21 Good Habits to Have and Develop

Updated January 18, 2023

You have habits, whether you’re conscious of them or not. In this list of good habits to have and develop, you'll find practices and mental concepts you can incorporate into your day for physical, mental, moral, and spiritual excellence.

Creating (and Sticking With) a Morning Routine

Building a morning routine can help to increase your productivity, reduce your stress, and allow you to benefit from having more structure in your life. When you’re first building a morning routine, consider keeping it simple.

Over time, you can add more beneficial habits to your morning. Trying to initiate too many habits at once, though, can be difficult and have counterproductive results.

Let’s look at some good habits you can repeat in the same order every morning in order to improve your life.

1. Wake Up Early

The Stoics frequently remind us that we only have so much time in life. Beyond that, they knew that waking up early and seizing the day was something that separated the wheat from the chaff.

seneca image and quote about good habits to have and develop

“We are more industrious, and we are better men if we anticipate the day and welcome the dawn.”

– Seneca the Younger

Modern researchers have found that there are endless benefits to waking up early, including improved mental health and improved performance at both physical and mental tasks. On top of that, it gives you more time to eat a healthy breakfast, get some exercise, and take some time for yourself.

While you're at it, consider making your bed right when you wake up. This simple positive action can help you get the day off on the right foot.

2. Meditate

There are a lot of different ways to meditate, and you might find that some are more helpful than others for you. Whether you choose to use one of these daily Stoic meditations or you’re intrigued by mindfulness meditation, transcendental meditation, guided meditation, or progressive relaxation, meditation of any kind can be a great addition to your morning routine.

When you’re first starting out, it’s useful to keep your meditations short. Consider beginning with 1-5 minute meditations at first before building up to a longer practice.

3. Journal

Some of the greatest minds that have ever graced the earth with their presence habitually wrote in journals. Here are just a handful of names you might recognize, all belonging to individuals that were journalers:

  • Ben Franklin
  • Queen Victoria
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • John Steinbeck
  • Joan Didion
  • Henry David Thoreau
  • Anais Nin
  • Virginia Woolf
  • John Quincy Adams
  • Sylvia Path
  • Franz Kafka

Oh, and of course, there was also Marcus Aurelius, whose journals we are lucky to have easy access to in the form of Meditations.

Epictetus also encouraged his students to write their thoughts down and reflect on their daily actions in the evening– going so far as to describe a person making progress as one that “watches himself as if he were an enemy and lying in ambush.” Seneca, too, wrote about the importance of daily reflection.

Journaling is a small habit you can pick up that can have a tremendous positive impact on your life. Some of the benefits include:

  • Reducing stress
  • Helping process emotions
  • Widening your perspective
  • Boosting well-being
  • Helping you build an inner world and discover who you are
  • Managing anxiety and worry
  • Helping you prioritize concerns, problems, and fears

And so on.

Many people find great benefits in taking a few minutes in the morning to prepare for the day ahead and a few minutes in the evening to reflect on the day. If you’re ready to build the habit of journaling, check out our step-by-step guide on how to journal.

4. Exercise

We all know that we should be exercising, but with all of life’s demands, it’s often something that is pushed aside again and again.

Consider adding a bit of exercise to your morning routine to receive its many benefits and start the day off right. Exercise doesn’t just keep you fit, by the way, but it can also improve your brain health, strengthen your bones and muscles, and reduce your risk of disease. On top of that, it can boost energy, improve your mood, help you sleep better, reduce anxiety and depression, and more.

5. Mentally Prepare Yourself For the Day

This is something you can do as a part of journaling or meditation, or you can take a few minutes to focus specifically on what you expect will occur during the day ahead.

The Stoics are always reminding us about the importance of using our time well, and spending a little time mentally preparing for the day will put you in a better position to grab the bull by the horns.

6. Develop a Walking Habit

This doesn’t necessarily have to happen in the morning– you could also develop a habit of taking a walk as a break from your work during the day or in the evening.

Heck, if you’re able to make the time, you could do all three.

If you need to pick one time, I recommend walking while the sun is rising or setting– there is something truly special about these times of day that are worth being present for.

“We should take wandering outdoor walks, so that the mind might be nourished and refreshed by the open air and deep breathing.”

– Seneca the Younger

Many great men in history had walking habits– Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Nietzsche, Aristotle, Steve Jobs… I could go on.

If you ever have a problem, you simply don’t know the solution to, take some time and go for a walk. For some reason, walking opens you up to new ideas and inspirations that simply don’t seem to appear when sitting at a desk.

Good Mental Habits to Practice Throughout the Day

Creating and sticking with morning and evening routines are great, but what about habits during the day? Let’s look at some mental habits that are worth developing to aid you in your quest to live a Stoic life.

