My grandmother used to tell me…
“Enjoy today because the older you get, the faster time goes by.”
As a kid, I always rolled my eyes at this comment. But she was right. Time is a non-renewable resource and it goes by extremely quickly. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the time I’ve spent on the planet.
On Saturday, November 6th, I’ll be 32 years old!
Birthdays are always a good time to reflect on life lessons and I wanted to share some of those lessons with you.
Before we get going, find a piece of paper or open up a text edit program. I’ve included micro-actions throughout this post. As you’re reading along, write down your thoughts and ideas. Also, the numbers below aren’t in any particular order and I’ve left some items out because this is already a super long post.
Consumerism has propagated a myth that you can buy anything, including empowerment. But that isn’t true. You can’t buy empowerment at the mall. Empowering yourself requires intense self-examination. And intense self-examination requires a lot of reading, writing, and thinking.
Micro-action: Define what empowerment means to you?
2. Simplicity rocks.
The number of blogs and books relating to voluntary simplicity, minimalism, and downsizing grow everyday. It’s fantastic to see so much discussion around the topic of simplicity. Whatever you call it, the people in this movement are thinking and talking about new ways to live intentional authentic lives. The ideas in this movement have had a powerful effect on my life and I think they can help you too.
Micro-action: How can you start integrating the principles of simplicity into your life?
3. Embrace fear.
Fear never goes away, especially when it comes to making big life changes. Part of pushing past fear requires intense self-reflection and being aware of your physical and emotional state. Being aware means you can start to dig deeper, listen to what you truly need, and learn to embrace change.
A wise yogi recently told me, “Change means embracing fear. Criticism of the mind, self-doubt, and lack of trust are all limitations imposed by the mind. Doubt your doubts. Your doubts are not real. Doubts are just illusions created to keep yourself from taking a risk, because you’re afraid of failing.”
Micro-action: What is one fear you can conquer this month?
4. Biking and walking are the best forms of transportation.
Selling our cars was a scary choice, but I’m glad we took the plunge. By riding my bike and walking to my destination, I’ve noticed incredible details. Details that I wouldn’t have noticed 5 years ago; things like the subtle clues of changing seasons.
As I bike or walk down the streets, I’m awe struck by the changing leaves and the blue sky. When I drove everywhere, I failed to notice these beautiful details. A huge part of being car-free is about slowing down and savoring the details of life.
Micro-action: How can you start integrating more walking and biking into your daily routine.
5. Building strong relationships is the key to happiness.
My Great Aunt Mamie used to collect little toys in Cracker Jack boxes. She put these toys in a small red box and as a little girl I would come over and ask for her special little red box. Every time I opened the box, I was filled with awe and amazement. There were little wheels, tiny Disney figurines, and a very tiny Santa. I loved the little toys, but more than anything I loved spending time with my Aunt. She had beautiful blue eyes, a big smile and always played with me. She taught me that building strong relationships is the key to real, long lasting happiness.
Micro-action: Are there any relationships you’ve been neglecting? And why?
6. Yoga is a life expanding practice.
I’ve only been practicing yoga for over a year and still have a lot to learn. But I do know this: similar to being car-free, practicing yoga has taught me to slow down and be mindful of the present moment. I’ve also learned that my body is capable of amazing things; I am a strong and healthy and that is something to be extremely grateful for. Plus, the practice has decreased my stress levels and made me a whole lot happier.
Micro-action: Start practicing yoga.
7. My definition of success is constantly changing.
When I finished college I thought that being successful required making a lot of money, owning a few cars, and living in a big house. I’ve learned that I don’t care about success; at least not in the traditional sense. My version of success is much more scaled down.
Rather than worry about materialism, I’m more interested in doing work I love, paying my bills, and being happy.
Micro-action: Define what success means to you.
8. Be on your own side.
I’m a lot harder on myself that I am on others. Right now I’m reading a fascinating book called, Buddha’s Brain and the authors point out that “small positive actions every day will add up to large changes over time, as you gradually build new neural structures. To keep at it, you need to be on your own side.”
A lot of the latest research on the human brain shows that we can actually change how we think and begin to develop a more positive and constructive perspective. But to do that we have to be on our own side and learn to stop feeding the lizard brain with daily doses of “worry”.
