I, like most other people that I know, am in constant pursuit of “leveling up”. Every accomplishment — large or small — is a stepping stone, a doorway to the next challenge to overcome. Each day is an opportunity to make choices that will set me up for an even better tomorrow.
I haven’t always thought this way. In fact, historically speaking, I am quite lazy. I have never considered myself to be anywhere near a perfectionist. I have a defiant streak, which as a younger woman often manifested itself as a stubbornness and unwillingness to develop healthier habits.
Now that I am older, with more than my fair share of mistakes under my belt, I realize the value of growth and self-development. The thing about growth, though, is that it is a slow process by nature. It is not possible to make lasting changes to habits, attitudes, and general well-being overnight. Nor should we want it to be.
Often, we get so caught up in our grand projections of the future that we don’t put as much effort as we could in improving the present. While a forward-thinking mindset can be beneficial, it should not come at the cost of an inability to live in the moment.
Personally, I find this quite a difficult balance to strike, and do struggle with it. However, there are a few things I’ve tried to implement in my own day-to-day life to reposition my focus:
Don’t Underestimate the Value of a Comfortable Living Space
A while back, I made the impulsive and poorly-thought-out decision of moving in with my boyfriend at the time, with whom I knew my relationship was not very stable. I was already living with a roommate, but before that I had lived very comfortably on my own for a couple of years. Neither I nor the boyfriend were thriving financially, either, but still we scraped together enough cash for a security deposit, picked a decent-enough apartment, and moved on in.
It was immediately evident that this was a terrible choice. We each had a cat, and had to keep them both completely separate at all times, or they would try to kill each other. My ex quit his job after signing the lease (???), so I was spending much more money than I had originally planned on. We couldn’t afford nice furniture or decor. Our already flimsy relationship suffered even more, and three months into the year-long lease, it came to a screeching halt.
I stayed in the apartment, and while I could technically afford the rent, I didn’t have much left over for anything else. The apartment was large — way too spacious for one woman and her cat — and it didn’t feel like my home. I spent as much time as I could away from it.
Finally, that lease ended, and I jumped at the chance to relocate. When I moved into my new studio apartment, it was like a breath of fresh air. It was a (much) smaller space, but also the exact amount of space that I needed. It didn’t hurt that it was also much more within my price range, so I finally had the financial freedom to purchase the decor and home goods that wanted.
I hadn’t truly realized how uncomfortable and unhappy my previous apartment had been making me. Moving into a new space, though, was a catalyst for improvements in other areas in my life. I started waking up earlier, because I actually enjoyed spending time in my home before heading to work. I could finally afford to go out to neighborhood bars and restaurants occasionally with friends again. I hung up lights and bought a new tea kettle, and enjoyed cozy nights alone rather than finding reasons to be away from my apartment.
A “comfortable living space” can mean something different to everyone. Maybe moving to a new home isn’t something that is possible to achieve presently, but smaller steps certainly can be. My suggestion is to try to do whatever you can in this moment to make yourself more comfortable in your home: create a reading nook with your favorite blankets, buy a new pair of slippers to wear around the house, or even just open your windows and get some fresh air flowing. A little bit of change in environment can go a long way.
This might seem like one of those “long term future goals”, but I promise you that it doesn’t have to be. Contrary to the information with which the internet seems to constantly bombard us, deciding to start exercising doesn’t have to entail creating an intense and strict workout regimen.
My daily commute to work is about 45 minutes each way, and involves taking a train from a suburb into the heart of downtown. Once I get off the train downtown in the morning, I face two options: hop on another train that will drop me right outside my office, or walk for about 15 minutes to get to work.
If you’re someone who’s told yourself “maybe I’ll start exercising more” a million times, moments like these are a perfect opportunity to start small. 15 minutes (or 30 minutes both ways) of walking is much better than no walking at all. If you have an office job, consider taking a couple small breaks throughout the day to step outside or go up and down the stairs a few times. If you’re just anxious to get home after work, consider finding a 10- or 20-minute yoga or Pilates video online that you can do from your living room. Don’t think about whether or not you’ll keep it up tomorrow, or if you plan on increasing your daily or weekly amount of exercise. Just focus on what you are doing today, and then carry that attitude into each new day, starting fresh every morning.
Enjoy your relationships
Whether familial, friendly, or romantic, the quality of our relationships plays a huge role in our overall well-being. However, no relationship is perfect or without blemish, and sometimes our own perceived failings in relationships can become a huge source of anxiety (or is that just me??).
I, personally, tend to follow the “overthink and overcompensate” method when it comes to relational issues in my own life. I had to borrow some money from my mom? Well, I guess it means I’m a failure and she’s probably disappointed in me. I had an argument over something silly with my boyfriend? Guess our relationship is doomed to fail and there is no recovering from it. I opened a friend’s text and then forgot to message her back? I am selfish and forgetful and probably let her down.
Obviously, most of these scenarios typically don’t warrant such extreme reactions. My mom and I are close, my boyfriend and I are happy together and respect each other, and my friends and I understand that we’re all busy and sometimes get caught up in life. Even if you’re not as neurotic about relationships as me, though, there are always opportunities to show others in subtle ways that you care about them.
For example: if you’re worried you’ve let some distance develop between yourself and a friend, it may be tempting to compensate by planning lots of outings together or calling them up for a lengthy chat. However, making a ton of plans will likely be difficult to uphold and cause you even further stress.
First of all, just breathe, and let go of any thoughts that the dormant friendship is unsalvageable or that you have been slacking. Everyone goes through ups and downs. Secondly, resist the urge to apologize via a grand gesture, and instead focus on reaching out in a genuine and authentic manner. Be gentle on yourself, and remember that what you know you’re able to do right now in this moment matters more than making broad promises to yourself about future plans that may not be sustainable.
If your friend works or lives nearby, consider checking in to see if they’re able to meet up for coffee or a happy hour drink. Or, if nothing else, type up a simple “thinking of you” text and send it their way. Apply this approach to all your relationships. Each day, think “what can I do to be a good friend/partner/son/daughter today?” The answer may be different on different days, and that’s okay. Enjoy your relationships as they are right now. No matter what, knowing that you’re doing the best with the resources currently available will be fulfilling, encouraging, and, honestly, a relief.
It can be extremely frustrating to feel as if the journey towards your goal is moving at a snail’s pace. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from my own trial and error, it’s that slow and steady is the most effective way to actually create long-standing change. Whether you want to achieve career success, build stronger relationships, become more fit and healthy, or honestly just feel better, try to stop thinking so hard and just take it one day at a time. I think it will be worth it.