We all like to think of ourselves as functioning adults who take good care of ourselves and have a healthy self-confidence. At the very least, we like to pretend we are this way. Fake it till you make it, right?
In a way, yes. The first step to being comfortable in one’s life and one’s skin (while being surrounded with social media and television that tell us we’re not good enough) is indeed to trick yourself into believing that you’re comfortable in your life and your skin (or so they say). But sometimes life happens, our plans get derailed, our relationships crumble, and it gets harder and harder to force ourselves to be happy. We have so many thing we need to get done, pay for, remember, that we completely forget about the small things that make us feel good. We don’t have time for hobbies, we constantly have to think about what everyone else wants from us, and we have days where we just feel quite rubbish.
Now I am by no means an expert, but like most people, I’ve gone through my own share of tough times, blue Mondays, break-ups and anxiety, and have had to rebuild my life from the ground up after everything’s fallen apart. And while I’m not exactly where I want to be just yet, I’ve been taking small, slow steps to create the life I want and now I want to share some of those steps with you.
Keep a Journal
I’m not saying that you need to start writing an autobiography that details everything you do in a day, but in my own experience, tracking how I felt about certain events on a daily basis has been a great way to analyse what it is that triggers negativity and anxiety within me. It can be very helpful to lay your feelings out on a page and arrange your thoughts in a way that makes more sense than the noisy commotion in the mind.
This is one of those things that everyone always recommends (along with meditation) which has caused my eyes to roll back into my head so many times. Or it did, until I actually tried it.
If you don’t feel like composing a whole page of writing every day and pouring all your feelings onto a page (hand cramps are a real thing) start small, and use a more targeted approach.
Keep a gratitude journal: buy a small notebook, put it next to your bed, and before you go to bed write down five things you were grateful for in the day. These things can be repeated on a day to day basis, and they don’t have to be profound. “I’m grateful for the good weather” or “I’m grateful for the awesome toasted cheese sandwich I had at lunch” are totally acceptable.
Keep a food* diary: for many of us, our relationship with food causes a lot of anxiety. Writing down everything you eat and seeing it on a page can make it slightly easier to exercise control over our eating habits. I’m not saying it’ll ever get EASY, but having a visual record with which to hold yourself accountable can give you just a little more motivation to make some small changes. And ultimately, it’s the small changes that make the biggest difference.
On that note: I’m all for treating yourself to good food. Life is short and needs to be enjoyed. In my personal opinion, if you’re not a fitness model there’s no reason to deprive yourself of the things you enjoy, or be so strict about your diet that it causes anguish. That being said, you have ONE body, and it deserves respect. While we all have some things we don’t love about our bodies, the whole “my body is a temple” thing does ring true. If you don’t maintain the vessel in which you’re travelling through space on this floating orb we call Earth, the vessel is not going to be comfortable and it’s not going to run well. Think carefully about the fuel you put into your body. Love yourself and your body enough to give it what it needs, and not overdo it on things which can harm it.
This can take a lot of self-control, particularly before it becomes a habit (read more about habit building further on). When it gets really tough, try to imagine your body being that of somebody who you love (because it is!). If you love someone, do you WANT to do things that harm them? Probably not (and if your answer was yes, please seek professional help immediately), so why do you want to expose your own body to things that could impact it negatively?
Speaking of self-control, this one is a biggie. It’s hard to get our running shoes on and our bodies moving when it’s so much easier to lie on the couch and watch Netflix. There are so many distractions in everyday life which demand our time and attention, that it can be easy to let our exercise routine fall by the wayside. It’s important to remember that no matter how busy we are, or how good it may feel to binge three whole seasons of Breaking Bad in one sitting, exercise is a gift we give to ourselves and our bodies. Once again, think of yourself as a loved one. If you’re willing to put effort into the things you do for other people you care about, you should be able to put the same amount of energy into working hard for your own sake.
Starting to build a daily exercise habit when you’re not used to one is a massive challenge, but after a couple of weeks of FORCING yourself out the door, it becomes hard to give it up. And the feeling of treating your body well on a daily basis can’t be understated.
You can start small with this one too. Take the stairs instead of the lift, park further away from the supermarket, ride a bike to work. We all know all of these tips already, and since there’s almost no excuse not to implement steps like this, all it takes is convincing ourselves to do it.
