Do these four things every day, and your life will change

The English poet W. H. Auden once said that routine, in the eyes of an intelligent man, is ambition. The problem for most of us is that our routine is usually pretty boring. We wake up, go to work, come home, surf the internet or watch a movie, and then go to bed.

If you’re like me, you’ve often wondered how to break the spell of monotony. You don’t need to be living a life of extreme, but you don’t want to be mired in drudgery either. But any cursory glance online or through the self-improvement aisle of the bookstore tells you that if you want to live an amazing life, you need to do amazing things — hustle, grind, network, connect, and work, work, work.

You need ambition.

I don’t disagree with that, but most people — myself included — mistakenly think that big changes require big things. We mentally gear up for a big paradigm shift in the way we do things in an effort to improve ourselves, and then, overwhelmed with all of this work ahead, we simply do nothing and feel ashamed.

How many of us does that describe?

The truth is that big changes, if done often enough, can actually come from very small things. In other words, if we manage to focus on accomplishing one or two things each day, and just put those systems on autopilot, we can begin to see our lives gradually change for the better. Unfortunately in our instant gratification culture, people tend to think that change comes from spontaneously booking a flight to some tropical island and posting about it on Instagram. That’s nonsense.

I’ve narrowed it down to four things you can do each day, in an acronym that spells WISE. I’ll confess, even I don’t do all four each day. Sometimes I only tick off one or two, and sometimes I do two things at the same time. But just aiming for all four each day has worked for me.

Here they are — whatever your situation is, try doing all four of these things every day, and see what happens:

1). Do some Work. And I don’t mean clock in to your 9–5 job. I mean do something you’re interested in that takes work. For me, that’s writing. If I don’t do at least a little bit of writing each day — whether it’s just writing thoughts down, making observations, jotting ideas — I get antsy. I sometimes put reading under this category if it’s a business book or a technical book, but you can count anything that involves labor, i.e. building fixed gear bikes, programming a website, editing a travel video of you and your friends, etc. You don’t have to earn money, but you can. The idea is that if it feels like work — even if you enjoy it — it counts.

2). Do something Intellectual. This is where I usually put some book I’m reading, but again, this can be anything that puts strain on your brain. Attend a panel discussion on foreign policy, watch a Frontline documentary, or read a legal brief of some Supreme Court case you’re interested in, whatever. The idea is to treat the brain like a muscle — if you leave it alone too long, it will atrophy. Watching some crap reality TV show is like letting the brain atrophy. Instead, work the brain at least a little each day. The idea is not to become an expert in some field or brag about how smart you are, just try to learn something about a topic you’re interested in.

3). Do something Social. This is where it gets fun, but unfortunately, it’s also where a lot of people get freaked out. If you’re in your late twenties or early thirties (31 here), the idea of going out and meeting new people is usually terrifying. And God forbid you go to a bar or party with the express intent of making a new friend or even “finding a girlfriend.” Please God, no. Again, that’s not the idea. The idea is to do something — anything — that can be classified as social. You can call your friend and ask him or her about their problems and just listen for fifteen minutes. You can ask the guy on the bus next to you if he’s seen the latest blockbuster. I personally like to do something that you sign up for because then 90% of your work is finished. Join a book club, a political organization, CrossFit, whatever — as long as it’s social, it counts.

4). Do some Exercise. Sweat. No, you don’t need to sign up for a 5k, a Tough Mudder, or compete in the Leadville 150. But you need to perspire from something you consider strenuous. Hell, joining a dance class counts, try doing that sometime and see if you don’t sweat. The best part is, if you join a dance class, you knock off three of the four: you’re exercising, being social, and working (you’re learning how to dance). Same with a running club, that knocks off two of the four. Intramural sports, whether it’s baseball, hockey, or whatever, regardless if you’re any good at it, knocks off two of the four. You don’t have to do each of the four things separately — be creative and see how many of these four you can combine.

And that’s it. You notice none of these things are huge. You’re not going to be breaking down walls or writing the next great American novel, but you don’t need to be. The world doesn’t ask you to be an amazing person. But if you want to live an amazing life, start with these four things each day, and the results will genuinely surprise you.