7. Be Protective of Your Time

If you’re not careful, other people will steal your time constantly throughout the day. Even if these people are well-meaning, you’ll find that other people will dictate how you spend your time if you don’t deliberately do it yourself.

seneca image and quote about good habits to have and develop

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.”

– Seneca the Younger

Even when you do end up with some free time, what are you doing with it? Are you collapsing at the end of the day with a six-pack and The Office reruns? Whenever you have a free minute during the day, do you automatically grab your phone and start scrolling?

Be protective of your time or else you won’t live the life you want to live. It’s as simple as that. This leads us to our next good habit to have and develop…

8. Always Ask “What Is the Right Thing to Do Now?”

Marcus Aurelius, Seneca the Younger, Musonius Rufus, and Epictetus have all given us the gift of speaking directly about the importance of habits. One piece of advice from Epictetus is as follows:

epictetus image and quote about good habits to have and develop

“What is a good person? One who achieves tranquillity by having formed the habit of asking on every occasion, ‘what is the right thing to do now?’”

– Epictetus

How much of the day do you perform on autopilot without ever really considering what you’re doing? How conscious are you of how you’re spending your time?

If you’re simply being blown around by the wind in your life, then the “right things” likely aren’t getting done.

Consider building a habit where you ask yourself, “what is the right thing to do now?” at every transition point between tasks or activities. This doesn’t mean you need to be endlessly productive or some kind of robot– maybe the right thing is for you to do something relaxing or take some time to reflect on the day. The point is to always stay conscious of what you are doing and recognize that there is an opportunity cost to everything we do. 

9. Deliberately Challenge Yourself

It’s easy enough to go through life prioritizing comfort and convenience. In the moment, this might seem like the best idea on the table. In the long term, though, challenges and obstacles are necessary for growth.

seneca image and quote about good habits and adversary

“Excellence withers without an adversary.”

— Seneca

Deliberately challenging yourself can take many forms. Maybe this means biking to work instead of driving or leaving your phone at home for the day. Perhaps it consists of prompting yourself to write in your journal about a life situation that you’ve been procrastinating about making a decision about.

There are an infinite number of ways to challenge yourself– once you start developing this habit, you’ll start to realize the exponential growth that is possible in your professional, personal, and spiritual life.

10. Always Be Learning

Many people believe mistakenly believe that learning ends once you stop going to school. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There is no point in life where you know everything there is to know, no matter how wise you’ve become. Throughout the day, remind yourself that there is always an opportunity to learn more and become wiser.

11. Remember That Everything Is Temporary

Reminding yourself throughout the day that nothing is permanent can help you identify your priorities and avoid fixating on the small stuff.

“All of us are creatures of a day; the rememberer and the remembered alike. All is ephemeralboth memory and the object of memory. The time is at hand when you will have forgotten everything; and the time is at hand when all will have forgotten you. Always reflect that soon you will be no one, and nowhere.”

– Marcus Aurelius

Seasons of your life will come and go. You will die, and everyone you know will die. This too shall pass– the “good” and the “bad” alike.

Though this might seem like a list of ingredients for a potent depression cocktail, realizing that everything is temporary can actually help you appreciate the moment and make the most of every day of your life.

12. Spend Time Alone in Silence

If you’re like most people, your day is hectic. Rather than running around like a chicken with your head cut off, take just a few minutes every once in a while to enjoy the silence.

Turn your phone off and find somewhere quiet to sit. It can do wonders.

This is also a great thing to consider if you have a habit of listening to podcasts, audiobooks, or music whenever you are doing physical tasks or driving. While there's nothing wrong with that, try out washing the dishes and taking your morning commute in silence from time to time.

13. Practice Moderation

This might seem a bit counterintuitive, but it’s actually a good idea to let yourself let loose every once in a while. When you are first building habits, it’s good to be fairly strict with yourself. However, it’s important to remember that the Stoics proposed moderation as a virtue, not asceticism.

“Upon occasion, we should go as far as intoxication... Drink washes cares away, stirs the mind from its lowest depths... But in liberty moderation is wholesome, and so it is in wine... We ought not indulge too often, for fear the mind contract a bad habit, yet it is right to draw it toward elation and release and to banish dull sobriety for a little.”

– Seneca the Younger

Here, of course, Seneca is only speaking of drinking, but the general notion can be applied to many of the indulgences of life.

Abstinence can actually be a lot easier than moderation, as it’s all too easy to turn something you do occasionally into a daily occurrence if you aren’t careful. Additionally, there are some things you might choose to completely abstain from because you know it is better for you personally, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

14. Be Honest

In the world of interview and interrogation training, there are five types of lies:

  • Lies of denial
  • Lies of omission
  • Lies of fabrication
  • Lies of minimization
  • Lies of exaggeration

Maybe you’re not a pathological liar that is always inventing fantastical stories about your past, but can you really say that you’ve never been guilty of telling any of these other types of lies?