If you’re anything like me and constantly hard on yourself, remember to be on your own side. When the negative self talk starts to infiltrate your brain, think about what you would tell a small child. Would you tell the child that he or she was stupid? Or that they would never reach a particular goal.
No, you would provide that child with encouragement, be understanding, and probably give that little person a hug. Do the same for yourself.
Micro-action: Be mindful of how you talk to yourself.
9. Single tasking is easier than multi-tasking.
Technology can be very distracting. To get work done I have to focus on one thing at a time. Practicing single tasking has changed the way I work for the better. For example, if you’re checking email just do that. If you’re writing an essay, focus on writing. Or if you’re talking to a friend, talk to that friend.
Micro-action: Read Leo’s new book, Focus. I’m about half way through the book and love it.
10. It’s okay to ask for help.
After years of struggling with an eating disorder and low self-esteem, I finally caught on that it’s okay to ask for help. For a long time, I felt like I had to do everything by myself. It can be scary asking for help, but in the long-run it’s worth it. Asking for help can make happier, is empowering, and can expand your social support network.
Micro-action: Do you avoid asking for help? Can you change that today?
11. The personal is political.
The problems we face (like climate change, lack of clean drinking water, and increasing levels of violence against women and children) are huge and systemic. Reading and thinking these issues can paralyze people. But it’s important to remember, the personal is political. The changes you chose to make in your own life do have political consequences.
Micro-action: Start flexing your “citizen muscle” by voting, attending city council meetings, or writing to your elected officials.
12. Words matter.
Words matter. Before you send an email, tweet, or publish a blog post, ask yourself: Is this helpful or hurtful? Words have a huge impact on the people in your life, so it’s essential to be thoughtful and considerate when you craft any type of correspondence.
Micro-action: Sign up for 750words.
13. Practice gratitude.
The latest happiness research emphasizes the importance of practicing gratitude. Show your gratitude to your spouse, friends, and family members by writing a gratitude letter, calling them at unexpected times, or making that person a lovely dinner.
In our busy world full of emails, tweets, and everyday work lives, it’s easy to get very wrapped up in yourself and forget about all the people who have helped improve your life along the way.
Micro-action: Write a gratitude letter.
14. Take time out for a nap.
Getting enough sleep is one of the many keys to a healthy and happy life. I know when I’m sleep deprived I start acting like a fool, rather being a thoughtful and loving person.
Micro-action: You might not be able to nap on the weekdays, but you can nap on the weekends. Give yourself that flexibility and make time for a 30 minute nap.
15. Being slightly obsessive about the things you love is perfectly okay.
Research shows that people who are happier enjoy the “small mundane joys of life.” For instance, coffee, writing, walks in the park, and yoga are a few of these things I have a slight obsession with (although I do have a tendency to go overboard on my coffee consumption).
Remember to savor life and the little things that make you happy.
Micro-action: What are some of your healthy and unhealthy obsessions? Think of three ways you can cultivate better habits.
16. Never stop learning.
Life is a continuous learning process, so don’t stop. Keep reading, writing, and be open to new perspectives. Being a life long learner also means you have to learn to stop making assumptions about folks. The trick is to become aware of those assumptions.
Micro-action: Start reading one book a week.
17. Follow your dreams.
When I was a little girl, I wanted to be President of the United States. I was absolutely positive that I’d be perfect for the job. Obviously, my career direction changed as I grew older. But that makes me wonder why. Little kids have the confidence to dream big. But somewhere along the way, they start diverging from those big and awesome dreams.
Adults are good at telling little kids, “Ohhh you can’t be the President. That is totally unrealistic. Why don’t you consider being a nurse instead.”
Think about the dreams you’ve never pursued and ask yourself why.
Micro-action: Write down your dreams and make a life list.
If you made it this far, congratulations! Thank you for reading and all your support.
Logan is organizing a birthday brewery tour for me on Saturday. So if you’re in town, feel free to join us. It’s going to be an easy going walking tour. Click here for more details.
Update: Check out this series of articles on life lessons! Very inspiring stuff.