by Sonja Stone
I’m such an all-or-nothing thinker that the thought of ‘baby steps’ immediately prompts a bout of eye-rolling. However, having recently completed my new year’s goals, I realized that simply rewriting last year’s goals onto this year’s calendar doesn’t seem to be getting the job done, as I have been doing this since 2009.
Rather than revamp every area of my life all at once to become my ideal physical-mental-emotional-spritual-occupational self, perhaps I should try something new. Maybe if I add a few actionable items to my daily life I’ll begin to see small changes. Perhaps this will inspire further change. Maybe drastic change.
Here are a few things I’ve decided to add to my daily routine:
10 MINUTES OF MORNING YOGA
My favorite routine (available on my iPad) is Exercise TV’s Meaghan Townsend’s am yoga. This link takes you to YouTube, but if you like it, please purchase the video from a legit site (I bought mine on iTunes). I’d like to do this at least five days a week.
AN EVENING GRATITUDE LIST
Each evening before bed I pledge to jot down three things I’m grateful for. I used to do this on a regular basis, and I found that throughout the day, I’d keep a running list in my head of items to add to my journal. I think it helped me look for the good. This morning, for example, I went outside in the freezing cold (50 degrees) and admired my crocus bulbs poking up through the mulch. I can’t express how excited I am that my little bulbs are growing! I worried for months that I’d planted them incorrectly, hadn’t fed them well, supplied too much (or maybe not enough) water, and here they are, despite my lack of gardening skill!
EAT A VEGETABLE EVERY DAY
Yeah, you read that right. Not ‘eat seven to ten servings of veggies every day.’ I’m committing to eating one. Hopefully I’ll have more, but if I can consume one serving of leafy greens a day, I’ll be well ahead of 2017.
For those of you who like the idea of small, daily steps, here are a few more suggestions that might resonate with you. (They are listed separately because I feel that three commitments are enough for me to pledge right this second. :))
LEARN A NEW LANGUAGE IN TEN MINUTES A DAY
There are so many free apps that offer quick language lessons. One of my favorites is Duolingo. It’s available for desktop or mobile devices, and they have over a dozen languages from which to choose. Lessons are completed in minutes, so you can study for as long as you’d like. I’ve read over and over that learning a foreign language later in life staves off mental decline. (So maybe I should add this to my list of commitments.)
EXERCISE YOUR BRAIN
My boyfriend uses the Luminosity app on his iPhone. He has the free version, which allows for three free games every day (the app assigns the games based on his performance on past games). Luminosity is also available on your desktop, if you prefer. With time, his game performance has improved–as would be expected–but he’s also noticed his general recall in day-to-day activities is better.
Sometimes I’m in a crappy mood. Like, miserable to the point where I’m sick of myself–if I could ditch me on the side of the road, I would. The fastest way for me to stop feeling sorry for myself is to help someone else. It doesn’t even have to be someone less fortunate–calling a friend to see how’s she’s doing, offering to help someone load their groceries in the parking lot, waving someone in on the freeway (this is actually a pretty big deal in Arizona, where most drivers think a blinking indicator from the motorist beside you means “speed up and block them out”). Not all of us have the time (or inclination) to sign up for a regular volunteer commitment, or are able to mentor someone on a regular basis. But I can certainly find a few minutes in the day to spread a little kindness.
PRACTICE THE FOUR AGREEMENTS
Almost everyone has heard of the book The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. The four agreements he identifies are: 1) Don’t take anything personally, 2) Be impeccable with your word, 3) Always do your best, and 4) Don’t make assumptions. Integrating these principles into my core has been life-changing. For example, the agreement not to take anything personally. Not everyone will enjoy my writing–it’s not personal. I don’t love everything I read–even when other people do. My father, for example. I love and respect him (and his opinion), but we rarely like the same books. And the agreement to be impeccable with my word–to speak with truth and kindness, to not gossip. I’m pretty good about practicing this agreement in real life, but on Twitter? I might need to revisit that chapter…
MEDITATE FOR FIVE MINUTES A DAY
I’m so embarrassed that I’m not ready to commit this to my daily list at the top of this post. I KNOW the health benefits of meditation. I KNOW that I have high cholesterol, and that my parents both had ischemic strokes at young ages, and that I have an intimate relationship with anxiety. I have two apps on my iPhone for guided meditation (Meditation Studio and Headspace), a book entitled 8 Minute Meditation, by Victor Davich, AND a very expensive desktop meditation program called the emWave Pro by Heartmath. I know that a daily practice of meditation rewires the brain, so that in times of stress it becomes easier to access the previously-developed state of calm. I can’t for the life of me figure out why it is so difficult to commit five minutes a day for the purpose of meditation. At this point, I have no explanation other than I’m belligerent.
Everyone knows vigorous exercise elevates mood and increases energy. People who do cardio burn more calories at rest than those who don’t. The key to sustainable cardio is finding an activity that you enjoy. Martial arts? Hiking? Zumba? I’m not a gym person–I know this about myself. I’m barely motivated to walk into the next room and get on my elliptical, so signing up for spin classes would set me up for failure.
DO ONE THING EVERY DAY (or week) THAT BRINGS YOU JOY
I’m not very good at playing. I love puzzles, but putting together a puzzle feels like a frivolous waste of time. Did you hear what I said? DOING SOMETHING FOR THE SHEER PLEASURE OF IT FEELS LIKE A WASTE OF TIME. I don’t know where I developed that attitude–my parents weren’t taskmasters. I’ve probably passed the same attitude along to my kids, which is really unfortunate. If you’re not sure where to start, consider an adult coloring book–they’re everywhere these days (I mean a coloring book for grownups, not an x-rated coloring book). Here’s one by Sasha O’Hara called Calm the F*ck Down. Don’t forget to order your colored pencils and a sharpener!
It’s mid-January, so I still have excellent intentions for the coming year. I’ll try to remember that a late start (or a few missed days) doesn’t mean I have to throw out my whole self-improvement plan. Life is NOT all-or-nothing. Life is a series of 10-minute blocks of time. I can do anything for ten minutes…
What do you do on a regular basis that lifts your mood or improves the quality of your life? Please leave your tips below!
Photo by Josh Felise on Unsplash
What a terrific list! I especially like the idea of jotting down 3 things you are grateful for that particular day – along with helping others and all the rest (though I doubt if I could learn a new language at this point). As for other tips — how about: adopt a pet, say grace at dinner and sing a song each day (that always perks me up). Thanks, Sonja, for a great post.
You are so right, Sonja. Great ideas & advice. You are inspiring, and helpful as I pursue my own path into 2018!
Love these tips. Going to read the suggested books as well. Thanks!