In a world of adulting and Bill paying, sometimes you need to reconnect with the simple joys of life. Above is a picture of an alpaca. Animals can bring us a great amount of joy. Whether that is a family pet, going to the park to watch the birds, or even an alpaca at the state fair, Animals rarely fail to put a smile on our face!
Animals not your thing? Maybe you have an allergic issue that prevents you from enjoying them? Maybe you would just like to have another outlet to bring you joy? How about going back to simple childhood activities? In an age of cell phones and high resolution video games, it can be refreshing to pick up a crayon and draw a picture. That is just what my lovely lady is doing in the picture above! We, for some reason, feel we should leave these activities behind as we grow older. Truth is, as adults, we may need them more than ever!
What simple activity do you practice to bring you joy?
Last post, we looked at why waking up even ten minutes earlier could benefit you. In case you missed that, I will give you a quick recap. In my own life, I was able to work in some mild exercise to get my blood pumping and my mind moving. I was also able to make my coffee, get dressed and do everything else in a less stressful fashion. Anytime you can reduce stress in your life, that is a win. Not hitting the snooze may sound like additional stress, but it really is not. Do you know what is stressful? Hearing the alarm in the first place! When you hit snooze, you get to have that stress an additional time…or two…or three. Not to mention the 5 or 10 minutes between hitting snooze and the alarm going off again are not filled with blissful slumber. In fact, most of the time it is filled with the dread of hearing the alarm.
The stress of waking up only lasts a moment. Once you are out of bad and standing up, it usually dissipates fairly quickly. Unfortunately, if you have hit snooze too many times it is usually replaced by the stress of running late and trying to get ready. The key is to fill your morning with things you look forward too. These are morning rituals. There have been many listed in the pictures above. We will look at what some high achievers do in the picture below. In the meantime, think of what rituals would work for you. Would some simple stretching help to get your body limber before your morning commute? How about being able to make your coffee with time to enjoy the aroma and maybe even a sip or two before you head out the door? How would reading something inspirational affect your mindset first thing in the morning?
After you make a list of morning rituals you would like to incorporate, then decide how long each would take. Set your alarm accordingly. If you hit snooze, you will know that you will have to forgo one of these items that will make your life better. That may help get you up and out of bed. After a few days of going through your morning rituals, you will feel how starting your day less stressed and more inspired will feel. Do this for a week and you will not want to stop. I can speak from personal experience. When I did not hit the snooze, my mornings, and by consequence my days, were a lot less stressful.
Here are a few of the things some people you may recognize do with their mornings. You may notice it is a nice blend of productivity and stress relief. I suggest the same for us. If you are thinking, “Neil, this all sounds great but that would mean I would have to get up an hour early!” I would tell you two things. First, there is a great book called Miracle Morning that I would recommend you check out. It will have you realize that an hour early could change your life. It will also show you how to do this in as little as 6 minutes. The other suggestion is to divide it up by day. Your Monday morning ritual may involve something to get you fired up. Your Tuesday may involve something to ground you. You can switch between exercise, stretching, meditation, journaling and just five minutes of meaningful silence. Before you know it, you may want to do a few of each and find yourself setting the alarm a few minutes early!
I would love to know what your current morning ritual is and what you would like to add to it. As for me, when I go back to work, I am going to get back to my planks, squats and reading my motivational day by day calendar. I would love to hear yours in the comments below.
Here is a post we can all get behind! As I write this, I’m on vacation listening to a steel drum band. The funny thing is, I used to have every Monday off. It was my designated off day. Back then, I loved Mondays. Looked forward to them even!
This got me thinking, how taking off an occasional Monday could change our perception of them. How would your view of Monday change if it involved sleeping in, spending some time at your favorite coffee shop… or maybe listening to a steel drum band? I say do it! Treat yourself. Take a Monday off and plan something fun!
While it is important to focus on what we put into our bodies in terms of food, the is a lot more to our daily diet than that. What do I mean? What is your daily diet of self-care? What is your daily diet of activities to improve your physical health? How about improving your mental health? How about your spiritual health? What about your daily diet of information?
Above you will find some good suggestions to include in your daily diet. However, I suggest taking a look at your own diet. What is your daily diet for self-care? If it is nothing, you may find yourself feeling drained and uninspired. How about your daily diet when it comes to physical health? If it is not good, you will feel tired and may find yourself sick more often. This holds true on mental, emotional and spiritual levels as well.
