“But trust me on the sunscreen.” –Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune, commencement address
My wife had a rough second half of last year. A college administrator, she finished the school year by winning a major award for her distinguished and very valuable work. Shortly thereafter, she accepted a new position at her school, hoping it would make a positive impact on the campus community while also removing some stress and granting her a more “normal” schedule for time with me and the kids. Well, she got one out of three!
While she was clearly making a positive impact at her work, the benefits stopped there. She was completely stressed out, going 90 miles per hour all day and burning the candle at both ends. It was eating her up. Even when she was home, her mind was not. Her body was showing the signs, too: headaches, big knots in her shoulders, poor sleep, missed meals. She was winning great battles in her new job, but the job was clearly winning the war on her way of life and her happiness. Burnout seemed inevitable. Something had to give.
Never one to give up on a new commitment, the job wasn’t going away any time soon. During the semester break, though, she did some soul-searching and realized that, even if her basic circumstances weren’t going to change much, she needed to do a better job of caring for herself and bringing a better mental approach to her world every day.
As often happens, the Universe honored her new resolve by dropping a gift in her path. She discovered something called “The Miracle Morning” by Hal Elrod, whose basic concept is that, even amidst your crazy-busy life, you can manage to carve out a handful of minutes just for yourself at the very start of the day, and those precious minutes can get your mind in the right space to create the best possible day. The idea is to spend a minimum of one minute on each of six tasks in this order:
- Silence (or Meditation)
- Affirmations (Reminding yourself what is good about you and important to you)
- Visualization (Imagining how you want your day to look and how you want to feel)
- Writing (A Gratitude Journal)
- Reading (Preferably something inspirational)
- Exercise (e.g. jumping jacks or push-ups)
After months of rebuffing my suggestions that she take some time to go to the gym a few times per week to relieve some stress—making the time seemed impossible to her—I was thrilled to see her latch onto “The Miracle Morning.” “Even I can take 10 minutes for myself,” she said. And she has, for more than a month now. Every morning while I am at the gym and the kids are still sleeping, she takes her ten minutes (adding a few extra in the Reading and Exercise categories).
What a difference it has made! Though her outer circumstances are much the same as they were last semester, this tiny change has made her a different woman. At the breakfast table, the dark cloud that I could almost see over her head before is gone. She is more clear-headed and optimistic about the day. She is more present. She is more aware of the need for self-care during stressful times. The best part: she smiles more.
My wonder at this fabulous turnabout has really caused me to look at my own little world in a new way. After all, I am the guy who is always prodding you to examine your biggest dreams and the deepest calling of your soul. I keep saying, “Follow your Bliss! Show us your Light! Make your life extraordinary!” I ask you to move your biggest rocks. Shake up your world if it is not authentically you. Change jobs. Change relationships if you must. Rock your world if it will bring happiness!
I think what I usually fail to see is that most people are more content than I am. Even though I am wonderfully happy, I am also deeply dissatisfied with a big part of the life I have created. I want to do more with my passions, achieve career success in my dream fields, and more. There are big rocks I must move in order to be content. Because of that, I often assume that everyone else is the same way. I am probably wrong about that.
More likely, I think now, is that most people are more like my wife. Not so dissatisfied with themselves and antsy to make huge changes in their lives to feel fulfilled. More open to subtle changes to give a little boost to their happiness, minor adjustments to their schedule to make their lives a bit easier and their burden lighter. I am guessing that most people aren’t interested in climbing their Mt. Everest today, but maybe they would climb the little sledding hill next door to their house if they thought the ride was going to make them a little bit happier and healthier. Hmmm…..
With this new realization dancing in my head and my wife’s “Miracle Morning” as my example, I am in the process of brainstorming some tiny ways that might help me and you feel a little happier today and every day. Knowing that you probably feel as busy as I do, I want things that will take little or no time out of my day and don’t require a lot of props or travel. We are talking baby steps here, friend. They should be easy, right? Well, here goes…..
- Hug a loved one.
- Say “Please” and “Thank You” more.
- A “Gratitude Jar” to fill with scraps of paper—one or two a day—holding the things you are most thankful for that day (then, when you need a reminder, open up the jar and have a look).
- A five-minute (or two-minute or ten-minute) tidy-up at the end of the day so you don’t have to wake up to a mess each morning.
- A “Song of the Day” that you give yourself permission to take in uninterrupted (or better yet, dance to!).
- Find a reason to compliment one new person each day.
- Find a new reason to compliment yourself each day (and mean it!).
- Keep a picture of your “Why” (your kids, vacation destination, dream job, etc.) on your phone or at your desk or wherever you will see it daily, a reminder to keep plugging away.
- Take a walk around the block, either alone or with a loved one, depending upon whether it is more important to re-connect with yourself or that person on that particular day.
- Some simple exercises (e.g. squats, counter push-ups) in the kitchen while you cook.
- Give a real greeting and farewell every day to your partner rather than just shouting “Bye!” and slipping out the door.
- Sign up to a daily email or app that sends you an inspirational or thought-provoking message or quote each morning.
- Use regular events of your day (e.g. stoplights, other people’s phone’s ringing, waiting in line) as “bells of mindfulness,” reminders to stop your busy mind and center yourself in the moment.
- Write in a journal (of course!).
- Say “I love you.”
- Strike up a conversation with an acquaintance who intrigues you.
- Admit to someone that you could use some help (whether that help is a hug, a loan, some advice, etc.).
- If you are a Facebook or Pinterest person, find one positive post to share each time you are on (if you can’t find anything positive, change who you follow and what you subscribe to).
- Drink an extra glass of water.
Wow, this is fun! I didn’t realize that it would be. The options are endless, and they can all be the first step in the right direction. This is so good for me! Onward!!!
How about you? What simple, quick steps can you take in the direction of a better, happier you? Open up your journal and start your list. What is the simplest step of all for you, the one little thing that you know will make you feel even just a little bit better? Why isn’t that a habit already? As you build your list, is there one area of your life that seems to be the most fertile ground for easy improvement (e.g. relationships, health, self-awareness, gratitude)? Which simple practice is something that you know is important but always seem to fall out of the habit of, only realizing it later? When your list gets really long, does it start to feel overwhelming, even though the tasks are so short and simple? If you had to pick just two little things from your list that most appeal to you right now, what would they be? How much time and energy would they cost you? What would you stand to gain from making them habits? Are you willing to try? I would love your feedback on this one, as I could certainly use your help in building my list. Leave me a reply and let me know: Which baby steps make your life a little sweeter?
Love the wonder that is YOU,
P.S. If the list has you thinking, pass it on. Let’s grow together! Many leaves, one tree.