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Ways You Can Improve Your Life

If you can't fly, then run

If you can't run, then walk

If you can’t walk, then crawl

But by all means keep moving

-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

Let me start off by making it clear that I am not a psychologist, counselor or mental health professional (and I’m certainly not a life coach). So I impart this advice to you strictly from experience. Feel free to read through the details, or just hit the highlighted bold words.

MOMENTUM -if you are feeling depressed, try to include some sort of movement (even when your every cell says you should just stay in bed and hide under the covers or binge on Netflix. Remember the lesson of inertia- a body at rest will stay at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force.

  • Get moving physically (take a walk, do some stretches, try doing 50 jumping jacks). Getting the blood flowing is a great way to improve your mental and emotional state. Sign up for an exercise or movement class. Go window shopping- walking around the mall counts as moving physically, but try to find an outdoor mall if you can. Walking outside in natural surroundings is one of the best things you can do for your emotional state.

  • Make a list of things to do and plug away at it -pick the next best thing on the list. It doesn’t have to be very important. And one trick- if you accomplished something before you made the list, put that on the list too and cross it off! Starting off with a list that already has things crossed off is a great way to feel motivated to do more. Don't worry if you don't get everything on the list completed, I never get everything done- but at least I can feel good about the few things that I did get to. Sometimes I even put things like "take a shower" on the list.

  • Pick up your house. My house is in an almost constant state of chaos and so there is a never ending opportunity to pick something up or clean. And I count this as exercise! If you are one of those people who keeps their house immaculately clean, maybe you could clean someone else's house? Just kidding. Some people have house cleaners- which sounds so luxurious to me, but if you are physically able to clean your own house, and you have the time, it's a good way to keep your body limber and strong.

GRATITUDE- It's easy to get stuck in a negative state of mind -as we are hardwired to protect ourselves from things that might harm us. When you notice your negativity bias, you can learn to quiet those thoughts and focus more on the positive things in your life.

  • Keep a gratitude journal. I know I’m not the first one to suggest this. But from first hand experience, I can tell you that it works. I keep a journal just for "gratitudes." It's essentially a numbered list and I keep each gratitude to one sentence each- like “Grateful for hot coffee and quiet mornings”, “Grateful for books”, “Grateful for the sunrise.” (If you are an English teacher you will most likely notice that these are not really sentences, but rather fragments.). I like to write my gratitudes in the morning, but if you aren’t a morning person, it might be better to do it right before bed.

  • Thank people genuinely. It’s nice to express your gratitude to someone because it keeps the positive feels flowing. Not only will they feel good, it will come right back to you in the form of a big dump of serotonin to your brain (I have no scientific study to cite, but I know that there have been studies done it DOES make you happy to make others happy- and it has something to do with serotonin.

  • Remember to be grateful for the little things. It's easy to think of all the things you don't have. But how is that going to make you happy? There will always be someone with more money, a cooler car, and better hair. It's sometimes nice to be grateful for the little things in life. You can be grateful for things like your warm blankets, your special chair, your favorite toothbrush.

CHANGE YOUR ENVIRONMENT- Is the environment bringing you down? You may have heard of the Japanese practice called Forest Bathing (walking among trees in order to increase health and well being). It's important to consider how your environment is impacting your health.

  • Get outside. Breathe some fresh air, look up at the trees and how majestic and peaceful they are. Watch the birds (and if you can’t watch the birds, I highly recommend bird webcams- they are amazing!). Just by getting outside, you are making a conscious effort to bring yourself into the present.

  • Sit in the sunshine. If you can find a place in your house (or better yet -outside) that has direct sun, then put yourself in that spot and feel your skin soaking up the rays, just like the plants do. Do this for as much time as you can every day (please be careful of sun damage to the skin or eyes- again I’m not a doctor but I do know that sunshine can help use feel better emotionally).

  • Cleaning up and organizing your living space is a great way to feel better all around -especially when you have a lot of clutter and/or dust. After you've cleaned up, put up some pictures that make you feel good (either of people or places). Consider painting or changing the colors in your room to invoke a particular feeling: Orange can make you feel uplifting change, Green can increase healing and growth, Blue is calming and cooling, Red is warm and encourages creativity

CHANGE YOUR PERSPECTIVE- Everything that we hear, see, think and feel is filtered through our own perspective. The good news is that our perspective can be easily changed- but you have to be aware of this and practice it. One simple example: if you got on the ground right now and tried to do a push up, but could only just hold yourself up, you would probably consider yourself weak. Yet, if you think about how hard it is to just get out of bed in the morning for some people who are arthritic, and how many older people can't even get on the floor, you might consider yourself strong.

