Seth Godin recently wrote a post about how “make things better” is a controversial statement for some people, because “better” implies that what we have now is imperfect and we should also take direct responsibility to “make” things better. Think as well that everything that is good today is good because we once decided to make it better. And then better became mostly what we can now call “common sense”. This is why today it is common sense to use the internet or phone to deliver a message, rather than a flying raven. It just is better.
A while back I also came across a paradox and it still stays with me. Common sense is truly not as common as we might think. So said the great Voltaire over 250 years ago and here am I quoting the man, because not much has changed since then.
So what is common sense, you might ask?
Common sense is the ability of a fellow human to make decisions and act according to rational, observable facts in his environment. It is something that basically everyone should know because it is super practical. You wash your hands. You say thank you for favors. You don´t wear a bikini when it`s -100 °F outside. Or these pants. No matter the weather.
Why is common sense not that common?
Because we live in different cultures, with different values. Because life is extremely complex and it is not easy. Depending on our different life situations, some of us might have huge background noise in our brains that is pretty much completely screwing us up, rendering us incapable of acting in a matter that is rational. Because we act emotionally most of the time, even though we think we have a logical recipe of steps to take. It is very hard to focus on the present situation when you feel threatened and your stress level is up.
Any solutions to the problem?
Change ourselves by taking responsibility for our thought process and especially actions. Dooh!
But hey, isn`t change hard?
Change is suggested as being super easy, according to many sources. The internet is filled with pictures of cats and nauseating promises of instant transformation that will come overnight. Not so fast, internet! Let´s bring some sense to this common problem.
Think about one annoying behavior you had that you have and tried to change. How long did it really take you to stop using “like” every second word? How long until you got your finances straight and stopped overspending on shoes, clothes and household items you never used? How long does it take to stop binging on sugary food at night? None of these things are easy, it takes time and determination to rewire your brain to new and healthier pathways.
So how do we proceed?
First of all, there are few personal growth “advice”, if we can call them that, that actually work. Why? Because I believe there can be no change in a person who doesn`t actually want to change.
And this is backed up by psychologists who in their therapy have had many such clients. You really have to be in a place where you really do not want to have the same dissatisfying life experience you are having. Chances are you landed on this post because you really want to make a change.
What does the internet say here?
What is popular in terms of such “advice” online? An impressive amount of shallow mumbo jumbo, which to me sound like a bunch of pure garbage. To name just a few:
“Spend time finding authenticity”
“Practice being more kind”
“Put yourself first”
“You have to just believe and things will come to you”
So it turns out that if you have a problem, the solution is obvious. Why did you not get it yet?
Poor? Super easy. Stop being poor!
Depressed? Piece of cake. Stop being sad!
There is truly nothing much I can actually take from these abstract concepts above. They´ve been circulating the internet for a long time, but the truth is that these are super complex topics and stating these overgeneralized ideas is useless for concrete problem-solving.
Let´s say somebody would want to position themselves on a path of improving a potential living hell and they would come across “Think positively”. This would help their struggle just as much as telling someone who shares with you that they have diabetes that they should immediately stop eating sugar. Sure, you might think this is common sense but is it really?
Here´s a new approach to lasting change
I came up with my own list of things that improve your life and that are actionable. Meaning you can actually start doing something concrete in order to see improvement. The problem is that most of the points in the list are either things unpleasant to do at the moment or require our full presence. They require us to embrace change, despite the uncertainty that it comes along with and the actual pain. Here is a great post about how the discomfort we get in a temporary situation feels like it is going to last forever, and this is the reason why we tend to quit right before it gets better. So be sure to start small, integrating one or maximum 2 of these tips at a time, to avoid overwhelm.
The list contains bits of what I tested myself and I observed that worked in my own life. I wrote it because I know change is hard and because my serious breakthrough from a downward spiraling path to unhappiness and dissatisfaction came when I actually took responsibility for my shitty patterns and I just wanted to do and feel better.
But I couldn`t do it by myself. That is the thing. To grow, we sometimes need honest feedback. We need easy things to implement today and stick to for 30 days and the determination to create a habit. It is super important to also get inspiration from people who are already doing something hard so that this reminds us that we too are capable of it. The more we learn to have difficult conversations, the better the quality of your life and the people in it will be.
And most of all, we need people who will provide us with emotional security so we can be vulnerable enough to admit that we do have aspects we want to improve about ourselves. People with whom we can plan for an overall better life experience, one small step at a time. Here they go.
1. Say thank you after someone gives you food
Say it every single time, whether it was your spouse that cook, your independent and capable 11 years old, your mom who is spoiling you on her visit, your local waiter who brought the order. Even if it isn’t warm enough or salty enough for you, point it out in a polite way, but always say thank you for cooking, person who worked in the kitchen for me.