What about your daily diet of information? Do you spend your morning commute listening to some political talk radio that gets your blood pressure boiling? Maybe you spend and hour every night watching the news and feeling depressed and hopeless? What if you spent that hour listening to something that would give you tools and strategies to succeed? You could include something that would inspire you and make your heart soar!
What does your daily diet look like? Could you benefit by including any of the items listed above? Please share what items you are going to add to your daily diet to improve your life in the comments below.
It is Monday as this blog is released. For many, this can be the toughest day of the week. First day back to work. With the challenge of waking up and commuting there, often problems that occurred during the week have to be dealt with. Even if you are reading this on a day other than Monday, the same can hold true.
Listed in the photo above is a good remedy for this stress and anxiety. Before bed, just focus on one thing that makes you smile. This can be something you are looking forward to. Perhaps a vacation? Run a mental movie in your head of everything that includes. Feel the sunshine on your skin. Taste the wonderful food at the resort. Smell the ocean breeze and suntan lotion. See the palm trees and blue water. Hear the lapping of the waves on the shore.
What if you don’t have something to currently look forward to? Think of a great memory. Maybe a fond walk with a love one. Do the same thing of engaging as many of your senses as listed above. One caution, do not let yourself be filled with sadness or regret that this is a memory. Instead, be filled with the feeling of gratitude that you had that experience in your life. Remember, not everyone is blessed enough to have memories like that.
We have focused on the importance of our morning routines. That often starts with the night before. The last 20 minutes before bed (and the first 20 upon waking) is when your brain is most susceptible to suggestion. Why not fill that time with something that fills your heart with joy. As a bonus, you will sleep better and, more than likely, have more enjoyable dreams.
Last post we discussed addressing some issues we may not have known we had inherited from our family, neighborhood or other influences. It may make some people uncomfortable to think they are changing or God forbid, improving something about themselves. I get it. In today’s world it can be hard to admit we are anything less than perfect, even if it is through no fault of our own. Nobody likes to admit they have something to work on. Do you know what nearly everyone likes? Realizing they are getting better at something. It can be close to downright exciting to think you may be working on mastering something. Here is some great news, there are plenty of areas in which we can do this!
If we stop and think of the very important issues in life, how many were we taught or have we stopped to research? What do you think is important in your life? Where did you learn how to do it well? Did you ever stop to learn how to do it well? Relating to others is one of the most important skills a human can have. How well did you do in your ‘relating to others’ class in school? Do you recall when your parents sat you down and explained some of the many aspects that go into a healthy and sustainable relationship? Me neither. How about communication? The ability to both convey your thoughts, feelings and emotions to others as well as hear and understand theirs is skill that is as rare as it is valuable. How many years did you study that in school? If your education was anything like mine, that answer would be less than one.. What good is learning our alphabet and how to spell words if we are never taught how to effectively convey and use those very words.
It would seem a great deal of important subjects are left for us to learn by chance, or for far too many of us, by trail and error or not at all. The problem with this is that the stakes are far too high for most of us to learn that way. One mistake in how we relate to others can not only cost us a job, it can ruin relationships and cause emotional trauma to others, including those we truly care about. We occasionally get some instruction on interviewing to get the job we are seeking, although even that is limited. Did ever seem odd that nobody ever told us how to ask the right questions to discover if someone would be the right life partner for us? The same holds true with maintaining a healthy mental and emotional state. As far as I know, there exists very little, if any, instruction in public education on this subject. Is it any wonder, as the stresses in life continue to rise, we are seeing a host of people with mental health challenges. We were never even told how to deal with the stress that is all too prevalent in our lives.
We repeat here the axiom from the last post that fault does not equal responsibility. It is certainly not our fault we were never taught how to succeed in some of the most important areas in life. This is not a knock on our teachers and parents. They were never taught these things either. It is, however, our responsibility to educate ourselves on these very subjects. If a healthy relationship is important to us we need to learn what the components of one are and how to get them. If being able to communicate to others and have them understand you may be valuable, don’t you think it might be worth a few hours of research? How much effort is living a life with less stress and more joy worth to you? What other areas are important? Do you think being a great parent to your child is important? Do you think you may have received some bias or incomplete information on that subject growing up? Would you like to give your children the best possibility of success as they grow up?