How honest are you, really?

This question isn’t just about how honest you are with your loved ones, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances– it’s also about how honest you are with yourself.

Being honest is a lot harder than people make it out to be, and it’s particularly hard to look at yourself with clear eyes and take note of what you really see.

Marcus Aurelius wrote in his Meditations:

If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”

– Marcus Aurelius

If you believe the great Roman emperor here, consider doing some journaling with this quote as a prompt. Do you harm yourself by hiding in self-deception, or are you really a truth seeker? This is a rough question to ask yourself, but you’ll likely find many fruits are born from this endeavor.

15. Reduce Distractions

Some distractions you don’t have control over, and some you do.

Take note of the things that distract you from your most important work and duties every day and determine which you have the power to change and which you don’t. (Hint: you’re completely in control of whether you use social media, lose time scrolling through news sites, and focus on the wrong tasks at the expense of what you know you need to do.)

16. Consider Your Roles

The modern world makes it very possible to be self-focused and live as though you’re an island.

“Our duties naturally emerge from such fundamental relations as our families, neighborhoods, workplaces, our state or nation. Make it your regular habit to consider your roles-parent, child, neighbor, citizen, leader-and the natural duties that arise from them. Once you know who you are and to whom you are linked, you will know what to do.”

– Epictetus

The Stoics propose that we all have natural duties in relation to others, and it can be useful to stay tapped into what your duties are in this life. As Epictetus says, once you do this, “you will know what to do.”

17. Practice Appreciating What You Have

You could have a better job, more money, nicer things, a bigger house, a more fit body, etc. But things could always be infinitely worse, too. Don’t get caught in the trap of constantly wishing for things you don’t have– instead, practice appreciating what you do have.

Creating (and Sticking With) an Evening Routine

One of the great things about morning and evening routines is that they don’t really have to take that long.

By organizing them in an efficient way and building them as a bundle of habits in your life, you’ll find that you can pack a lot of positive habits into a short period of time without feeling stressed or rushed.

18. Reflect on Your Day

What went well today? What didn’t go so well? What can you change tomorrow based on what you learned from today?

It can be useful to spend a few minutes with your journal in the evening to look back over your day. You also might consider incorporating a few minutes of evening meditation before you jot a few notes down in your journal.

Seneca discusses his habit of reflecting on his day after his wife had gone to bed in the following passage:

“I make use of this opportunity, daily pleading my case at my own court. When the light has been taken away and my wife has fallen silent, aware as she is of my habit, I examine my entire day, going through what I have done and said. I conceal nothing from myself, I pass nothing by. I have nothing to fear from my errors when I can say: ‘See that you do not do this anymore. For the moment, I excuse you.’”

– Seneca the Younger

Epictetus, too, had a nightly ritual of looking back over his day:

“Allow not sleep to close your wearied eyes,

Until you have reckoned up each daytime deed:

‘Where did I go wrong? What did I do? And what duty’s left undone?’

From first to last review your acts and then

Reprove yourself for wretched [or cowardly] acts, but rejoice in those done well.”

– Epictetus

Though the notion of concealing nothing from yourself or reproving yourself for your cowardly acts might sound a little scary, you’ll likely find it gets easier over time.

Plus, you’ll be in a much better position at the end of life if you reflect on each day and make tweaks here and there rather than peering back in horror at your unexamined life when you’re on your deathbed.

19. Do a Few Things That Will Make Tomorrow Better

Whether it means cleaning the kitchen, laying out your clothes for tomorrow, making your lunch for the next day, or writing down the one thing you must get done, take some time to make tomorrow a little easier on yourself. Your future self will thank your past self if you do!

20. Read

How much time do you spend daily scrolling through social media, browsing Reddit, letting the YouTube algorithm dictate what you watch, or otherwise consuming content in a way that isn’t often particularly meaningful?

What if you just took some of that time every day and read a good old-fashioned book?

Reading has lots of potential benefits, including:

  • Strengthening your brain
  • Preventing cognitive decline
  • Increasing empathy
  • Aiding sleep health
  • Lengthening your lifespan
  • Building vocabulary
  • Alleviating depression

That’s right– reading might actually help you live longer. One study found that people who read books lived for about two years longer than people who only read magazines and other media forms.

Of course, there is a huge variety in the types of books that one can read, and the practicing Stoic is mindful of choosing quality over quantity in this regard.

seneca image and quote about good habits to have and develop

“It does not matter how many books you have, but how good the books are which you have.”

