The last eleven years have been a rollercoaster ride. I’m pretty sure I didn’t break any mirrors, walk under any ladders, or meet an exorbitant amount of black cats or anything. Overall, I followed a pretty normal path. Still, my heart has been broken, my entire department shut down at a company I was ecstatic to work for. I was conned. I’ve lost friends, gotten lost in the alarming news, had arguments, laughed uncontrollably, and met the love of my life. I’ve met people that I never thought could exist, both in surprisingly wonderful and terrible ways. My world has come together seamlessly per plan and fallen apart without even a moment’s notice.
With each bleak change, I found myself becoming more defeatist, less trusting, and most distressing of all: less willing to engage in my own life lest the engagement end in tears. For a period of time, I felt so let down and disappointed that I stopped participating. I went through the motions, but at the end of the day when I returned home, I was physically and emotionally drained.
For a time, I was convinced the amount of good could never actually outweigh the dreadful. A few months ago, I realized all of this was happening and that I was looking at everything backwards. While the exceptional moments don’t always have to outweigh the substandard ones in numbers to make everything worth it, the degree of the positive can almost certainly melt your heart and make you grin one of those uncontrollable, honestly contagious smiles that though people you meet can’t help but return it, no one outside of you (and maybe those closest to you) truly understand. After this realization, I committed to surrendering my negative, ruinous thoughts. I committed to grinning uncontrollably more often. I committed to living the best way I could.
So you might be wondering: How exactly do you change your view of the world? Of course, to make it come naturally as a habit, you need to choose consciously in the beginning. Like physical exercise, unless you are very lucky you will not just automatically change. It takes time to train your muscles and more relevant to this case, your reflexes before your automatic response is to jump into life feet first with a smirk on your face, no matter the level of fear you feel. Don’t get me wrong, a healthy dose of fear exists for a reason and is instrumental for our survival. However, it is also very important to learn to overcome that fear when your logical side recognizes there is no true danger.
It takes so much practice (or confidence) calming your body’s nerves when you are about to meet someone new or give a presentation to a crowd of people. As with exercise, start small and move one step at a time. When you find an opportunity to stand out at work, however nervous you feel, volunteer. Raise your hand. That is the first step to owning it. Take the decision into your own hands and rock it. Practice the presentation in front of that mirror, your wife/husband, kids or pets until you know it flawlessly. Knowing the material and owning it for your audience leaves them with the perception of confidence.
Perceived confidence will sell you and the material. Whether everything goes perfectly or completely bombs, you stood up in front of a group of people to conquer your fears. If you are proud of that moment, you have all the proof you need that you can do it. If you feel like you could have done better, it is still a win because your mind and body will recognize that nothing negative actually happened. The next time an opportunity presents itself you will find it easier to step up. Over time your body will learn to suppress and overcome the fear automatically with less mental work required.
If you are offered a promotion because of your awesome work and you are terrified about what it will mean for your comfortable laid-back workday, take the promotion. Become more engaged. Learn everything you can. Make decisions in the face of fear that you logically know will change your outlook on life and yourself. You can say yes and train your body later. The path of least resistance is not the path to your greatest or happiest self.
Your Reset Button:
Find what helps you reset and do that thing as much and often as you can. Maybe it’s going to a place you spent time growing up. Maybe it’s playing a game, reading a book, going to the gym. Do whatever feels good to you. In your own time, consciously choose activities with intention and train your body to automatically choose the life you enjoy whenever there is available time.
I spent a rough six months of weekends mostly in bed a few years ago. There was nothing physically wrong with my body. Thinking back on this term in my life still upsets me. After the work-week, there wasn’t any remaining energy to make plans for the weekend. I would walk the dogs (yes! Dogs helped pull me out of it) and spend most of the remaining weekend on the couch or in bed. Once in a while, one of my sisters or my parents stopped by for a day of fun. I didn’t realize it at the time, but visits from them helped to refill my tank. Doing things helped bring my battery back to full.
Find what brings you back to full and do it as much as you can in your spare time.