2. Say thank you when someone does a service for you
You should always say thank you when someone helps to make your life easier, no matter what. You are not entitled to anything, really. And if someone thanks you for something you did for them, say “with pleasure” and don`t minimize the effort you put into doing that service for them.
3. Wake up at roughly the same time
A seriously important tip I got from clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson. He recommends this as a first step in treating depression or dealing with a high amount of negative emotion. It stabilizes your circadian rhythm, which is a vital key to our health.
4. Eat a breakfast high in protein and fat
Try out not eating carbs in the morning. No bread, no sugars, no croissants, no oatmeal with milk. This one is incredibly important for people who are anxious. Also, women tend to be more anxious than men so this could be super important for us ladies to consider. Roughly explained by prof. Peterson, if you have a hyper-reactive nervous system, and you react with a lot of energy to rather small signs of threat and uncertainty, you will get stressed and your body will hyperproduce insulin, taking all of the sugar in your body and putting you a hypoglycemic crisis. Which can`t be fixed until your next sleep time, which is why you will feel sleepy and irritable and anxious and you`ll crave for more carbs to keep awake. This transforms into a loop that puts your body in less than optimal conditions. So first things first, before coffee, before checking emails, eat your protein and fat, even if you are not hungry. Your diet and sleep habits are key when it comes to regulating your mood.
5. Eat blueberry as snacks
Antidepressive, anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, packed with Vitamin C and antioxidants, low in carbs. Superfood, to sum it up.
6. Try meat, greens and fat for a few months, basically a low carb diet
I think most of us should try to go on a ketogenic diet for at least a month, to see for ourselves the difference in energy that we get.
7. Declutter your home every other season and give away things that do not “spark joy”
I read Marie Condo´s book when it came out and since then, I have been constantly decluttering every other season. I gave away almost 90 percent of my wardrobe because really, they were too small, too old, received as gifts that I ended up never wearing. All of that and more of the cosmetics, accessories, paper and books, gone. And it was worth it. I have so much more time now for my kids and believe me that Marie Condo´s method of using boxes to keep things looking organized really works. I am however still working on my impulse to buy things I don´t really need. But overall, I don`t miss at all most of the things that I gave and will still give away. Give it a go and see for yourself if you actually miss that extra stuff that is keeping you busy.
8. Create a capsule wardrobe
Aim at having less than 50 pieces of top-quality clothing and shoes. It is super important that all of them be purchased intentionally, fitting with our style and they should give us a great feeling when we wear them.
9. Tell the people close to you that you love them
Because people don´t know that you do unless you actually say it. I would not trust my husband so much and he wouldn´t trust me either, if we would not be open to sharing our feelings of love and appreciation to each other, as often as we can.
Also because you never know how life will turn out. I lost my dad when I was 14, and I still remember our last phone call. He was working in the US and we were not communicating that often, but I do remember that on that occasion he asked what to buy me and I requested a Pink´s Missundaztood album.
So, tell it to your mom. Tell it to your friends. Tell it to the cat and dog.
Image via me.me
10. Clean the kitchen after you cook
Because a clean kitchen invites you to cook in it. And because it is a good habit to have. If you have kids, or many chores and responsibilities, you understand how important these micro-habits become. It will make you less overwhelmed and this task will be immediately checked of your mental pending list, leaving room for more productivity.
11. Make your bed after you wake up
First accomplishment for the day. Very small. But it works.
12. Dress up for a normal day if you do home office
After making your bed or right before, just drop those PJs. Even if you are working from home, or just staying with the kids, put on adult clothes. Your PJ is pretty much an anti-hero costume, it gives you laziness and procrastination superpowers. Your ultimate will be a big yawn with which you can swallow your monitor.
13. Give women flowers
Just because women love flowers. Bonus points if there is no special occasion.
14. Say hello to people you encounter regularly
You can eventually end up having each other as acquaintances and it is always great to hear someone´s life story. You never know the things that you could learn from each other.
15. Present yourself when you enter a group
If it is just you or you have your kids, friends, pets, imaginary friends, present yourself and them. This breaks the tension when you join a group and makes it easier for everybody to connect further. Just remember a situation when no introductions were made and you will see my point.
16. Clean up your own trash/mess that belongs to you, personally
Have you ever witnessed smokers who keep their car ashtray clean but throw their cigarettes on the car window? Or people who eat in the car and throw their plastic or metal cans out of the window whilst driving? Or some who eat and throw their plastic wraps on the ground? If you haven´t, lucky you, you live among some attentive humans. If you have, you might know how horrible this is and looks. Just don´t let others clean up after yourself if you can take responsibility for your litter.
17. Hold the door for the people behind or open doors for people who might struggle to do it alone
Germans are extremely polite in this aspect. If you have a baby stroller, disability or even your arms full, there will be someone to offer to open the door for you. Every single time. People pay attention and it is seriously a small, polite thing to do, but that gives a great feeling on both sides. It feels great to be part of a community that sees you and supports you.