When I share this information I hear a lot of groaning about having to dedicate additional time learning. “I spent enough time studying in school.” is a refrain I hear all too often. If that is your mindset you must then become comfortable at the thought you will not develop past the person you were when you left school. “I don’t have time.” is another answer I hear. To that I say this – it is not that you don’t have time, it is that it is not a priority for you. If I told you that you could have ten million dollars but I would need 2 days worth of your time starting tomorrow at 6am, where would you be at 5:59?
Dedicating time for study in these subjects is worth more than that ten million dollar price tag mentioned earlier, it is priceless. Being able to better understand, and even more importantly meet, the needs of your spouse? How much would you pay for that? Not feeling so stressed out at the end of every work week, or even every work day, how much would that be worth to you? You see, studying the main topics in life is like digging in a vain of solid gold. The knowledge you get can not only positively transform your life, it can do the same for lives of those you care about. Can you imagine sitting down to share topics like these with your children while at the same time listening to what concerns they may have? How valuable would that be? How about learning how to help people feel good about themselves? Would that be skill that might come in handy with the boss at the office or the one you love at home?
Here is the grand upside to all of this. The knowledge on all of these subjects is readily available and it is free. All it takes is some time and effort on our part. There are literally millions of books available in the public library system at no charge to us. There are forums, articles and experts available online with a click of a mouse. There are audiobooks we could listen to in the car, seminars we can attend, videos on YouTube we could watch while we are in line at the grocery store. There is so much information out there, in so many different forms that there is no excuse not to become an expert in any area of life that is important to us. Learning one new thing a month, which is painless to do, can give us 12 tips to a healthier lifestyle. Can you imagine incorporating 12 new things this year to improve your health? How much of an impact do you think that would have? What if we learned one new way to improve our intimate relationship a week? This is still insanely easy to do. Do you think adding 52 improvements to your relationship in a year would positively impact your love life?
There is no excuse not to begin to become an expert on the important areas of our life starting today! How important is the success of your children? How important is the happiness of the love of your life? How valuable would having extra energy and health be? Decide what is important to you and begin to study today! Your life is far too valuable not to.
As we grow older we realize what we thought was important in our youth may very well turn out to be quite less important in later years. If we think about our own lives we undoubtedly will realize that this is true for us. I have heard people say “Ask yourself if this will mater 10 years from now.” Some things in life that seem make or break we can’t even remember a year from then. Gossip, even work related issues that can certainly be tricky at the time, can pass by to be forgotten. In looking back, I have been upset by some pretty silly and stupid things. How do we know what not to waste our time on? How do we know if the issue we are currently dealing with will even matter a year from now? After all, in the heat of the moment, most things do seem pretty important. There is a simple way to reduce the time we spend getting upset with, and wasting our time on nonsense. This will not only reduce the amount of time we spend upset, thus reducing a good deal of stress in our lives, but will also allow us to put that formally wasted time to better use.
A great way to make sure we do not spend time on what does not matter is to spend some time deciding what does matter. This is best done when you are not emotional. Being able to reflect on what is truly important in your life will allow you to often see the nonsense of life for what it truly is. This is helpful when you find yourself in a highly emotional state. If what is important to you is your spirituality, your family and your health, does it really matter what foolish thing a politician does? Is it worth wasting your time arguing the point with your coworker or the guy standing next to you at the bus stop? Probably not. Then again, if your politics are very important to you, it might be. If you can spend an afternoon (or whatever time of day works for you) pondering what you value in life and writing it down, this could pay great dividends down the road. When you find yourself greatly upset about something, refer to your list. If it is not on there in some capacity, find a way to let it go.
These are one of those times that recognizing that we are different in this regard will also save you a lot of stress. All of us place importance on different things in life. If it frustrates you why your spouse does not get as upset as you do about a certain issue it may serve you well to consider it just might not be that important to them. Although that might also frustrate you, it could certainly help you to understand your spouse and the situation better. If you are in the market for someone to spend your life with, this is also a great exercise to do. Finding someone who is passionate about the same issues as you do, could save a lot of stress as the years progress. If you are already in a relationship, being able to articulate what upsets you in a clear and concise manner to your partner will be helpful in both reducing upsets, but also getting to know one another on a deeper level. Like most relationship tools, this does not only work in an intimate relationship, but in other relationships as well.
