Sometimes I feel totally overwhelmed at the thought of how much I want to accomplish in a given day or week, or how much growing stands between me and whatever distant, self-actualized ideal I hope to someday be. On days when I wake up cranky, thinking about stuff like this creates a snowball effect and suddenly I’m frustrated and calling myself a failure because I’m not living up to some nonexistent hypothetical that nobody else even sees but me — and then I miss out on enjoying all the great stuff that’s happening right in front of me. What I forget a lot is that every second is an opportunity to make a choice that aligns with becoming a calmer, kinder person, or at least could make me feel like more of a “together” person (I’m convinced people who 100 percent have it together don’t actually exist, but that’s another story).
I think one of the biggest reasons we get stuck in personal ruts or find ourselves feeling trapped in routines we absolutely hate is because the prospect of changing our lives sounds gigantic and intimidating. In actuality, epic changes don’t happen overnight. Whether you want to rebuild a relationship, rescue your finances, change the way you treat your body, or just improve your attitude, it will happen slowly as lots of tiny choices start to stack on top of one another. I find that to be a huge relief, because none of us can move a mountain in a day or do things perfectly all day long, but it’s so much easier to make a tiny positive choice in the right direction. Here are a few itsy bitsy changes that don’t always come easily but can make life a bit sweeter.
1. Think ahead. Look at the next day’s to-do list the night before.
2. Have a few go-to outfits. Own lots of basics for days when matching your clothes perfectly is out of the question.
3. Mix things up. Switch up your commute home by just one block or one different turn.
4. Take a chill pill. Next time your train is late or you’re stuck in traffic and feel yourself growing furious (I swear this is the #1 affront to my blood pressure!), take a deep breath. There’s absolutely nothing you can do to make traffic move faster, but you won’t ever get these twenty minutes of your life back, so try to relax into them somehow.
5. Simplify. At the cafe, order the $2 plain coffee instead of the $5 latte.
6. Rest up. Go to bed 10 minutes earlier every night.
7. Pay it forward. Instead of letting frustration bubble up when someone doesn’t hold the door for you or bumps into you on the street, try to wish well on them.
8. Don’t fall for “bargains.” When you see something on the $1 shelf at Target, don’t buy it unless it was already on your shopping list.
9. One task at a time. Tidy just one thing before you leave the house in the morning, like making sure the bed is made or putting your dishes in the sink, even if everything else is a mess.
10. Think positive. When you catch yourself worrying about bad things that could happen, take a second to think about something good that might happen.
11. Branch out. Say “yes” to that fun-sounding event your friend invited you even though you’ll only know two people there.
12. Find the lesson. The next time something crappy or inconvenient happens to you, make it a game with yourself by thinking about what you could use it as practice for. Sitting through a three-hour lecture could be a way to practice your concentration for the next time you have a big work deadline, and having to confront a friend about hurting your feelings is good practice for learning how to set boundaries in future relationships.
13. Be kind. Give people compliments every chance you get.
14. Think rationally about yourself. Every time you have a thought about how you can’t do something or don’t deserve a certain kind of life, ask yourself whether that thought is truly coming from you or from TV/your parents/false conventional wisdom.
15. Cut yourself some slack. If you do something you’re not proud of, instead of beating yourself up for it, see what happens if you don’t judge yourself for but still acknowledge you made a mistake. It might make it a whole lot easier to break the bad habit behind what you did when you’re not tying it up in your worth as a person.
16. Follow your instincts. If anything in your life gives you that bunched-up, foreboding feeling in your gut, head in the opposite direction, even if that gut feeling is the only blatant thing wrong with the situation.