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7 Simple Things You Can Do Right Now to Improve Your Wellbeing
Judge less, discover your wholeness, and remember what matters
Hello & welcome to another edition of Beyond Self Improvement!
Last Wednesday, I wrote about how You Are Nothing and Everything. The comments on the post are beautiful because the beyond self improvement community comes with its heart open.
Speaking of people with open hearts, we have 4 new subscribers to Beyond Self Improvement since last Wednesday. My goal is 1,000 subscribers by December 2023. If you aren’t already, join 440 lovely people by subscribing now:
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been curious about how to live better. I’m forever experimenting and tinkering to see what works and what doesn’t. Today, that impulse is stronger than ever.
I’ve come up with hundreds of ideas over the years. Most didn’t pan out, but I’d like to share a few with you that did. Instead of rehashing well-worn ideas like taking a deep breath, drinking more water, or getting more sleep, I hope to share novel ideas you may have never heard.
Let’s have a look.
Stop Looking at the Clock
Time is a beautiful tool, but it’s easy to become enslaved by it. Each of us has a long list of things we want to see and do before we die, and we wonder how we’ll get to them all in one lifetime.
By fourth grade, I had already felt the pressure to do more. I began taping a weekly schedule inside a cabinet door in the family room. (Later, I realized this was driven by shame, but that’s another story). As I grew older, I crammed my schedule with even more to-dos. I wanted to be more productive to spend more time lazing about.
Optimizing my time became an obsession, which led to clock-watching. Wherever there was a clock, I looked at it—watch, phone, computer, stove, bathroom, garage, car, even in yoga class. How much longer do I have to hold this pose?! I began looking at a clock in one room and, not a minute later, a different clock in another room. It was ridiculous.
Such compulsive behavior fed into my productivity anxiety. The more I looked at the clock, the more pressured, hurried, and harassed I felt, which promoted more clock-watching. One day, I decided to stop wearing a watch and got rid of all redundant clocks in my place. Whenever the redundant urge to look at a clock arose, I let it go, whether in yoga or as I climbed into my car.
Today, I still experience some productivity anxiety. But when I want to look at a clock unnecessarily, I notice it and let it go.
Stretch, Wherever You Are
I rarely experience bodily pain, but it wasn’t always that way. In ninth grade, I couldn’t begin to touch my toes, and by age twenty-three, I had chronic lower back pain. Sometimes, it was so bad that I would duck into a spare office for relief.
I always disliked stretching. Unlike lifting weights, there were no apparent benefits. What little stretching I did, my muscles always returned to their original shape like a rubber band anyway.
Later, I began lifting weights, but a pulled groin muscle still didn’t get me to start stretching. A decade later, at 31, I started practicing yoga and felt like throwing up in plow pose because my back was so tight. Maybe there was something to being flexible after all.
My yoga instructor, Peter, could put his feet behind his head. He also coded websites (it was Boulder, after all), so I hired him to build one for my business. We met at his apartment, he began coding, and thirty minutes later, he stood up and announced, “Time for a tea break.” What do you mean time for a tea break? We barely sat down. Peter walked into his little kitchen, turned on the kettle, and began stretching. Why is he stretching? Isn’t he already like Gumby?
I continued practicing yoga several days a week but didn’t start stretching outside class until years later. Once I did, I stretched everywhere—in the kitchen, at work, while walking or shopping, on busy streets, and while waiting for a car ride. I stretch so often that my stepkids know me as the guy who stretches, and I feel almost no physical pain. My body hurts only when I’m immersed in a deadline and forget to stretch.
Now when I reach for my toes, I can touch them and even get my palms on the floor. But that’s just a parlor trick.
Quit Taking Selfies
My great-grandmother immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland. Upon arriving in New York, she worked as a nanny for a wealthy family and was expected to look the part. From these roots, I grew up believing that image was everything.
“You’re so skinny!” people told me all through childhood. About ten years ago, my sister said, “I’ve never met anyone as insecure about their looks as you!” I’m laughing as I type this, but it was painful then. People no longer call me skinny because I no longer reject myself, yet the scars on my psyche remain.
While I used to be deeply insecure about my looks, today, I feel neutral—neither attractive nor unattractive. I feel normal when I look in the mirror or walk around daily. But when I see a photo of myself, my legs are too skinny, my hair is too thin and grey, and my posture is slumped. The picture doesn’t match the carefully crafted, lighted, sculpted, dieted, photoshopped (or Figma-ized?) images of beautiful, chiseled, deeply tanned, lantern-jawed men.
Intellectually I know no male model looks that way, but my mind is literal and believes what it sees. Once I realized that seeing images of myself caused me to feel diminished, I stopped taking photos of myself. No photos, no problem.
I minimized photo-taking long ago because I wanted to be present for life. So not taking selfies is hardly a burden. And as beautiful as my partner is, she doesn’t like seeing photos of herself either.
Maybe ignorance is bliss, after all.
