WHAT IF I SAID you can change your life for the better, and that all you’ll need is a gazillion dollars, a whackload of planning, and years of back-breaking effort? “That’s not very helpful or surprising,” you’d say. Most of us have limited resources—not only money, but discipline and energy and time. Sure, it’s great to have one big goal for the year, but anything more than that and you’re courting disappointment.
The truth is that many of us aren’t going to meet our goals, because they are too ambitious in relation to our resources: but here’s the good news
You don’t necessarily need to set humongous goals, requiring gargantuan resources, to make positive changes in your life. Small and simple acts can be just as transformative as grandiose gestures, and maybe more so, since it’s more likely we will give them a try and stick with them as well.
Here, then, is a list of do-ables that don’t require you to rip up your schedule, move to a new city, get an expensive degree, leap outside your comfort zone, or push your will-power to its outer limits
All of these tips are likely within your budget, and you can introduce them today.
Make someone’s day
Recently I was in a long queue, struggling with my arms-full of items. The fellow behind me offered to take some of my items while we waited to get to the cashier. This may sound silly to you, but that small gesture made me feel more positive and kind for the rest of the day. I am still thinking about it. My suspicion is that he felt good too, knowing he had performed a random act of kindness. This tip has countless applications: sending a thoughtful email to an old friend, leaving a positive review of a book you like, writing an encouraging note to someone who is struggling, or paying a compliment to a stranger. Chances are there is someone you’ve been thinking about telling how smart and funny and talented you think they are. So why not make their day? I know it’s counter-intuitive, but the surest way to make your life better is to make the lives of others better.
Stop listening today to the voice in your head that says “you can’t do that”
For years, I told myself that I don’t look good in hats and that I should never wear them. I don’t know how this idea came about. My guess is that I tried on a couple hats, didn’t like how they looked, and concluded that “you can’t do that.” The problem was that I liked hats, and I liked how they looked on other people. One day I decided that I wasn’t going to listen anymore to the voice in my head that says “you can’t do that.” The first thing I did was to go straight to a hat store, where I tried on all the hats and picked one I liked. It doesn’t have to be a material object. Maybe you’ve been telling yourself that “you can’t say that” or you “can’t do that”—because you are too old, or too unattractive or too whatever. Stop listening to that voice. You’ll realize that Yes, you can!
Spend time in nature
I’m fortunate. Although I live in Canada’s largest city, there’s a massive park right across the street. I’m looking at it this very moment. This tip is really about walking, being out in the world, and connecting with nature. The British call this a “constitutional,” and it’s an English convention to build the constitutional into one’s daily life. Unfortunately, the layout of many cities and towns make this a challenge. However, if you can manage it, even a shirt constitutional is a great way to improve your mental and physical well-being.
Flossing isn’t very glamorous, but it’s easy to do and it’s a great health tip.
Drink water throughout the day
I confess I’m not a good role model for this one. However, like flossing it’s a great overall health tip, and I’m committing myself to it—right here and right now.
See previous tip.
Cultivate the ritual of simple pleasures
For every one of us, there are small, ordinary things that nourish us and give us pleasure—a piece of music, the look of old buildings, a sound, a memory, an area of our town or city, making something with our hands. Be mindful of the delight you get from these small, ordinary things, and cultivate a ritual by setting aside some time—even if right now you’ve only five minutes to spare.
For many of us, this can be the hardest activity of all. We’ve been conditioned by our high-tech, plugged-in world. There are countless distractions in our environment, to the point that doing nothing has become a radical gesture. And by “doing nothing” I mean just that: pick a place and when no one else is around, go there. Enjoy the solitude and silence. Paradoxically, this is my most productive time. My best thinking and writing happens when I am away from my computer and my books and my many distractions. I’d go so far as to say that the best thing I do during the day is nothing!
Keep a journal
Write down what you did today, or your thoughts, or ideas. Or doodle. Another great idea is a gratitude journal, where you remind yourself daily of the good and the beautiful. If you can’t make up your mind what kind of journal to keep, then start an “everything” journal. This is called a “commonplacing” book, and it’s a great option if you have varied interests.
Create your own mini-holidays
Make up things to celebrate, like Dark Chocolate Day or your blogging anniversary. Put them into your calendar and have a little party, or create a whimsical tradition of your own. This one has infinite possibilities, and you can make it as big or small, and public or private, as you please.
Don’t forget about delight
This is the title of a Bruce Cockburn song, and for a while it’s been my unofficial anthem. As you may know, Bruce Cockburn is a politically-engaged and well-informed musician who has been all over the world and has written songs about injustice, war and suffering. But even if you’re just an ordinary person, with a quiet suburban life, it can be difficult to remember that there’s not only rush-hour traffic and bills and busy schedules and annoying people and a difficult boss, but also delight. Like doing nothing, this one can take discipline. Still, it’s not like trying to lose 100 pounds or running a marathon. It really is a case of reminding yourself that the word is big, and that there’s more to it than we may be seeing in the moment. Just as worry, physical pain and problem bosses are realities of our existence, so is delight.