An entire industry has sprung up around the pursuit of success, full of self-help books, motivational conferences, and decorative Etsy items with uplifting messages. But self-improvement doesn't require shelling out tons of cash for a patented and trademarked formula for success. Your best self is just a few slight adjustments away.
I, for one, know I could add quality and productivity to my day just by eating breakfast. There's no big cost. There's no formula. It's just a bowl of cereal to kickstart my mind and body each day. Too often I rush out in the morning, living on repeat, never correcting my bad habits.
Breaking (and Making) the Habit Loop
Every repetitive action that we take in our daily lives, good or bad, is a habit we've built up over time. According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, this is due to a three-step pattern he calls the "habit loop." The decision-making part of the brain goes into a kind of sleep mode when the habit loop kicks in, which is why we continue even problematic behaviors.
While this is great for those healthy, success-building habits, it doesn't bode well for changing negative behaviors. The good news is that there's a way to break the habit loop.
What it takes is changing the environment that normally cues up the habit loop. "If you want to quit smoking," says Duhigg, "you should stop smoking while you're on a vacation -- because all your old cues and all your old rewards aren't there anymore. So you have this ability to form a new pattern and hopefully be able to carry it over into your life."
But what are those habits that are most in need of an adjustment? Try working on these, and you'll be on your way to a more successful life:
1. Don't talk so much.
Some of the key pillars of success -- learning, building relationships, establishing connections -- have one thing in common: You'll never accomplish them if you're the only one talking. Training yourself to actually listen during a meeting will make you more effective than mentally drafting your next pronouncement.
Tom Peters, successful business author and writer of The Excellence Dividend, actually writes the word "LISTEN" on his hand as a regular reminder to pass the mic during meetings. Listening is especially important in a business setting, where salespeople tend to prepare their next pitch instead of listening to a customer. Retrain your brain to focus on what others are telling you.
2. Read as much as you can.
It may seem clichéd, but there's a reason why being well-read is considered a compliment. A study by University of Edinburgh and King's College London researchers found that there is a correlation between earlier reading capability in kids and higher cognitive function. Leisure readers even report less stress and happier lives, according to a survey by the University of Liverpool.
Even more impressive, a study published in Neurology showed that seniors who had engaged in regular mental activity like reading throughout their lives were less likely to develop the brain plaques that cause dementia and Alzheimer's, meaning that the simple act of reading may have helped keep their memories sharp in old age.
3. Give it a rest.
Why do you think Calm -- an app that features sleep stories read by narrators like Stephen Fry and Anna Acton -- was Apple's 2017 iPhone app of the year? It's all about soothing the mind and encouraging a restful state. Even Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in an interview with Thrive Global that he gets eight hours of sleep every night, so there's no reason you shouldn't prioritize a healthier shut-eye routine.
Some of us find catching enough Z's easier said than done, but there are some tricks that can help you reach dreamland without medication. 2920 Sleep, an online mattress retailer that focuses on improving sleep quality, recommends writing down one bad habit that's agitating your sleep -- like too many nightcaps -- and trying to kick it for just five days. As with Peters' "LISTEN" note, the simple act of writing it down can spur you to take corrective action.
4. Rethink your relationships.
One of the greatest predictors of health, happiness, and longevity has nothing to do with quitting smoking or eating breakfast. Instead, it's about cultivating stronger, more fulfilling relationships with others.
An eight-decade, ongoing Harvard University study shows a strong correlation between healthy relationships and healthy individuals. Improving not just the quantity of your relationships but the quality of them will go a long way toward ensuring you live a long and happy life.
By taking just a few small steps, you'll be paving a clear path toward the happiness and fulfillment you've been seeking your whole life.
Note: This article contains affiliate links that may earn Inc.com a small fee on purchases originating from them. They do not influence Inc.com's editorial decisions to include mention of any products or services in this article.