Ask People How Their Day Is Going
Many go for days, weeks, months, years, or perhaps even a lifetime without feeling seen. Yet being acknowledged is a fundamental human need. In its absence, we wither inside, and our spirit shrinks.
At the same time, most of us have experienced someone taking an interest in us. Maybe it was a parent, a sibling, an aunt, an uncle, a friend, a neighbor. When they inquired, our spirit soared as though we mattered.
During a yoga workshop, Max Strom said, “When this workshop is over, I’m going to walk to the grocery store next door and buy a bottle of water. And when I do, I will look the cashier in the eye and ask them how their day is going.” Such a simple yet powerful idea made a big impression on me.
When I engage others, I look them in the eye and ask how their day is going. More important than what I say is my way of being. When I’m wholeheartedly present, a mutual exchange of energy takes place, and both of us leave feeling satisfied. And when I’m not fully present, the exchange is pleasant but less satisfying.
Imagine Others As a Child
Other people’s behavior can trigger us anytime, anywhere. It could be someone holding up a retail store line, a driver swerving off a highway exit, or someone continuing to talk when we tell them we must go. I judged such people, blaming them for disturbing my inner peace. I demonized them, unable to see their humanity.
Four Zen monks were meditating when the prayer flags outside began flapping against the Zendō. The first monk said, “Ah, flags flapping.” The second monk said, “Wind flapping,” and the third monk said, “Mind flapping.” The eldest monk finally said, “Mouths flapping.”
One day, I noticed myself becoming impatient while standing in line at a grocery store. Instead of creating a story to justify my emotions, I realized I, too, have been the customer holding up the line, the one everyone hates. I, too, have swerved off a highway exit or continued to talk when someone said they needed to go.
In a flash, I imagined the customer as a third-grade child. I saw the sweetness underneath the layers of accumulated hurts, fears, and sorrows—their innocence before becoming jaded and guarded, ready to defend against more pain. Immediately, my mind relaxed, and my heart softened. I realized I was the one creating the problem, not other people.
Now, whenever I picture someone with a bowl cut, plaid pants, and sneakers, my heart can’t help but soften. Although the following video depicts adults when they were in high school, the idea still applies.
Cease Looking in the Mirror
Like clock watching, I used to look at my reflection compulsively—restaurant mirrors, store windows, dressing room mirrors, mirrors on escalators and elevators, and car windows. I wanted to know How do I look?
I once lived in an apartment overlooking a downtown street. While brushing my teeth, I observed a curious behavior—pedestrians kept looking at the parked cars. Then I realized they weren’t looking in the car but their reflection.
It’s funny. We take a shower and groom in the mirror before going to buy groceries. But when we walk past a darkened window, we can’t help but look at ourselves. How’s my posture? Does my hair look good? How does my new coat look? We look the same as we did fifteen minutes ago!
Once I noticed my compulsive behavior, I stopped looking at my reflection. And guess what? I still looked okay. More importantly, I was okay.
Yes, humans are highly visual, and others are continually judging us. But once you affirm yourself and realize your intrinsic wholeness, you no longer need to impress others. You already impress yourself.
Zoom Out to Remember What Matters
Have you ever become so busy that you missed the big picture, forgot your intention, and lost your north star? It’s easy to forget what matters, who we are, and why we’re doing what we’re doing. Everything becomes urgent. The meaningless becomes meaningful. The purposeless becomes purposeful. The insignificant becomes significant.
When activity is detached from purpose, we become petty. We get angry when someone takes “our” parking spot. We argue to be right about what row we sat in at the last ball game. We pout when we don’t get the restaurant seat with the best view.
In such situations, I imagine myself in space looking back on Earth. Some call it the network effect; I call it zooming out. When I’m up there, all I see is the shapes of continents, the blue of the oceans and seas, and the cotton candy clouds.
I don’t see any traffic jams, clocks, gifs, to-do lists, billboards, timers, texts, emails, manicured lawns, or ads of guys with bulging biceps or scantily clad women with a pinkie finger touching the tip of their tongues.
There are no business meetings, fast food, no rushing to catch a plane, no crush of humanity, and no nervous energy. I don’t hear any honking horns, highway noise, planes taking off, jackhammers, or truck brakes. I don’t smell any forest fires, burning rubber, or urine-stained streets.
All I see is our great big planet's beauty, grandeur, and magnificence. I’m in awe and wonder.
This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I'm stepping through the door
And I'm floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today
For here am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there's nothing I can do
Though I'm past one hundred thousand miles
I'm feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
- David Bowie
That’s all for this week. Thanks for being here and giving me this space to share with you. I’ll be back in your inbox next Wednesday.
I hope you find one or more of these ideas helpful. If you try them out, let me know your thoughts in the comments below or reply to this email.
Oh, and whenever you’re ready, I can help you transform chronic stress and worry into ongoing calm. Making you feel in control in 90 days. Schedule a free, 30-minute discovery call today.