Everyone talks about habits you should give up or things you should start doing. But the reality is most of us have a limited number of hours in a day and unhealthy addictions to things that aren’t great for us.
Instead of quitting cold turkey or trying to force yet another morning routine into my life, I’ve found it a lot easier to swap out habits.
I swapped six terrible habits for six better habits, and I can genuinely say these little changes have made me a more fulfilled and happier person.
1. Tumblr for Twitter
I have spent a lot of time browsing on Twitter. I deleted the app, but simply logged back into the browser on my phone. When I’m distracted or struggling, I find my fingers mindlessly opening up a new web browser and typing t. Autocomplete quickly takes me to my least favorite place on earth.
I realized this habit was making me miserable. I also realized I’d struggle to just quit. Instead of stopping altogether, I replaced one vice for a lesser vice. Tumblr is now my preferred timewaster of choice. I moved the Chrome app on my phone, which I was only ever really using for Twitter, and replaced it with the Tumblr app. My well-trained thumb takes me somewhere new, now.
Tumblr isn’t as addictive as Twitter, and it’s not as harmful, either. It doesn’t make me as angry or sad as Twitter does. It’s full of the most bizarre memes, and even the ads are comical rather than rage-inducing.
Maybe you don’t love memes as much as I do, but no matter what your poison is, there’s bound to be a slightly less damaging alternative. I recommend Tumblr as a doable swap.
2. Reading for Writing
It’s a weird thing for a professional writer to say, isn’t it? But it’s true. In the evenings, I used to enjoy typing out an article or client draft while sitting beside my partner on the couch. I love writing, so it never felt like work to me.
But you know what I found? I was getting riled up, my brain spinning a million miles an hour, thinking of what to write next. I’d sit in bed an hour after shutting down my laptop and be incapable of sleep.
It made me much happier (and more productive, since I was getting more sleep) when I swapped this habit for the much more relaxing reading habit. I’ve always been a huge fan of reading, and now I average 3–5 books per week. I stick to fiction (nonfiction gives me too many article ideas) and although sometimes I do stay up late to finish a chapter, I’m at least exercising my brain in a different direction.
I miss those late-night writing sessions, but I am in love with my book reading habit.
3. Painting for Scrolling
I’m a born millennial, which means that when my partner and I sit down to watch The Great British Bake Off, or when I binge You on my own, I normally have my phone in my hand at the same time. It’s tough for me to not scroll.
I know I should just drop the habit altogether, but instead, I replaced it with something else that would keep my hands busy: painting. Lately, I’ve also been getting into embroidery.
This helps me focus on and enjoy the content I’m watching while avoiding the dreaded doom-scroll, whether on Tumblr or Twitter. Plus, I get a nice painting or embroidery piece out of it. If you’re finding yourself picking up a phone even while watching a laptop or television screen, find something else to occupy your hands.
4. Community for Engagement
As someone who makes her living online, I live by numbers. The tally of views on the video I posted. The number of followers on my Instagram account. How many subscribers signed up for my newsletter.
This was making me miserable. First, I didn’t get into this job because I like numbers, but because I love helping people. Second, with numbers, you can always compare yourself and come up lacking, no matter what your career is.
Instead of counting numbers, I tried to use social media for what it was originally intended: connections. I do this by ignoring my follower counts and trying to build community in other ways, like replying to Instagram stories, connecting through Twitch streams, focusing on YouTube comments, creating my newsletter, and forming friendships with other writers. It helps me focus on the individuals behind the numbers.
5. Daily Runs for Weekly Runs
My mom came to visit me in my new home in Boston. While she was with me, I noticed she ran every single freakin’ day.
“Mom, why?” I said to her from the couch as she laced up her shoes to head out on one particularly damp, chilly evening after a tiring day of furniture moving.
“It removes the decision. I don’t have to worry about which three days I’ll do it. I just know I’ll do it. I’m not stressing about it because I know it’s on my list, just like brushing my teeth,” she said. And then she headed out into the frigid mist.
I started doing the same thing. And I found it was absolutely freeing to have to do something every day, with no decision to be made. I no longer dreaded runs, nor did I panic about whether I’d do it today (cold, wet) or wait until tomorrow (possibly better weather). I just did it.
This made me happier, not to mention healthier. If you want to build a habit, remove the burden of daily decision-making and simply commit to doing it every day. I love and look forward to my runs. I don’t always go very far, but every day, I do it.
6. Calls for Texts
I use to love texting. It was so convenient! It was so low-pressure! Perfect for teenage flirtations and staying casually in touch with friends.
But the older I got, the less convenient it became. I’d forget to reply. They’d forget to reply. I’d want to reply but be embarrassed because it’d been two weeks since I’d seen their text and it was too shameful to say “Whoops! Just seen this!” It was too hard to keep up with all the things going on in each other’s lives.
So I did something 17-year-old Zulie would never have dreamed of. I started picking up the phone and calling the people I cared about. I typically text only to coordinate phone calls. I call family members, friends, my partner, my grandma.
If you really want to build a connection, do away with relationship Splenda and go in for the real thing. Swap texts for calls and see how much happier you’ll find yourself.
Habit-Building is Never Easy
You either have to make space in your life for a new habit or find a way to fill the empty space of dropping an old one. I find swapping to be a much more manageable way to build a better life I love.
These six little swaps can be applied no matter who you are or where you are in life, as long as you’re paying attention to how you feel during harmful habits and you have a clear picture of what kind of future you want to build for yourself.
Zulie Rane is a reader and a writer who believes in the power to change the world through the written word. You can find her writing on ZulieRane.com, posting selfies and art on Instagram at @zulierane and tweeting bad puns on Twitter at @zulierane.
Image courtesy of Fallon Michael.