Superhero Products, Books, and Apps for Forming New Habits
In partnership with our friends at Avocado Green Mattress
Forming healthy habits can be an exercise in patience. It takes time to get a new behavior right, and then you have to get it right more than a few times before it becomes automatic. Having appealing tools can make things easier: It’s shocking what a good motivator—whether that’s words of wisdom or a ridiculous indulgence—can do.
We’ve rounded up some of the products, apps, and books that have helped us optimize our own habits in four different categories: sleep, meditation, waste reduction, and productivity.
A good night’s sleep is all about consistent habits: Get some exercise during the day, make sure you have a mattress and pillow that are right for you, avoid screens for a couple hours before bed, limit your caffeine and alcohol intake, and turn down around the same time every night (among other sleep tips). Some of these are easier said than stuck to.
The ultimate kick-starter for good sleep hygiene is a bed that you can’t wait to tuck yourself into—and which makes all those sleep rituals feel totally worth it. Take this one we made in collaboration with Avocado: It’s fully customized by you and made to order in Los Angeles, where it’s crafted over hundreds of hours with twenty-nine layers of ethically sourced, certified-organic materials. So if your dreams are made of cashmere, Indian heritage wool, Peruvian royal alpaca, and reclaimed and sustainably grown hardwoods, this might be what finally convinces to leave your phone in the other room when it’s time to wind down.
The best way to know that it’s all paying off: getting the data. The Oura health tracker fits on your finger and collects some of the most complete biometric data available outside lab settings. While you snooze, Oura measures your resting heart rate, heart rate variability, respiratory rate, body temperature, nighttime movement, sleep quality, and periods of light, deep, and REM sleep. It then aggregates that data into a generalized sleep score through Oura’s associated app and offers personalized guidance on how you might tweak your habits for better rest.
For those who think a mindfulness practice could have something spiritually important to offer but don’t find clearing their mind to be a reasonable goal, there are two other mindfulness tools that might make sense. The first is active meditation, a technique in which you focus your attention on the process of a single, simple task. (You might be familiar with the idea of hitting flow while you’re in a good groove with work or hobbies. Active meditation works the same way.) Mindfulness coloring books are a good introduction; they allow you to access stillness in a way that, if you’re the aforementioned nonmeditator, won’t drive you nuts. The ones from The Coloring Method draw on traditional meditation techniques like metta (loving-kindness) and guide you through breathwork and positive affirmations to ground the practice. For a preview, check out the downloadable PDF in our Q&A with the founders of The Coloring Method.
Most contemporary mindfulness practices stem from Zen Buddhist traditions. And there’s so much more to Zen than meditation. The book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and It’s All Small Stuff is a good primer. It offers one hundred ways to reframe small stressors in your life and approach your thoughts, relationships, and workload more mindfully. Pick and choose your lessons and cover just a few pages at a time if you’d like to. Maybe the chapter “Your ‘In-Basket’ Won’t Be Empty When You Die” really speaks to you today: Most of us need reminding that if we put off the good stuff (family time, downtime, me time) until the to-dos are all done, we might not ever get to the good stuff. And as you find yourself going back to the chapters you need most, you might notice you’re getting better at this mindfulness thing.
We can’t talk about healthy habits without considering ones that are healthy for the planet. Some of the most important at-home sustainability habits happen in the kitchen. First up: ditching single-use plastics and disposable paper goods. This starts with having the right alternatives on hand. Try reusable food wraps in place of plastic wrap, which usually can’t be recycled outside of specialty facilities. The ones from Snacksheets come in various sizes and use plant-based resins and waxes instead of beeswax, so they’re vegan, too. Then stock up on silicone sandwich bags in every size so you never need to reach for a ziplock again. They’re perfect for packed lunches, they can be used for sous-vides, and you can pop them in the dishwasher when you need to. Other recs: organic cotton “paper towels” and metal straws in a pretty rose gold.
Second, let’s talk about composting. Food scraps that you compost turn into nutrient-rich humus, which nourishes soil and helps capture atmospheric carbon. The ones you toss in the trash end up in a landfill, where they contribute to methane emissions. And the health of our atmosphere directly impacts our own health: Climate change has been shown to affect our personal health and the health of our local communities—from extreme weather events to the incidence of novel infectious diseases. If you’re hesitant to compost at home because you’re afraid of what that banana peel will smell like in three days, here’s some good news: Vitamix has made a countertop composting tool called the Foodcycler FC-50 that aerates and breaks down your food waste, turning it into natural fertilizer at the touch of a button. The carbon filtration system eliminates odors, and the machine itself is super quiet. A few hours later, your compost is ready to spread across your garden or top off your houseplants, and you can stick the inner bucket in the dishwasher. It makes a good habit really easy—and easy means you’ll stick with it.
PERFORMANCE AND PRODUCTIVITY
Most of us find we’re more productive when the workday doesn’t feel like a marathon. And sometimes all it takes to make things more manageable is a timer. The Pomodoro Technique is a way of breaking down your work into chunks with built-in breaks. For each twenty-five-minute work period, you put everything else aside and focus on whatever it is you’re doing. When the timer dings, you get five minutes off to let the dog out, stretch, make a snack, and text your friends back. Then you’re back on for your next cycle of twenty-five minutes on, five off. Every four cycles, you get a longer, fifteen-minute break. (We like to extend the break in the middle of the day for lunch and a walk.) If that all seems like a lot to keep track of, there’s an Internet browser extension called Marinara that’ll do the timing for you so that you have one less thing to think about—and it lets you customize the length of your cycles to make it right for your schedule.
Perhaps the best way to optimize good habits is by making a habit of thinking about them. That’s where this journal comes into play: Every day, you take note of how you felt about your habit performance, what you’d like to remember about what went well and what might not have, and what you can do tomorrow to get you closer to your goal. There’s a space for daily gratitude notes, too—some needed perspective on days that didn’t go as planned.
We hope you enjoy the products recommended here. Our goal is to suggest only things we love and think you might, as well. We also like transparency, so, full disclosure: We may collect a share of sales or other compensation if you purchase through the external links on this page.