“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” – Lao Tzu
A few years ago, I decided to change my life for the better. I thought I would write about the changes I decided to make in case others could benefit from it. There were numerous reasons why I wanted to make these life alterations, but the main ones were:
1. I knew I was capable of so much more. I wanted to make an effort to exploit my full potential and accomplish more and I was not doing that.
2. I was not in the best of health. I was too sedentary, out of shape, had visceral body fat around my waist, I kept late hours, and I drank too much alcohol.
3. My overall lifestyle habits were not conducive towards a healthy and productive life.
4. I wanted to be more mindful and happy and worry less.
I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. That was my motivation. I conducted a lot of research online and read many books on happiness, health, success, productivity and overall wellness. After devouring a wealth of information from famous self-help experts and some not so famous ones, I recognized a commonality between all of them as they pretty much were all advocating similar strategies.
I carefully and discriminately decided on the changes I would make in my life. I purposely chose changes that were practical, effective and achievable for me. I wanted lasting changes and not temporary ones that were based on euphoria. For certain aspects, I made complete 180 degree changes while for others I made small behavioral changes. I did this because certain changes were harder for me to make than others.
I came up with a list of 31 specific habits that I wanted to change. Here is what I did:
1. I decided to have a daily routine which I followed diligently. I did not have to wake up in the morning and figure out what I needed to do because I had a routine that I adhered to. It eradicated the guesswork.
2. I set clear goals that I wanted to achieve. I wrote these down so that there was no ambiguity. These goals were specific and clearly stated so that it was obvious when I achieved them (or didn’t). Because there was no vagueness, I knew when I fell short.
3. Based on the advice of others, I made sure the goals I set were quantifiable and measurable. For example, rather than saying I would exercise often (what does often mean?), I said that I would exercise 4 times per week for 1 hour each time. Because my goals were so specific, I was able to review my progress (or lack of) easily. And I did a review every week.
4. Not only did I develop a daily routine, I also decided to plan my days and week in advance. Rather than leave things to chance or to what I felt like doing at the moment, I planned each day and week by listing specific things that I wanted to accomplish. For example, I decided to do my grocery shopping on a Monday afternoon when the store was less crowded and numerous items went on sale.
5. I learned to meditate and incorporated that into my daily routine. This one change has made a huge impact on my life. I now meditate every morning after I wake up. It has taught me so much about myself, helped me concentrate more, and become more mindful. It also has made me realize that my thoughts can be extremely rambunctious and that I do not always have to attach myself to them.
6. I decided to join my local gym and exercise 5 days a week. I do this in the mornings before I start work. I lift weights and then do a 20-minute cardio workout. My gym also offers classes (free with the gym membership) such as yoga which I sometimes join.
7. Another change I decided to make was to get rid of or distance myself from friends whom I considered to be toxic or bad examples. I knew that I wanted friends who had a positive influence on me.
8. Related to number 7, I started making new friends with people I considered to be positive influences. I also spent more time with existing friends who shared my goals to be a better person.
9. I made a commitment to pay closer attention to my nutrition and eat healthier food. I cut out junk food, sodas, excessive fat, and processed foods. I actually started paying attention to nutritional labels.
10. I also decided to cook more food at home rather than eating out. I love to cook so this change was not as difficult for me as for some. I now control what I cook and how much fat is added to my food. And I have been saving a ton of money by eating out less. And when I do eat out, I try to order healthier items on the menu.
11. Another change I chose to make pertains to reading. I decided to read more books. I used to read a lot when I was younger but, somehow, fell out of the habit. I now download great books on my Kindle app and read them before bed at night on my iPad or phone.
12. I have curtailed my TV viewing and now watch much less television compared to before. I have used this time to read more.
13. When I do watch TV now, I refrain from watching negative and frivolous programming. I used to watch reality shows and loved watching crime shows like Unusual Suspects but found them to have no real merit or educational value. Some of the programs that I used to watch would actually have a negative impact on me and subliminally get me depressed. My remote control is now used a lot more discriminately to find shows that are uplifting and educational. I love channels like National Geographic, Discovery, and PBS.
14. I cannot believe how much time I wasted in the past surfing the internet and visiting web sites that posted junk. Today, I am more aware of the choices I make with my mouse and I avoid web sites that predominantly post violent, discriminatory, sexual and useless information.
15. After reading about the virtues of being grateful, I now list 5 things every night that I am grateful for before I fall asleep. It could be simple things like enjoying a nice meal or spending quality time with a loved one. This has made me appreciate my blessings so much more and made me more thankful.
16. A major change I have made in my life is to drastically cut back on the amount of alcohol I consume. I still drink wine in moderation but I do not indulge in vodka and binge drinking like I did before.
