I spent so much of my life being unhappy and unfulfilled and it took me a really long time to see the light, so I wanted to take the time to share some strategies I’ve implemented to help myself lead a more positive existence.
Wake up Earlier
Although sleep is one of the great joys in life, I find that I get infinitely more done when I’m able to get up early in the morning.
On weekends, rising early makes me feel like I have much more time to myself. I’m able to get the laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning, meal preparation, and other household tasks out of the way while still having most of the day to spend doing things outside or and enjoying leisure time with loved ones and friends.
It helps your circadian rhythm to keep similar bed times and wake up times on weekends as during the week, so that’s a good place to start. Set your alarm for the same time you’d get up for work and make an honest effort to pull yourself out of bed. It will be hard at first and you’ll have to fight yourself to keep from sleeping in, but you’ll be thrilled with how much extra time you have to get things done.
Stop Waiting for Tomorrow
It’s so easy to push everything you’re not looking forward to completing until the next day, but you’d be surprised how good it will make you feel to face these head on.
I was nearly 400 pounds for quite a few years and I kept telling myself that I was going to do something about it later. I’d tell myself tomorrow or next week would be when I would start getting my act together. Tomorrow, next week, next month and next year would come and nothing would ever get done.
Now, here I sit, not skinny but hovering around 250 lbs. I’m 60 lbs from my goal weight, but I would have never gotten this far without choosing now as the time to get things done instead of later.
When you have that spark of motivation, that’s the time to make the change. If you’re feeling creative, sit down and write. If you’re feeling energized, go take that walk or jog or lift some weights at the gym. If you wait too long, the feeling dissipates.
I find that if I take the bull by the horns when I get an impulse of any kind, it leads me in a productive direction. When the job is done, I feel better about myself and am able to relax a little bit easier, comforted by even the most minor of accomplishments.
Learn Something New Every Week
After college, I had a long period of time where I wasn’t learning anything. All I cared about was finding a decently-paying job that I didn’t hate. I spent all day applying to jobs, doing phone screens and office interviews and twisting my insides up with anticipation waiting for call-backs.
Instead, what I should have been doing was building out my skill set. It took me a few years to realize just how many resources are out there for post-collegiate learning on your own time. Many of these resources are even free of charge.
Watch tutorials on YouTube, read free ebooks, take coding classes or read forums dedicated to a subject you are interested in.
If the learning fits in with your chosen career path, all the better. I’ve found that employers look extremely kindly on anything self-taught as they see it as another level of preparedness and dependability.
The more software, big picture ideas, structures, processes and knowledge you can gather, the better off you’ll be in the long run. No one will fault you for turning your free time into a learning experience.
Even hobbies are a great educator.
Take the time to read some materials and watch some videos and try to learn new skills as often as possible.
Spend Time Writing
Writing has always been my crutch when I’m feeling down, lost, or angry, but not everyone feels the same way about the written word.
Many folks associate writing with term papers and forced exercises and things they hate in life, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
I’m not saying everyone has to write a novel, but take the time to jot a few things down every day. Even five minutes is a huge step in a new direction.
Scribble down some random thoughts, feelings, things you liked, things you didn’t like about today and keep a rough record of them. Write about your dreams when you wake up in the morning. Brainstorm a to-do list for the day.
Whatever it takes to get you writing and thinking creatively is worth every second of your time.
Stop Being Afraid
Fear is an evolutionary defense mechanism. Unknown variables are scary and I know it can be trying to find the motivation to try activities that seem unfamiliar. In truth, though, fear only hurts. It never helps.
When you stop worrying about outcomes and take a chance, you open the door to endless possibilities. Sometimes those possibilities may end in a negative way, sometimes those possibilities may seem like a waste of time, but other times those possibilities are doorways into realms you’d never even considered.
You’re afraid to go to that party because you don’t know anyone, but meaningful friends or future relationships could be sitting there waiting for you. Even if you don’t meet anyone, it could just be a fun time with good people.
You’re worried about moving to a new city because you’re not sure of the culture or surroundings and you don’t know your way around. The only way to step out of that bubble is to take the first leap. You may like it or you may hate it, but at least now you know.
Moving from the East coast to Los Angeles seemed crazy at the time. I’d never even been there, but the friendships and personal growth that formed as a result of my experiences in a new city were worth every dollar I spent and worry that passed through my brain. I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.
Volunteer as Often as Your Schedule Allows
The idea may seem cliché, but helping people really does feel amazing.
I’ve been lucky enough to work at jobs that always allow a single day a year to volunteer with a charity of your choice, and I highly suggest that you take those opportunities whenever they arise.
It doesn’t matter how you contribute. You could serve food, paint walls, carry boxes, or man a ticket stand, but the point is that you’re doing something to help someone else while receiving no compensation.
To give your service selflessly is to make yourself a better person. There are so many people out there who dedicate their entire lives to serving others, so it won’t kill you to take a single day out of your busy year to do the same.
The people you’re helping will appreciate it and you’ll be better for it as a result.
