Last year, I wrote a post about the some of the life lessons that I had learned in the two years post-graduation (or as some would call it, “real life”). The point of these is not to prove that I am some sage, or that I have the answers to a better life. In fact, none of it is particularly original, just my own understanding and application of it. The point is to help myself reflect, as well as provide insights that might make your life better. So, here’s round 2, enjoy.
Making Lists Helps
We all make lists of some sort, be it grocery or to-do, and I thought there was only one real strategy behind it. Write things down, check them off. Over the past year though, I’ve realized how much effective listing has helped with my mental clarity. The beauty of it is how simple it is. Here are a couple ways.
For easing stress and/or anxiety
Take a minute to reflect on the things in your life that are causing you stress or anxiety. Could be your relationship with your boss, your weight, your bank balance, something on your car you know needs fixing, anything.
Write these down. Then, ask yourself, “Can I do something about it?” If the answer is no, then this item is out of your control, and this realization can help ease your stress about it. If the answer is yes, as it often is, then write down a few small, instantly actionable things you can do about it.
For example, losing weight is a long-term challenge, but right now you can spend 10 minutes making a healthy meal plan for the next few days. Chipping away at your problems, and the satisfaction of crossing items off a list as you progress towards them is super satisfying.
I’ve always had problems sleeping, always. Part of this problem is how my mind starts to race about things I should do as soon as I stop giving it stimulation from the outside world.
I’ve improved lately as I’ve gotten better at sticking to a nighttime routine that emphasizes the winding down of my day. Part of this is using a notepad to write down the things I want to accomplish the next day along with specifics like how or when I’m going to do them.
Taking this burden off of my mind, and putting it onto paper helps me go to bed with a clearer, less hectic head. Try it out.
For Tracking Your Time
Making lists isn’t just about planning what you will do in the future, they can also be useful for looking back.
I spoke in the last post about how our actions reflect our priorities, and that we too often judge ourselves by our intentions instead. By looking back on the week, and noting which days you did the things you said you’d do (exercise, read, cook at home, socialize) and which days you didn’t, you can get a clear picture of what you’re actually prioritizing to get an objective look at how you choose to prioritize your time.
Smartphone Addiction is a Real Problem
At its core, an addiction is nothing more than a harmful habit. That we have a habitual relationship with checking the internet for updates about everything is not up for debate. It’s estimated that we look at our phones up to 80 times a day, about every 12 minutes. How many other non-voluntary actions do you take more than 80 times during a day? I can’t think of any. If you saw someone take 80 cigarette breaks, you’d call them an addict. The harm part of things is where it gets complicated.
Because we use our smart-devices as tools that drive so much of our productivity, we don’t view them as a vice – they help add value to our lives, not take away. Like any tool, it’s how we use them that determines their value, not the tool itself. (A hammer is generally very useful, but not for eating spaghetti, for example)
Perhaps the most damaging part of this relationship with our devices is how it keeps us from being present. Whether it’s staying focused on a project or learning a new skill, the constant pull and distraction from our phones make this difficult.
The path to completing a complex thought is more like a cliff than a trail. Every time you’re attention changes, you slip down the cliff, instead of taking a detour on the same trail. Of course, it keeps us from being present with others as well. Face-to-face conversation is how we truly connect, and you shatter that connection every time you deem whatever’s on your phone to be more attention-worthy than the people you’re with.
We’ve also forgotten how to be bored, which is an underrated ability. When we’re bored we allow our minds to wander freely where there is a greater chance for creativity and thoughtfulness. We don’t even allow ourselves a quiet moment in the elevator, in the bathroom, in a line, to be alone with our thoughts, we have to constantly supply ourselves with stimulation.
If you’ve ever been without your phone for a day or two, you know that withdrawals are a real thing as well. Not the physical kind like a drug-addict might feel, but the “I need to know something, let me reach for my phone” and the frustration of not having it. That we rely on them for so much of our daily functions is issue enough.
Try being mindful of when you’re on your phone, and if what you’re doing on it is really adding value to your life or if it’s just a convenient distraction.
Talk to Strangers
I’ve come to realize that one of the best things you can do to start adding value to your life is to start striking up more conversations with strangers that you come across in everyday life.
The benefits are numerous. The hurdle most people face in doing this is approach anxiety. Starting conversations with strangers is scary. We don’t know how they will react, or what they might think of us. The risk is too great.
The first benefit you get from this is realizing that there is little risk, and their impression and reaction to you doesn’t matter much after all. Worst case scenario, they have no interest and kill the conversation, and you’re no worse off than you started out with. Best case scenario, you have a fun chat with someone while you wait in the check-out line (you’re both there, you have something in common) or you make a new worthwhile connection.
Whatever you’re looking for, be it new friends, new employment opportunities, or romance, talking to more people is how you find them, and you never know which stranger will hold the key to finding them. The only way is to start talking to them.
It makes you less cynical. It’s easy to get wrapped up in all the news about the bad things that people are doing that you can forget that most people are decent, kind people that have a story to tell.
It helps you become a better conversationalist, which is useful in every facet of life.
In short, talking to more strangers can bring so much into your life at little risk because even failed attempts will help you become more confident in approaching people and improving your articulation. At best though, you add a new relationship to your life that you didn’t have before and our relationships are such a big part of our identity and impact.
The frame of mind that you’re in has a huge effect on your interpretation of an experience or your approach to a problem.
The most obvious example is expectations. The answer to how “good” or “bad” an experience was is often answered by a different question which is “Was that better or worse than I expected?” Even objectively fun things such as a rollercoaster can seem boring if you built up expectations by waiting in line for 3 hours.
It’s a fact of human life that looking forward to something and imagining the happiness it will bring us is part of our psyche. The anticipation can be more enjoyable than the actual experience, it keeps us going.
It sounds depressing, but a good way to enjoy more life experiences is to resist the urge to fantasize ahead and lower your expectations about them. That way, you’ll almost always be satisfied with the outcome, whatever it may be. How you imagine something in your head is almost never how it works out in real life. So stop trying and do your best to enjoy things in the moment. I think you’ll find that it makes you happier in the long run.
Another framework that I’ve found to impact my thinking is the scale at which I view myself and others. Whenever I get especially existential, I start thinking really big picture, putting myself on the scale of the cosmos, which can get depressing. Likewise, there’s a lot of the time where I’m thinking of myself only in terms of myself, small picture. What do I feel, what do I want, what am I doing? This can also make me feel isolated and unimportant.
Instead, if I pick something in between, something like a neighborhood-level view, instead of galactic or cellular level view, the meaning is there. I matter to myself and the people around me, as much as they matter to me and it’s happening here and now. The fact that the universe is a cold, unfeeling void does not come into this equation, I’m not viewing things at that level.
So, take time to think not just about what you’re thinking, but how you’re thinking about it, it can make all of the difference.
There they are, my big takeaways from the past ~15 months. I hope I articulated them well and that you can learn from me instead of the hard way. Feedback always appreciated. 😄 – TS