. There might have to be some scheduling trade-off involved, but prioritizing your passion is key to living a balanced life.
A history teacher at the University of Chicago told Vanderkam that she spent the hours between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. working on a book about the religious politics of West Africa. She was able to read journal articles and write several pages before dealing with her teaching responsibilities.
Pick just one thing to master at a time
“Intention is the key to mastery,” Hanna wrote. He explained this requires calling your shots and hitting them.
“The problem with most improvement seekers in life is that they really don’t know what they’re looking for, and then they keep casting about capriciously for the next new thing,” he wrote.
If you’re constantly changing interests, he said, you’re never going to discover your own internal progress: “So pick one thing and become progressively committed to mastering it. It doesn’t matter what it is, anything will do, as long as you do.
Take some time for yourself
Oftentimes slowing down and finding inner calm can be especially difficult for those of us who are constantly on the go and thinking of the next things we need to do.
Talk to someone new
“See someone you’re interested in? Go talk to them,” Mark Toole suggested. “The worst that can happen is an epically catastrophic rejection, which gives you something funny to talk about. That and increased confidence in your abilities next time.”
Gurram suggested volunteering for a nonprofit or doing selfless deeds. Volunteering can make you feel like you’re part of something big, Gurram says, using volunteer experience with TEDx as an example.
“It was such an overwhelming feeling I had on the big day, being part of the community,” Gurram said.
No one likes to feel stuck. You’ve got places to be, important tasks to attend to.
That may be true, but it’s important to try to mitigate feelings of frustration when things don’t go according to plan.
Obstacles like travel delays, malfunctioning technology, and incompetent people are typically out of your hands. But reacting to these problems impatiently isn’t the answer.
In Jane Brody’s New York Times review of “The Power of Patience” by M. J. Ryan, she noted that impatience “… causes stress, which weakens the immune system, irritates the stomach, raises blood pressure, strains the heart and strains relationships.”
So, when hurdles pop up that are beyond your control, try out coping strategies like taking some time to think back on all you have to be grateful for. Or just breathe.
Accomplish an almost impossible goal
The most uncomfortable thing you can do, according to Rizwan Aseem, is to set and achieve a goal that’s harder than something you’ve ever done before.
To do that, he suggested you think about a thing you’re comfortable doing every day and amplify it until you get to a point where you become really scared of doing it. If you run a mile every day, the idea of running seven might terrify you. Set this as your one-year goal.
“The hardest part is to actually go out there and take the actions steps that will help you achieve this goal,” he wrote.
“You will have to use all your mental and physical strength to actually get yourself to achieve this goal,” Aseem wrote. “But here’s the thing: Something very cool happens in your mind, your physiology, your internal makeup when you actually do this. You become invincible. You will be able to set any goal for yourself and then achieve it.”
Give up your bad habits
Nobody’s perfect. We’re all guilty of one or two bad habits, at the very least.
And, unsurprisingly, those flawed behaviors can be pretty hard to give up. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try.
Psychology Today contributor Robert Taibbi recommended dropping bad habits by being patient with yourself, identifying triggers that set off negative behavior, and interrogating the context of your bad habit.
Lay off your inbox
It’s tempting to constantly check your email, but it’s also usually a complete waste of time. Your inbox represents a series of tasks that other people want you to do. Don’t put those objectives ahead of your own priorities during the workday.
Several time management experts previously told Business Insider that working people need to stop compulsively glancing at their inboxes.
“Email can wait,” Carson Tate, author of “Four Seconds: All the Time You Need to Replace Counter-Productive Habits with Ones That Really Work,” told Business Insider.
Boost your gratitude
Gratitude is a major key to living a healthy, happy life.
Psychologists even recommend thinking about what you’re grateful for in order to stave off gloomy thoughts.
According to cuddle therapist Rebekka Mikkola, research has shown that a person can experience increased levels of optimism for up to six months simply by noting three things that make them grateful every day for three weeks.”
Amidst the hustle and bustle of the day, making time for gratitude can feel unrealistic. But becoming a more grateful person is certainly worth it, whether you choose to practice gratitude by writing thoughtful thank-you notes to the people in your life, calling up your loved ones to give thanks, or quietly contemplating all of the gifts you’ve been given in life.
Shut off your devices before bed
The science around smart phones isn’t particularly reassuring. Business Insider’s Hillary Brueck reported that they’re likely addictive and harmful to your mental health.
Combine that with the daylight-evoking blue light that phones and computer emit and you get a recipe for disaster when it comes time to sleep.
So put your phone to bed a few hours before you decide to turn in. If you want to be really literal about it, you can even acquire an actual bed for your phone, courtesy of Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global.
Stop dwelling on the past
It’s hard not to dwell on the past. We all have regrets, things that we wished we had done differently. And it’s perfectly fine to reflect on mistakes and perhaps seek to right past wrongs.
But simply wallowing in sadness or anger about what happened isn’t helpful. So how can we break out of this toxic habit?
By addressing the regret head-on, whether through professional help or direct actions.
“If past satisfactions and pleasures have left a vacuum in your life, now is the perfect time to diligently pursue what possibly might fill this void,” Psychology Today contributor Leon F. Seltzer wrote.
Get enough sleep
Lack of sleep harms your immune system, your cardiovascular system, and has even been linked with certain cancers, according to Berkeley neuroscience professor Matthew Walker.
Of course, not everyone needs the same amount of shut eye every night. Some people really can get by on just a few hours of sleep.
But the rest of us should ensure that we’re getting the commonly-recommended seven to nine hours of sleep.
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Originally published at www.businessinsider.com