Surround Yourself with Positive, Ambitious People
I can’t stress this enough: don’t settle for people who bring you down.
If you’re exasperated and worse off than when you arrived after spending time with someone, cut them immediately out of your life. You don’t have to confront them or make a scene, but quietly disappear into the ether.
They’re not worth your time. They’re not worth your mental energy. They don’t deserve a place in your stream of consciousness.
Cut them out of your life and don’t give them another thought.
Instead, take the time to meet people who inspire you. Find someone who is doing what you’d like to be doing and talk to them about it. Ask them how they got there. Tell them you’re trying to go in a new direction and you’d like some guidance.
Be friends with people who are where you want to be in life. Don’t use them, but learn from them. Find aspects of their personality that feel right and work toward making them a more active part of yourself.
Recognize people who have always treated you well, been honest and straightforward and dependable to you. These are the people that you need to cling to.
I have friends I’ve had since middle and high school that I know I could still count on in a pinch and they could count on me the same way. Those types of people don’t come along every day.
You can tell a genuine person when you see one, so take the time to stay in contact with these people and treat them just as courteously and lovingly as they’ve treated you.
Tell People You Love Them
This suggestion is the epitome of cheese, but it’s also something I hold very dear.
You never know how long you’re going to be on this Earth and it makes me feel better at night knowing that I’ve told people I care about that I love them.
It makes people feel appreciated, acknowledged and validated. If you’re anything like me, you crave this kind of validation. I live for spontaneous compliments and unlikely sources of said compliments.
I tell my parents at least twice a week that I love them and I tell my girlfriend every single day.
The people in your life that are there for you and lift you up deserve to be recognized. Don’t forget that.
When You Make a Mistake or Get Angry, Apologize
I speak bluntly. I carry quite a few unpopular opinions. I joke around about inappropriate topics. I take sarcasm too far. I lack a filter, especially when alcohol is involved. These faults add up to lots of arguments, hurt feelings, and miscommunication.
That is why I’m a firm believer in genuine apologies. We all make mistakes.
A genuine apology has no pretense or assumption. It doesn’t automatically presuppose the other person’s acceptance of the apology, acknowledgment or forgiveness. It is simply an admission of fault and a sincere “I’m sorry.”
It shouldn’t be precluded by justifications or excuses for said improper behavior or verbiage, but rather a simple outline of what was wrong and the fact that I admit that it was wrong and that I am sorry.
I’m an OCD person, and closure is very important to me. I know the old adage is that “You should never go to bed angry.” It seems quaint and overly simplistic, but I find it to be true in all instances.
If I’m in a disagreement with someone, I’m angry, or they’re angry with me, I want to get to the root of it as quickly as possible. I want to think of the situation from their perspective and understand why their feelings are hurt or they’re upset with or disappointed in me.
I want to understand so that, when I formulate the apology, it comes from a sincere place and allows me to fully grasp the complexity of the disagreement in order to prevent such a thing from ever happening again in the same capacity.
Say it like you mean it.
Have a Long Term Plan and Short Term Goals
Just like those questions in interviews about where you see yourself in five years, it’s a good idea to take inventory and plot a course for your life.
You certainly can’t control everything that comes your way, but having a generalized road map of points you’d like to hit along the journey is in your best interest.
I know it’s difficult to put yourself in your future self’s shoes, but think about things you’d like to do in your life and what you’d like to accomplish.
What would make you proud to say you did? Where would you like to visit? What would you like to own? Where would you like to work? Ask yourself these questions and then come up with a practical plan to achieve these goals.
Once you have the big picture, break it down into smaller victories.
If you’d like to own a house, come up with a budget that allows you to save a certain amount of money each month.
If you’d like to become a manager, focus on building a certain list of skills every quarter that qualify you for the position in the future. Speak with your current manager and ask them where your strengths lie and where you need work.
Use every day to its fullest and be specific in your vision.
Get Rid of Things You Don’t Use or Wear
Again, this may be something you can chalk up to OCD, but I’m a firm believer in minimalism.
If I don’t wear clothes or use a certain piece of furniture or tool, I give it away, sell it, or throw it in the trash.
Clutter holds you down and makes you focus on all the wrong things in life. Don’t allow yourself to get sucked into the materialistic vacuum of modern life. Hold onto only what you need to find happiness, work effectively, and live in a healthy, confident way and get rid of everything else.
Frivolous possessions should be removed from your life and replaced with things that matter to you.
Like Danny Tanner says, “Clean room, happy room.”
Talk to New People
A huge part of breaking out of your comfortable rut is taking a chance on things and squashing your inner fears. One of the biggest of these fundamental fears is the fear of rejection.
So many people are afraid to walk up and talk to people because they think they’ll be ridiculed or ignored or shunned. That may happen in some instances, but you’ll never know unless you try.
For every mean-spirited or worthless person you meet, I’m sure there are at least three good people. Find these positive, fun people and learn something from them.
Go out of your way to have interesting conversations, ask them questions, and tell them your opinions without forcing your ideas on them.