  • Read a self-help book. Just go to a bookstore, find the "self-help" section and pick up a book that "speaks" to you. If you don't like to read books (and that's ok- but we can never be friends), then try podcasts. Someone else's thoughts and advice help keep things in perspective and can give you some practical tools to practice in your life. The reason I mostly read books instead of listening to podcasts is that I can underline and star things that I like. That way, when I need a pick-me-up, I can reach for one of the self-help books that I've read and thumb through it to see what pops out at me. I always have at least one self-help book around the house that I pick up on a daily basis (even to just read 2-3 pages). I also keep a journal and write down quotes or ideas from the self-help books... that way I can just read my journal for inspiration.

  • Practice affirmations. This one might sound stupid to you- unless you’ve already tried it and you know it works. Sometimes I get up in the morning and I’m tired and cranky and the only thought that seems to keep pulsating in my mind is “I’m tired, I’m tired, I’m tired.” Now- how do you think I’m going to feel if I keep saying this to myself? So.. change the internal (and the external dialogue). First watch what you say to yourself in your head. I’m so lazy, I’m terrible at this etc etc etc. Turn those words around into something positive -even better, write them down. I’m full of light and life. I’m full of energy. I’m strong, I’m smart, I’m kind. Keep sticky notes with these things around your house. SEE yourself as these things, say these things to other people! Have you ever caught yourself saying, “I’m so old!”- and you are going to keep being old if that’s where your mindset is… and people will keep looking at you and thinking about you as old if you keep telling them that you are.

  • Cultivate the power of intention. What are your intentions? Do you want to have a better job? Do you want to go on a daily walk? Do you want to learn to play the guitar? Do you want to start your own business? Start telling yourself that you INTEND to do these things. Write them on sticky notes and put them around your house or in your car. I intend to make more friends, I intend to be patient, I intend to meditate every day, I intend to learn a new language. Keep these thoughts in mind and keep moving towards your goals and your dreams- even if you don’t know how you are going to accomplish them- it doesn’t matter. Start talking about what you intend to do and don’t let anyone sway you- you will see that the path will become clear (but do not sabotage yourself with negative thinking- you must believe in the power of intention 100%).

  • Help someone/volunteer your time. The best way to improve your life is to help someone else. The most powerful way to help someone is to give them your time and attention. You can lend a listening ear to your friend, you can join a gardening group that beautifies the community, you can volunteer at the local library or a soup kitchen. Make a commitment to do something for others each week. You can also make a daily commitment to make someone smile… pay for someone’s coffee at the local coffee shop, smile at someone you don’t know, send a note to someone telling them you appreciate them or telling them that you are thinking of them and hoping they are doing well.

STOP BLAMING OTHERS- It's easy to point the finger at others. But, like someone once pointed out to me. When you are pointing your finger at someone, there are three other fingers pointed right back at you (go ahead- check it out).

  • Take responsibility for your own choices. You can do anything you put your mind to. Often we blame other people because it’s easier to accept that someone did this to us, instead of accepting that you had some control over your situation. Even when someone treats you unkindly (or worse), you have a choice to let them bring you down or not. The man who is the ultimate master at this is Victor Frankl. If you want to know how to take control over your own happiness and your own spirit- read his book Man’s Search for Meaning about how he kept his spirit up even when faced with the worst- being a prisoner at a Nazi concentration camp.

  • Understand that everyone is doing the best they can, with the tools they have (even if you think they are doing a terrible job). Have compassion for people (this includes yourself). We are all just trying to get from point a to point b each day. Some of us set unrealistic goals, and don’t achieve them, some of us lose our temper or do something embarrassing or stupid. We are human beings- not robots. We have lapses in judgment, we make mistakes, we have biases and pet peeves and expectations- all things that robots don’t have- and I would say that these things make life more interesting (as well as challenging).

  • It’s never fair to judge someone until you have walked in their shoes. Many people have experienced trauma in their lives in one form or another. It’s hard to get through childhood and adolescence without building up walls or certain personality traits that help protect us from being vulnerable. We often don’t know what someone is going through- and yet we are so quick to judge someone’s actions based on what we think they should be doing. Give people the benefit of the doubt and try not to take things personally if someone is not very cheery or if someone lashes out at you- it might not have anything to do with you.

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