– Seneca the Younger

Seneca the Younger also reminds us to “let there be space between you and the book.” Reading is a great habit, but it’s important to give yourself some time to think about what you’ve read for yourself.

You don’t necessarily have to build a reading habit as a part of your evening routine, but it can be a lovely way to wind down for the evening. I’ve also personally found that reading before bed can have an interesting impact on one’s dreams, which can serve as a fascinating journal prompt the next morning!

21. Prioritize Sleep

If you want to hold true to your new habit of waking up early, you’ll also want to adopt good sleep hygiene habits.

This means no more staying up until the wee hours of the morning watching videos, playing video games, snooping on your ex’s social media, or doing whatever else it is that we all seem to fall prey to when we’re reluctant to go to sleep.

Trust me, and you won’t miss spending your time this way once you learn to prioritize sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep (both in quantity and quality) every night is honestly one of the best things you can do for your mental and physical health.

Build the habit of going to bed at the same time every night and practicing good sleep hygiene. What this means might vary from person to person, but the general advice goes a little like this:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, both during the week and on the weekends
  • Make gradual adjustments to your sleep schedule until you are going to bed and waking up at your desired time rather than making the change in one fell swoop.
  • Keep a consistent nightly routine.
  • Keep a period of time from 30 minutes to 2 hours before bed that is device and screen-free
  • Dim your lights as it gets closer to bedtime
  • Incorporate relaxation activities that work for you, such as meditation, breathing exercises, reading, taking a bath, light stretching, etc.
  • Get exercise during the day.
  • Expose yourself to daylight during the day to keep your circadian rhythm on track
  • Avoid drinking alcohol too late in the evening (and generally, be moderate in your consumption)
  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening
  • Don’t eat heavy meals right before bed
  • Don’t use your bed for anything but sleep (with sex being the notable exception to the rule)
  • Keep your bedroom on the cooler side at night.
  • Block out light using an eye mask or heavy curtains
  • Use ear plugs or a white noise machine to drown out annoying noise
  • Invest in a mattress, pillow, and bedding that relaxes you

It might sound like a lot, but it’s honestly worth it to make sleeping well one of your highest priorities. With good sleep, you’ll find it’s a lot easier to incorporate all of the other healthy habits you want to make a part of your routine.

Habits to Avoid

We all have a few bad habits we’d like to break, and probably some other habits we don’t even realize that we have that we should break. In Atomic Habits, James Clear gives a lot of useful advice about how to build new habits and break old ones, all of which begins with writing down the habits you already have and indicating whether they are positive, negative, or neutral.

Making your own list of habits and indicating which ones you’d like to break is a great exercise. Before we sign off, let’s look at some of the habits the great Stoic philosophers warned others (and themselves) to avoid.

Marcus Aurelius reminds himself in his Meditations not to:

  • Be overheard complaining (or even overhear himself complaining)
  • Be all about business all the time
  • Sleep the day away

Seneca also has some advice to offer about habits to avoid throughout his writings, including:

  • Putting things that could be finished today off until tomorrow
  • Neglecting true friendships
  • Shunning people you don’t agree with
  • Avoiding difficulty

And finally, here are some other bad habits as stated by other notable Stoics:

  • Epictetus: Feeling prideful and superior because of our good habits
  • Cato: Tying your identity to your possessions and your clothing
  • Musonius Rufus: Overindulging in food or drink
  • Zeno of Citium: Speaking more than you listen
  • Arius Didymus: Hiding your true beliefs

Additionally, all of the Stoics remind us of one of the worst habits of all, wasting time with the false assumption that we will live forever.

No matter what habits you’re trying to break, perhaps the most important habit to build is constant self-awareness.

What are you doing? Why? What are you thinking about? Why?

Self-awareness is the ultimate key to meaningful change in your life– there’s simply no way around it.

If you feel overwhelmed by how many new habits you think you need to adopt– don’t worry. The great thing about habits is that they become second nature over time– you’ll find that you actually have to go out of your way to try to not journal at the end of the night or go for that morning run.

Don't fall prey to the destructive modern concept that we are all perfect just the way we are. We can all improve ourselves. Some of the greatest and most impressive people in history constantly worked to improve themselves.

As the famous Aristotle quote goes, excellence "is not an act, but a habit." Consider thoughtfully incorporating these habits into your daily life, and you'll start to see yourself improving slowly over time. Over the course of your lifetime, the compounding effect of your efforts will yield tremendous results.

If you're committed to improving yourself, consider checking out these important questions you should ask yourself and these Stoic quotes about working on yourself.

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Written by: Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College and has always maintained a deep interest in the question of how best to live one’s life. She hopes to help others understand how they can apply Stoicism in their day-to-day lives in order to become the person they want to be, embrace the present moment, pursue their purposes, and rid themselves of unnecessary anxiety.

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