As we grow older it is helpful to realize what is important to us and what becomes nonsense can and should change. As we mature, so does what is worth our time and energy. When I was younger, I placed great importance on solving every issue with people in my life. As I grew older, I began to value my own peace of mind more. When there was an issue that involved a conflict of values, or some unnecessary drama, the question went from “How can we solve this?” to “Is this an issue that really needs to be solved?” Sometimes we just have to agree to disagree. On a few occasions, when the other party refused to do so, it was sadly time to let that person go. My own peace of mind was more valuable than maintaining a relationship full of conflict. As a result of getting clear what is most important to me, I have been able to not only reduce the stress in my life, but use the time that would have been wasted on this unproductive conflict to further and deepen the healthy relationships in my life. One secret to an amazing life is periodically checking in with ourselves to ask “Are there some issues in my life that I spending time on that are just a bunch of nonsense?” As the years go by that answer will change and develop as we do.
Most of you know I live in the city of West Allis in the state of Wisconsin in the country of the United States. The weather here can best be described as 9 months of winter and 3 months of poor sledding. That is to say it is cold or at the very least rather cool here most of the year. Personally, I love the beach, warm and sunny climates and the overall vibes of tropical locations. To that end, I am forever looking for ways to bring the tropics home to where I live.
One of the great axioms in life that I follow is “There is no law of physics that state your mind and body have to be in the same place at the same time.” This began as a sort of tongue in cheek thought at my day job. While laboring away at the post office physically, my thoughts were drifting to sitting on a beach drinking out of a coconut. Once you realize that unlike your physical body, your mind does not have to suffer the same physical limits, it becomes very freeing. Taking these ‘mental vacations’ throughout the day help save me sanity and maintain my positivity.
One of the more difficult situations I face as the weather grows colder is my daily commute. Roughly 35 minutes long, driving on snow covered roads or surrounded by trees that have lost their leaves and brown grass can become less than inspiring. To fill this void of cheer, I often listen to music I enjoy or some inspiring or self-improving content in my travels. This past Friday, I decided to try something different and it made a positive impact. On the way home from my day job I decided to play a recording of ocean waves with birds from the sea shore. I believe it was recorded In Thailand, but that was not as important as it being a tropical ambience.
As I drove along, some interesting things happened. First of all, I felt more relaxed than normal. This was to be expected as the sound of ocean waves are generally considered a relaxing sound. That means the drivers who cut me off or drove recklessly seemed to bother me a little less. Stopping at another red light? That’s ok. Speaking of red lights, when stopping at a red light I could feel the warmth of the sun on my driver’s side arm. The wind blowing through the window felt like a tropical breeze. It was all I could do to keep from closing my eyes and picturing laying on a beach. I am sure the motorists behind me would not enjoy that once the light turned green. Even more amazing is I swear I could smell the ocean! I was surrounded by exhaust from other vehicles, a chicken place on the side of the road and other city scents. Still, I swear I could smell salt water blended with tanning lotion. I am sure that was my mind somehow connecting the sounds I was hearing, the warmth of the sun and the slight breeze and using that to create the scents I was experiencing as well.
The grand result of the experiment was that I arrived home feeling much more relaxed and in a better mental state than had I just drove home in the regular way. I have always know that although our bodies are confined to occupying the physical space they are in, our minds are free to travel wherever they may want to go. The result of my 35 minute commute home between 2 Wisconsin cities by way of several tropical beaches refreshed my spirit and kept my stress level low. I think I will add a coconut air freshener to the mix to make it more authentic. It was so good, if were not for the sexy lady meeting me at the door, I might have wanted to add a few more minutes to the commute. Now if only I can convince Margie to come to the door in her swimsuit.
I would love to know what destinations you would like to travel on your mental vacation. What steps could you take to make them feel like a reality? Think of using as many of the 5 senses as you can. Much like my journey using the sound of birds and ocean waves, the feel of sun on my skin and a gentle breeze and perhaps the scent of a coconut air freshener. I am next going to try this same experience on the way to work and see if it will help me enjoy the work day even more.
We began the week by discussing how important taking care of our mental health was. If you do not understand why that is important, I highly suggest you go back and read Monday’s post again. One of the fun, life-changing things I advocate in my second book, Living the Dream, is to create lists of things that sooth your soul. The picture above gives us some great ideas. Although I am not sure about “taking a nap with your loved ones” not sure what kind of polygamous situation the author has going on, but finding yourself sleeping with too many people could lead to a very stressful situation.