Focus on healthy relationships
Reflecting on your relationships is a great way to identify potential stressors in your life. Many of us have people we care deeply about who, when we actually analyse the situation carefully, do nothing to lift us up. These toxic people are energy leeches and destroyers of self esteem, and need to be removed from our lives. This is not an easy task. When you love someone, it can be tough to admit that they’re a negative influence on your life.
This is where keeping a journal to track your relationships can come in handy. Log your interactions with friends and family. Which ones made you feel good about yourself? Which ones hurt your feelings, made you doubt your self worth, or just take more than they give back in general? Is this a trend with that particular person?
Some people naturally take more than others. Likewise, some people give a lot more. This alone is not an indication of a toxic person necessarily. You’ll know instinctively if someone isn’t good for you. Trust your gut. Start by lessening your contact with that person. Does your life feel easier or lighter if you interact with them less? Perhaps it’s time to cut them off completely. People grow and change and travel in different directions, and hanging on to a person purely because of shared history, instead of actual compatibility, is no good for either of you.
On the other hand, it’s important to track which of your relationships bring you a sense of fulfilment. Which of your friends and family members really make you shine? Show those people how much you appreciate them whenever you get the chance. It’ll make you feel good to express your affection and gratitude, and it’ll give them the warm fuzzies to know that you acknowledge all their wonderful qualities.
Analyse your goals
Many of us (myself included) spend a lot of time drifting aimlessly along, comparing ourselves the shiny lives we see in movies and on Instagram. Never before has a generation felt the pressure to keep up with the Joneses (and everyone else around the world) like we do, and this can make us feel lost or directionless. We see these people living the dream life and we feel like we should be doing the same, but we don’t know how to get ourselves there.
The catch here is that not everybody wants the same things out of life. There’s no “one size fits all” for a successful and happy life. We all have different priorities, and that’s OK. What’s important is to identify our own individual goals. These goals will naturally align with our own personal values and priorities, and they may not be the same as anyone else’s. In fact, our list of goals SHOULDN’T be the same as anyone else’s, or it’s not specific enough.
Start by writing out some targets (long-term and short-term) and then try to break them down to increasingly specific goals. Dividing one big goal (eg: travel more) into smaller, more manageable chunks (Go to Morocco for two weeks in December 2020) ensures that we can focus on achieving that goal (saving the money, choosing the exact dates, buying the tickets) and therefore brings us closer to it. The example of travelling is of course a very generic one, but you’ll know what steps YOU need to take to achieve your own goals, and writing them out can just make them that much easier to handle.
Build new habits (and destroy the bad ones)
Fill your life with habits that bring you joy, or make you feel calm and relaxed. These should be things that you do for YOU. That alone will make it easier to stick to them. Some say it takes about 21 days to build a new habit, but really, it’s going to be different for every person, and some new habits are easier than others.
It helps to break it up into chunks if you’re daunted, and then build up from there. You want to start exercising every day? Start with 15 minutes of jogging or walking. After a week, build up to 20 or 30. Then start adding something new. Exercising, drinking water, journaling, meditating and reading are all great habits that could add value to your everyday life and improve your wellbeing, and all can be added to your life slowly, in tiny increments.
Smoking, eating badly, not sleeping enough, and spending time with that toxic person who damages your self- confidence are all habits that you can eliminate when you start living with your own best interest in mind.
Ridding yourself of bad habits that are damaging to your body or your mental health is a commitment you make to yourself. If you wouldn’t break a promise to a friend, why do you break promises you make to yourself, and do things you said you wouldn’t do?
Here again, keeping a journal could help you track your progress (and your feelings) while you work on adjusting your habits. Take it easy, set achievable goals, and remember to reward yourself when you’ve worked hard and done well.
Like I said, I’m not an expert, and my life is by no means perfect, but I’ve been working on all of these things myself, and they’ve helped bring me a long way in just a few weeks. I’m now working more productively, exercising more, sleeping better, and getting more joy out of my relationships than I was just two months ago.
It’s never easy working on yourself. Sometimes it’s far more comfortable to ignore the things that are bringing us down than to address them head on and try to fix them. But when we ignore our own needs, we’re not putting ourselves first. Every person has a unique combination of qualities, and not making the most of those qualities, and treating ourselves as well as we deserve to be treated is a damn shame.
Listen to your body, Follow your gut, and focus on yourself.
We may be tiny little blips in the middle of a vast and expanding universe, but we can at least make our brief ride on this tiny orbiting rock as good as possible for ourselves. We are all worth it.