17. In the past, I managed to convince myself that I was a night owl and definitely not a morning person. During the week, I now climb into bed by 10PM and wake up much earlier than before. It took a while for me to adjust my sleep habits and I now realize that it is possible to follow the adage early to bed, early to rise. I feel so much more rested these days.
18. Another major change I have made in my life is being more careful with my money. I now am a lot more discriminate when it comes to buying stuff and I have learned to source out great bargains. I save a lot more than I did before.
19. In addition to saving more money, I also invest my money now. I have become a silent partner in a business and have also invested in my own business.
20. Rather than spend money buying frivolous stuff that I do not need, I now spend money on memorable experiences that I know I will cherish. Whether it is going to visit my mother who lives overseas or going kayaking, I now spend my money on great experiences that teach me a lot and afford me a lot of fun.
21. I have decided to stay in closer contact with family and friends whom I care about deeply. I used to be more self-centered and neglected staying in touch with my loved ones. I now take the time to call my Mom more often, write more personal e-mails and letters, and simply be a better friend and family member. This has brought me so much closer to those I cherish.
22. One thing that I have changed and do much better now is managing my time. I did not realize how much I was wasting in a typical day on frivolous things, be it daydreaming, spending time in a bar, watching boring TV commercials, trolling the internet for useless gossip, etc. I now am more aware of how I spend the most precious commodity all of us have been given, time.
23. Forgiveness is a big one for me. I can honestly say that I used be bad at forgiving others and myself. I was equally hard on others whom I perceived had wronged me, as well as on myself for all my past mistakes. I spent a lot of time learning to forgive myself and others and this has freed me from so much anger and resentment.
24. In addition to meditation, I have learned to incorporate visualization/guided imagery into my daily routine. Every morning before I meditate, I visualize and picture outcomes and goals that I desire. I do not just visualize it; I actually try to feel the feeling of actually accomplishing the outcome. I have found this to be extremely powerful.
25. I have to admit that I used to be a coward when it came to visiting the doctor or dentist. For years, I avoided them like the plague. However, I now have chosen to view going to the doctor and dentist frequently in a more positive light. I schedule visits regularly and my fear has been greatly reduced. I focus on the fact that prevention is better than cure.
26. In the past, I have been guilty of spending too much time at bars and clubs. I now have cut back on those activities significantly and substituted them with more wholesome activities. I am now more likely to go hiking, visiting a state park, taking up photography, bird watching, going to the beach, joining a yoga class, etc.
27. I learned to not to try and seek the approval of others as I often did before. This was a big change for me because I definitely tried too hard to please others, even if it meant sacrificing my authenticity. I would get upset if I incurred the disapproval of others. Instead, I now use my conscience as my guide and, while I try to be sensitive to how others feel, I do not allow it to run my life. I know that I cannot please everyone.
28. Another major change I have made in my life is making time to learn new skills and increasing my knowledge. I am more likely to enroll in a photography class now, or watch a TED talk, or choose a great documentary on Netflix to watch as compared to before. I read books on meditation, exercise, nutrition, etc.
29. If there was an award for procrastination, I think I would have been in the running in the past. I would procrastinate a lot, especially if the task at hand scared me or seemed daunting. I have greatly improved this tendency and now jump into things without letting fear get the better of me. I have learned that the small act of starting a task makes all the difference because it builds momentum and confidence and motivates me to continue.
30. One thing that I do much more now as compared to before is challenging myself to do things that I consider difficult. In the past, I would shy away from difficult endeavors because I was scared and did not believe in myself sufficiently. I realize now that many of these fears were unwarranted. I also know now that challenging yourself is the only way to grow and improve. I now view the discomfort in a different light. If I am uncomfortable doing something, there is a good chance it’s because I am taking myself out of my comfort zone and learning something new.
31. Last and not least, I do my best to love myself now. I do not take myself as seriously and try to practice unconditional self-love. I make a conscious effort to practice simple but positive affirmations throughout the day that emphasize self-love and worth.
I have incorporated these changes gradually over time and have found that each of them supports the other. I’d like to make it clear that in no way am I successful 100% of the time. I am far from perfect and still have many faults. In fact, I fail often. However, two things have happened: 1. I fail less often than I did before, probably because, like anything else, things get easier the more you practice. And 2. When I do fail, I do not let it discourage me like it would have before. I simply learn from my mistakes, make changes and move on.
I can sincerely say that these changes have made me a happier, more successful and more equanimous person. I could not have even imagined the life I have right now, and I am still learning every day. If I can do it, I know you can, too. I blog about these and other experiences regularly because I want to share my experiences and help others.
I believe in you. What changes are you going to make in your life?