Back to the lists I was speaking of earlier. This can be movies that make you laugh. Creating a Happy Playlist on your MP3 player or other device of songs that put you in a good mood. It can be creating a list of friends you can call in an emotional emergency. One of the things people do not think to write down is a list of places where you feel at peace. These can be vital in times of distress, but are just as important as a preventative measure. Keeping your soul happy can help you deal with stress better which can lead to a stronger immune system and a healthier you overall.
You may think creating these lists as something you don’t need to do, but that would be overlooking a very important aspect of human nature. You may wonder why you would need to write down what movie makes you laugh or where you feel most at peace. You already know those things. Whenever the human brain is under stress, it does not operate at its best. That is why you see game show contestants with blank looks on their faces when asked how much 2 +2 equals. Of course they know the answer, but with prizes on the line and the what seems like the whole world watching their minds go blank. Have you ever studied all night for an exam and when you get to class you forgot everything you read? I think we have all been there. This weekend, take some time to write down what sooths your soul. It will not only be helpful, but it is actually quite fun. You can edit these lists as you grow through life, but having the information on hand can shorten the intensity and duration of many a stressful day.
Who is this charming fellow you may be asking yourself. Although you may easily confuse this as a picture of me when I wake up for work at 4:30 every weekday morning, the black and white nature should tell you that is not so. This fellow is Arthur Schopenhauer. He was a German philosopher in the early 1800’s. In my research and study of self-improvement, I come across many of these fellows. Notice the happy grin on his face? Most western philosophers share his gloomy demeanor. In fact, on doing research on the western philosophy thoughts into happiness, I discovered much of this gloominess also creeped into their thoughts and outlooks on the subject.
Art here did have a depressing but somewhat interesting take on what to do when pursuing happiness in life. His answer, in short, was this – don’t. Not too surprising considering his cheerful disposition. He did, however, have some advice that at first blush seems a little on the negative side but may help us find a new way to look at life and to increase the joy in our lives. His advice can be wrapped up in the following statement. “Don’t seek out happiness, but instead seek to diminish your misery.” Way to go Art! Focus on being ‘less miserable’ than ‘more happy’. I think if you go through life with your most inspiring thought being “How can I make life suck less?” you will end up with a life that leaves you looking like our good friend Arthur here. Not really that good of a look, if you were to ask me.
So I sat down to think about this idea a little more. That is actually me. You can see it is a little less scowl and a little more pensive than our German friend above. Wouldn’t making your life less miserable make it happier? I think it is much like a budget. If you wish to have more money in your life you can approach it in two entirely different ways. You can either focus on saving money and cutting expenses (like focus on reducing your misery) This is a very important aspect and will end up with you having more money in your pocket. If all you do is focus on where can we cut costs, you are not only limiting yourself, but you are also focusing on sacrifice and lack. Just like focusing on making life less miserable. It may be worth noting that when facing trouble, businesses tend to focus mainly on cutting costs and that seldom works long term.
If you want more money in your pocket, there is another thing you can do and that is focus on ways of increasing your income. In terms of happiness, this would be looking for ways to add more joy to your life. When you are looking to increase your income there are two options. You can earn more for what you already do, or you can find additional streams of income. Same with your ‘Happiness Budget’. Just made up that term by the way, kind of like it. You can look to find more joy in what you already do in life and you can also look for additional sources of joy. If you enjoy going for a walk in nature, would listening to some meditative music be helpful? Maybe trying to spot as many animals as you can? Maybe just focus on the sites, sounds and smells more? If you don’t get to walk in nature as much as you like, maybe you could try adding that to your life.
If the budget analogy doesn’t quite work for you, think of a garden. Stress, challenges and things that generally make you unhappy are like weeds in a garden. No matter how great of a gardener you are, there will always be some weeds. If you spend every minute in the garden of life pulling weeds (that is getting life to be less miserable) and not focused on helping your plants grow (like growing your happiness) your garden would be mediocre at best. That is like focusing on reducing misery and leaving the growth of happiness to chance. Sure, life may throw a few things your way every once in a while but your life, much like your garden, will be mediocre.
When it comes to a strategy for happiness I am going to say that the cheery Mr. Schopenhauer’s thoughts are not without merit, but merely one side of the coin. I think we should both look to reduce our misery in life while looking to grow our happiness. Just as in our income example, if we want more money in our pockets we should both look to cut expenses as well as increase our income. While tending your garden of life, certainly address picking the weeds, but also make sure to water your plants. Doing so will allow you the greatest harvest. The same can be said about removing the misery as well as growing the happiness, it will give you the greatest harvest.