For me, the adventure reset is getting outside as much as possible. We hike with the dogs, explore the river and lakes and deliberately feel the sunshine, wind, and rain on our faces. This summer, in particular, no matter how exhausting the weekend was, we made a point of heading out nearly every Sunday evening on our paddleboard. Since I grew up on the water, spending time on it is enough to help me reset before the stress of Monday morning. It is the deep breath that I am still training my body to take on its own. Looking forward to adventure at the end of the weekend leaves us with feelings of happiness and freedom from the weekend longer.
What centres you? It might have nothing to do with the great outdoors. I am just lucky that one of the triggers for my reset button goes hand in hand with endorphin-releasing exercise. My significant other’s reset button is deeply intertwined with games (board and computer). Being more introverted, I also get a similar reset from devouring a good story or article. I start most mornings with a coffee in hand and a story on my phone.
When you make time and save energy for activities that make you feel alive, you gain more energy, which helps you endure and fight off that drained feeling.
Music Soothes Your Soul:
Listening to music helps you enjoy when your time belongs to someone else. There has to be some kind of music that speaks to your soul. For me, that music is rather Folksy. If you haven’t found yours yet, maybe this is a quest you would like to embark upon in the name of lifting your spirit without lifting an extra finger. Although time is precious and limited, giving our time to something or someone else is inevitable.
When it comes to working or finishing a project, I find it soothing to play the music that speaks to me in the background. If the project is one you believe in, even better. Music is also highly motivating. If you are working on something at home, it is easy to find distraction in the Internet and TV. Sometimes I feel like I am missing out on the world if there is complete silence. I find the key to my productivity is listening to my favourite artists drift in from the next room.
Recognize the Joy in Looking after Others:
To be honest, our house is nearly never completely silent. We don’t have kids. That’s a tale for another day. We have three dogs, a cat, and a quaker parakeet. They are all full of more life and energy than I could dream, which gives me energy by proxy. Here’s how. They motivate me to get up early. Not just wake up; get up. While a daily six am wakeup call might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it forces me to start the day. The three dogs encourage us to get outside on walks and enjoy nature without feeling like we had to take time away from our day to do it. That is part of our routine. We get to do it as part of the things we need to do every day.
Every single morning, I am tired. When other lives rely on you to keep up their standard of living, you are more accountable and willing to move past the weariness. You might not be able to do it for yourself, but you can and will do it for someone else. The energy that comes from proximity to others with energy is priceless. Especially when those others aren’t even people and they love you with precisely everything they have.
When you combine caretaking with the activities you love, you get an even bigger life-boost. This summer, we started teaching the dogs how to paddleboard. Our 20lb puppy took to it instantly like a champ. Within the first 30 minutes, she curled up to sleep on the front of the board. To be fair, I don’t even know if she realised she was floating on the water the first time I took her out. The two 75–90lb dogs were more hesitant to hop on, but here is the good news: you can teach mature dogs new tricks.
Our dog with the most life experience just turned eight. He swam around in the lake for about 5 minutes and as soon as I said, “Up,” and patted my palm on the board, he jumped up and balanced better than I. He hopped off a few times out of sheer curiosity for what his younger brother was doing. His brother will be five this month. Contrasting with the other two, he chose to swim around for an hour and a bit, refusing to listen to our offer for laziness until he was too tired. All of a sudden, he was determined to get on the board with his brother. He fell back in the water on his first attempt, but immediately tried again and managed to make it up. Both of them happily floated around together for the remainder of our first time out.
In addition to the clear simple joy these experiences brought, there are two obvious lessons here. The first is an old standby. If you fall off, get back on. Your body will learn and adjust with practice. The second is that you are never too old or mature to learn new tricks and habits.
Make Your Own Life the Dream:
It is so easy to look at anyone else’s life from the outside and see it as a dream. The truth is that we never actually know the ghosts anyone else is living with. If you feel like the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, you can make small changes that have a big impact. We focus so much on what other people think of us, and not enough on our actual selves. When you see someone struggling, if you can help them they will appreciate the help and you will naturally get a rush from doing so. If there is nothing you can do to help, always avoid judging and offer them compassion. You choose the people in your life. Surround yourself with people you love who are a positive influence. Be a beneficial influence on them as well.
