You don’t need an overhaul to improve the quality of your life. Just a few steps can help to boost your well-being and make your days more meaningful. And the great part is that you can start today. Below, several clinicians give their suggestions on how to do just that.
1. Write a better story for your day. According to John Duffy, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and author of the book The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens:
For life improvement, I suggest the reader put life on pause, for at least a few moments a day, and consider what you’d like to accomplish today, and the vibe you want to carry.
Years ago, a client of mine was searching for a guidepost or mantra by which to live his life. After much soul-searching, he decided that, with every decision he makes, every day, he wanted to write the “better story.”
The better story might be getting up earlier rather than sleeping in [or] reaching out to help someone instead of passively ignoring their need… This turned out to be an enormous gift to me, as I now try to do this every day.
2. Identify what’s keeping you stuck. According to Deborah Serani, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist and author of the book Living with Depression, “This approach gets you to be both reflective and active, [which are] two steps necessary for change.”
1) Stop and see what it is that’s keeping you stuck right now. Oftentimes it’s a blind spot you can’t see, so taking time to mull things over helps you see more clearly. Is it a decision you’re afraid to make? Are certain people bringing you down? Are you in a cycle of negative thinking?2) Look around you to how this blind spot is touching your life. Is it only at home? Or just at work [or] school? and finally3) Listen to what your heart and mind tell you about what you need to do. Learning to reflect on your inner thoughts and feelings will help you trust putting them into action.
3. Get to bed earlier tonight. As clinical psychologist Ari Tuckman, PsyD, said, getting enough sleep is “an obvious but often overlooked” strategy.
It’s easy to steal time from sleep by staying up “just a little longer,” whether it’s to finish the laundry or finish a TV show. There’s always something that needs to be done or some fun temptation that keeps us from getting into bed on time. The problem is that the reward is had immediately — which makes it hard to resist — but the price is paid tomorrow.
It’s not uncommon to get a second wind at night, even if you were tired during the day, so that makes it even harder to stick to your bedtime. Unfortunately, even one short night’s sleep hampers our complex problem-solving, attention, and memory and makes us more irritable and short-tempered. This gets even worse when several short nights stack up.
The solution is easy to say but harder to do: Get into bed on time and you’ll feel better all the next day and hopefully get more work done, too. Of course, if you have someone that you sleep next to, then you should both get into bed even a little earlier and try to make some things happen. This will help both of you sleep better.
4. Participate in a physical activity you enjoy. Tuckman, also author of the book Understand Your Brain, Get More Done: The ADHD Executive Functions Workbook, said:
Regular exercise is an important part of not just physical health, but also mental health. It’s also one of the first things to go when we get busy. To prevent it from getting squeezed out, make it sacred and don’t let anything else intrude.
Otherwise, there will always be some other demand on your time and you’ll never get that workout in. A walk around the neighborhood is better than nothing, if that’s all you have time for, but for the most benefit you need to break a sweat.
Working out with someone else can make it more enjoyable…
5. Focus on right now. According to Alison Thayer, LCPC, CEAP, a psychotherapist at Urban Balance, LLC this can be challenging, especially in today’s world:
This is difficult for everyone, even therapists. It can be very difficult to focus on what is directly in front of you and ensure that you are fully present.
Today’s technology and expectation to be connected or available to work at all times is one of the most prominent challenges people face when trying to be present in the “here and now.”
Added Joyce Marter, LCPC, psychotherapist and owner of Urban Balance, LLC:
Honor the past, learn from it, accept it and let it go. Don’t obsess or worry about the future. Life is more manageable when you are grounded in the present. Achieve clarity through mindfulness practices such as deep breathing and meditation.
6. Set a realistic and attainable goal. Impossibly sky-high aspirations can be problematic. Thayer explained:
Setting goals is a key step in accomplishments. However, I often see clients with lofty goals that may not even be realistic. Holding ourselves to goals that we cannot reach can damage our self-esteem and inhibit our interest in trying to reach these goals again.
When setting your mind to reach a goal, ask yourself “Is this realistic and can I actually attain this goal?” If the answer is no, consider breaking the goal down into intermediate steps or modifying it altogether.
7. Reframe a situation in a positive light. Thayer shared several suggestions for taking a different and more positive stance.
There’s a reason why the saying “When life throws you lemons, make lemonade” has been around for years. When things aren’t going right, ask yourself “Could things be worse?” or “Is there anything I can take out of this that can be a benefit to me?”
More often than not, there is a positive aspect to things that happen, even those that feel negative. Try to view it in a different light and you may find your attitude turn around.
8. Be grateful, and pass it on. “If you focus on what you don’t have, you will be unhappy and attract negativity. Be grateful for what you have and you will be attract positivity, opportunity and success,” Marter said.
Emily Campbell, LCPC, CEAP, a psychotherapist at Urban Balance, LLC, suggested “Send[ing] a short note of appreciation to someone for something you appreciated about them this week.”
9. Relinquish what you can’t control. “Empower yourself to change what you can, and let go of the rest. Don’t expend your energy trying to control others. Focus on yourself,” Marter said.
10. Create an intention. According to Marter, “As in sports psychology, positive visualization increases the likelihood of success. We largely create our own realities through our thoughts and intentions, so clarify them by writing out your careers goals and objectives.”
Thayer suggested carving out time to set intentions for the following day. “Make it a ritual and part of your daily routine, like in the shower, when driving to work, or drinking your morning coffee,” she said.