A conversation is a two-way street and you should take only as much as you give. If you have relevant insights, share them. If you want to know more, ask. If you disagree, politely explain why.
I meet new people every day and while they’re not all a regular part of my life, they all mean something and they’re all valuable.
Everyone has a story.
Do What You Love, but Have a Solid Backup Plan
One of the most important factors in your personal happiness is finding something that you love to do. Whether it’s to play sports, go to concerts, write, cook, watch films, or build sculptures out of clay, we all have something that relaxes us and allows us to feel like ourselves.
Hell, it doesn’t even have to be just one thing. Writing, cooking, hiking, playing Super Nintendo, collecting old toys, dancing, and drinking bourbon are all parts of me that make me feel happy and carefree. Whatever it is that makes you feel that way, please chase it.
At the same time, don’t let your passion be the only option when it comes to a career and income. Some of these pursuits just won’t work as full-time jobs.
Even if you love a certain activity to death, you may not be able to make money doing it. Have a solid backup plan that you can tolerate. Everyone needs a day job.
If you’re obsessed with creating the next great video game in your spare time, learn how to code and try to work for a corporation that needs developers. Even if it’s not making video games, I’m sure you’ll learn valuable skills, network, and have some change in your pocket to fund your personal pursuits.
Me, I work in digital marketing, but I love to write. Luckily, those two cross paths quite frequently. I’m able to merge my creativity with practical applications of my technical proficiency and make money doing it.
Do what you love, but make sure you have enough money to feed and shelter yourself.
Choose One New Habit and Take the Time to Track Your Progress
Don’t be like those people at the gym every January, swearing that they’ll get in shape by summer time and completely disappearing from the crowd after a month or two.
If you’re going to make a significant change, commit to it.
The only way to commit to changing an aspect of yourself is to hold yourself accountable. It’s easy to make promises to yourself that you have no intention of keeping when you’re able to simply forget about them. Don’t let that happen.
Track your progress after you decide to try a new habit or to shake an old one. Write down where you failed, where you succeeded, and what you need to get to the other side.
Just like with weight loss, I didn’t start seeing success until I actively tracked every single calorie I consumed. It’s so easy to lie to yourself when you’re not keeping score. In a way, though, you’re only cheating yourself.
Dedication only takes you as far as you allow it to take you.
This may seem like the opposite strategy of many of the ideas I’ve proposed above, but it’s not. It’s one of the only ways I keep my sanity.
Sure, convention and routine are good to have and structure is important, but you can’t live your entire life via itinerary. There has to be some peaks and valleys and some unknowns.
Call it the fog of war, but I like not knowing where I’ll be sometimes. I like to let loose and land wherever the night takes me.
Maybe that means going out with new friends or trying a new bar. It could mean traveling to a new city for the weekend and wandering around on foot without planning an evening.
There are so many ways to be spontaneous, but adventure is one of the great joys in life. Find yours.
Learn to Cook
There is no greater sense of relaxation in my daily life than the feeling I get from standing over a stove and crafting my dinner after a long day at work.
Cooking is something that so many people claim to be terrible at, but it’s because they’ve never tried. It’s easy. Just make what you like to eat.
I remember a Robert Rodriguez video where he said that the best thing to do is to come up with three or four dishes that you can make extremely well. Make them over and over and over again until you have the technique completely mastered. Write them on a piece of paper and keep that in your kitchen. When guests come over, show them the piece of paper and ask them to pick what they’d like you to make. These are your specialties.
I always thought that was an excellent idea and a good way for people to dip their toes into the world of cooking. It may seem daunting with all of this new age, fancy, fine dining and molecular gastronomy stuff going on in the culinary world, but it’s really just about making simple, healthy and delicious meals.
Everyone has to eat, so why not eat well?
Find a Form of Exercise You Can Tolerate
I used to be extraordinarily lazy. As I stated earlier, I was just shy of 400 lbs. It’s easy to be lazy when you’re that big. You don’t even think about it. You sit in chairs and on benches, hope they don’t break and stuff your face. You don’t exercise, or at least you don’t exercise much.
I discovered early on in my weight loss journey that I loved to hike. I decided I would take an hour every day and go on as arduous a hike as I could stand at the local nature preserve. I came to love every second of it and it compelled me to keep at it.
I’d see all kinds of awesome animals on my journey: frogs, wild turkeys, deer, groundhogs, foxes, fish, and snapper turtles. I’d go out my way to take a different path each time.
The peaceful ambiance of the park mixed with the soothing tunes coming semi-quietly through my headphones made for the perfect stress relief.
Many people hate exercising because they don’t have time, they find it boring, or they’re too lazy and I can understand those sentiments. It just means you haven’t found a physical activity that makes you happy.
Try a bunch of different ones and see what sticks. It’s worth the sweat.
Lay a Single Brick Each Day
While this list may seem overly optimistic, long-winded and somewhat impossible to accomplish, don’t try and squeeze all of these tips into the single day.
We’re building a large, intricate wall here. It’s not going to be done in a week or a month or a year. This is a lifelong process.
All we have to do every day is lay a single brick.