Over a decade ago, I started doing something every day that I’ve never shared with anyone before. It’s a meta-habit — a habit that helps me form better habits. And it’s been so transformative that it’s time to share this little secret.
Every day, I read a 3×5 inch note card filled with a small list of specific actions to guide my day. They help me focus on the present, create good habits, and establish traits I want to embody.
This is the notecard I looked at every day in my first job after graduating college.
During those two years, my goals were to forge foundational professional habits and put myself in a position to get promoted. So my Daily Note Card focused on definitive actions to help turn that into a reality.
My Daily Note Card has evolved along with my overall goals.
In fact, I don’t even use a physical note card anymore. After a while, it became such a normal part of my routine that I wasn’t sufficiently internalizing the guidance to create real change. To fight this laziness, I’ve switched to using an app that sends a push notification with one Note Card reminder at a random time. This randomness has helped me take the time to pause and reflect on how I can incorporate the wisdom into my life.
Here are a few of the items currently on my Daily Note Card:
If you have two relatively equal choices, take the path more difficult and painful in the short term.
Not wanting something is as good as having it.
You can’t control everything. The more you try, the more pain you will feel.
Your body wants to quit at 60%. Recognize and push through.
Create more, consume less. When bored, create or meditate!
I don’t think it really matters how the message is delivered: tape it to your bathroom mirror, keep it tucked your wallet, or a calendar reminder. The most important thing is that nudge of focus each and every day.
“John Krakauer once told me that there are two great risks in life. Risking too much and risking too little. And I’ve always thought we spend a lot of time focusing on risking too much. But if you’ve found something that you’re passionate about, that is the place to take the risks.”
— Jimmy Chin Professional climber, photographer, and Academy Award-winning director of Free Solo
Jimmy’s right. We spend too much of our lives trying to reduce risk as much as possible. When in reality, we should shift much of that energy into identifying areas where we’re not taking enough risk. This quote reminded me of Jeff Bezos’ story of how he made the decision to quit his well-paying job and start Amazon.
“I wanted to project myself forward to age 80. I’m looking back on my life and I want to have minimized the number of regrets I have. And I knew that when I was 80, I was not going to regret having tried this…I knew that if I failed, I was not going to regret that. But I knew the one thing I might regret would be never having tried. I knew that would haunt me every day. When I thought about it that way, it was an incredibly easy decision.”
Jeff was passionate about selling stuff on the internet and decided it was the time to take a risk, not avoid one.
My mom was 60 years old when she died. 60 isn’t very old, but it’s old enough to learn a few life lessons and pass them on to your kids. I’d like to share one of those lessons.
A couple years after graduating college, I complained to my mom about how hard it was to maintain the friendships I had made in school. The bonds were once so strong but I could see them weakening as life started to get in the way. It was frustrating and scary to observe those relationships slowly fade away.
“Dan,” she said, “pretty much everyone is bad at keeping relationships alive and strong. It’s just a fact of life that you shouldn’t take personally. If you want friendships to thrive, you need to take it upon yourself. You need to be the one that makes the phone call. You need to be the one that plans time together. You need to be the one to reach out when they need help. It takes work — a lifetime of work. But it’s worth it.”
The beauty of this advice was that it wasn’t just talk — my mom lived by every word. Nearly every day of her 20 month cancer battle was filled with the love and joy of a friend. To drop off some food, to help run an errand, to just talk on the phone. She spent decades building and maintaining those relationships, even when life got in the way. And in the end, the love and effort she poured into those friendships came flowing back into her life.