About two years ago, my significant other and I stopped eating meat. We were both uncomfortable with eating meat for a long time and limited our meat consumption. For years, we thought the transition to completely meat-free would be too difficult. What happened when we consciously decided to stop? The meat options on the menu were no longer an option. Once we decided it was completely outside the bounds of what we would eat- once it was not even a choice for us anymore- we saw the alternatives clearly.
We saw them everywhere. It was easy. The thing that allowed us to do what we both wanted for years was as simple as choosing to do it. Eating consciously, rather than relying on how we were raised will not change the world on its own, but maybe it will encourage change and impact other’s lives. We also both feel significantly better since the decision.
If something in your life doesn’t fit, you can change it. Perhaps the city you live in isn’t where you want to stay. Maybe you cannot move immediately, but taking steps to make it happen will also give you more purpose and intention, which results in more joy in life. Knowing you are working towards a dream helps you fight through to the other side. If you eat the same thing for breakfast every day because it is easy, but not healthy or exciting, change it up. Plan it out. Give yourself something to look forward to in the morning.
When you go home at night, instead of zoning out to repeats on TV, create something with your own hands or go for a walk or a run. Play with your kids. Read a book. Do whatever gives you energy. Engage with the world around you, rather than hiding from it. We have become so used to the routines we created for ourselves that the life we want to live gets left behind as we trudge through adulthood. We know to be stalwart and have a tough facade from years of training. What if we never actually learned that behaviour? What if instead we always simply looked for the best in people and situations to truly appreciated our surroundings in any given moment? How would we all behave then?
Stop Obsessing over the News:
When I was about seven years old, I remember clearly feeling embarrassed over the most ridiculous thing I’ve said. I still look back on this moment in my life and laugh to myself. My parents watched the six o’clock news daily while we ate dinner. One evening we ate dinner early. It was five o’clock and the news was on. My seven-year-old voice waited for a commercial, then asked, “What time does the six o’clock news come on?” Everyone laughed and laughed. I was serious.
My parents watched half an hour of news every night and I thought that was all the news there was. They kept up with the events of the world without obsessing over them. Within the last couple of months, I retrained myself to do the same. Every time there was a moment of down-time before, I instinctively opened the news apps on my phone. Yes. Apps.
In a world obsessed with true crime and global and political awareness, having multiple news apps has to be a common trend. I would like to be able to say that there is no harm in enlightenment, however, the harm is this: if you read and reread the same terrible stories day in and out looking for one new detail and hoping to keep on top of the information, you become obsessed. Your world will slowly darken around you. When you check the news constantly, it is a natural progression for the world to feel like a bleak place. So I stopped. I no longer read the news. Like I deleted the Facebook app from my phone when I caught myself mindlessly scrolling one day, I deleted my news apps.
Now, I ask the bedroom Google Mini to read us the news while getting ready in the morning. Most days that is all the news I need. I’m not suggesting you ignore the world around you, but if you allow yourself to become overwhelmed with the terrible events that happen- if you constantly obsess over stories and the next horrible act- you begin to miss out on the joy of your own life. If you cannot change the stories, it is enough to know what’s going on in the world without constantly scrolling news sites. When something, in particular, interests me (like the news about the Arctic fox that walked form Norway to Canada), I look it up to learn more about it. Rather than mindlessly scrolling social media sites or news apps, why not decide to spend more time in each moment with those around you?
I often wonder if the world as it is would exist without this space we have created between each other. Since becoming reliant on technology and the Internet, the world we live in has changed. My parents live on the farm where I grew up. It is a slower pace there and takes me back to a simpler time. Their Internet connection is very expensive and therefore sort-of off-limits while we visit. As I write this, though, I know it has less to do with the cost of the Internet and more to do with the cost of not living fully.
Being surrounded by the natural world reminds me of how it used to be and how fragile the state of the world is. I can do one of two things with that thought: let it get me down, or consciously choose to see the beauty of this world. I choose beauty and enjoyment. You can too. It takes some time and effort deciding to see the world in a brighter light. It takes time to change the way you spent years training yourself to react to situations. That time you spend intentionally responding to everything around you will make you feel so much more alive. Stop zoning out. Stop taking the easy route. Decide today.