18. Get to know/make an acquaintance at least every year
Some of the most unhappy people I know are people who never change their environments. Being just among your family members is even worse. You need to know people and have a social life, it is a great contributor to your overall wellbeing. You need their feedback, you need to share and you need to learn to listen without judgment. So, put yourself out there and just trust new people into your life.
19. Go for a walk with someone once a week no matter the weather
This is a habit that made it possible for me to quit smoking, start exercising and it overall improved the connections I have with my close ones. We always get to talk about life when we walk and in an enjoyable setting. I find myself very creative while on the move. Start a movement on your town`s Facebook groups and find someone to walk with, if you don`t have anyone close by. #movetoo
20. Eat out with a different person once a month
Having lunch with a friend or colleague or family member is, in fact, a very intimate act. There is a bond that gets created once you eat together, and sharing can also be considered an act of trust and closeness. Unless you are Joey.
21. Don´t always listen to your intuition
Seriously, don’t. Always keep an open mind about the possibility of being super wrong in following it. If I would have listened to it, I would not be living in Germany, I would not have met my husband. I would have not started a blog or design.
Your intuition is actually your brain putting together information that it has gathered in the past from different sources and experiences, predicting things for you all of the time. It´s great if you need to take decisions fast and if you need to stop overthinking, but here is a full list of cognitive biases that prevent you from acting rationally.
22. Don’t take pictures with the sun behind
It´s a crime.
23. No vertical videos either
Ever tried playing them on your computer screen?
24. Don’t use words that are abstract
Get your point over directly. Don´t make people guess or assume. This is a super important part of the list. I did not start with it because I am nowhere near it. I got so much better at addressing this though. And living in Germany was the best thing that could ever happen to me because here being direct is the norm.
Growing up, I was pretty much told that I have to follow rules. I have to just obey. So I started learning conflict solving and negotiation skills later on in life. Somewhere in my education at least, people shamed me for needing help and taught me, directly and indirectly, that is best to hide your true feelings. Which is why I was used to dancing around my actual needs and wants for a really long time.
Here is what I mean:
Example 1: You are hungry and want to eat
DON´T: Hey, what do you think about eating something?
DO: Hey, would you like to join me for pizza in 20 min?
Example 2: You want a cup of tea
DON’T: Hey can I please ask a question? Would you like to please do something for me?
DO: Hey, can you make me some green tea now, please?
Example 3: You want to ask a friend to stay with your dog for a day
DON´T: Hey, how are you? How is your child? How about your parents? And your dog? Speaking of dogs, would you be able to please have my dog over for a day? I’m going to this concert and I have no one to leave the dog nearby. If you can, of course, you can always say no. Or I could call my mom and drive there 150 km and let her have him? Maybe I could also find a pet hotel.
DO: Hey, are you able and do you want to babysit my dog on Sunday?
25. Bet on a relationship that works, not on the faith that it will work
There`s a lot written about falling in love with potential. The thing that is not often said is that there is nothing wrong with falling in love with someone`s potential and it is actually the case most of the times. What we must distinguish at all cost, since a wrong choice of partner can impact our entire lives, comes again to common sense and objectivity.
Say Alicia dreams of traveling the world long term and owning an online business in order to have the flexibility for work. She enters a serious relationship with Bill, who shares the same dreams as she does, partly because he shares the same direction for the future. Surely at the moment, none of these things are possible, since Bill is working full time doing something else.
Here comes the caveat. How can Alicia know if she is a working relationship or one that she thinks will work? Does Alicia see Bill drinking beer after beer after work is finished? Is Bill eating pizza out of his belly button and burping in front of the TV every single night? Or is Bill actually spending time building the online business he wants or gaining some skills to make his idea possible?
Simply put, it´s about choosing someone who is taking action in the direction of his words, someone who has positioned himself on the path that will lead them to a path similar to yours.
26. When in a relationship, connect and synchronize each week by doing something together that involves talking as well
Watching a movie does not count, even if you are the kind of person who loves talking during the movie. My husband and I try eating dinner after the kids have gone to bed and talking over tea. Or we go out walking. Or out eating. Or simply lie down and hear what each other has to say about their current circumstances at work and within our emotional realm. This is a practice that keeps the connection possible.
27. If you are in a relationship and have kids, find a baby sitter at least every 3 weeks and go out to eat or do something together outdoors
This will keep your relationship close, alive and fun. It is pretty common that after kids are born, they get all of the attention that the parents have to give. And this ends up putting the relationship of the parents in danger. After all, you cannot have a romantic relationship if you stop all forms of closeness and end up not being attracted to your partner anymore. Studies show repeatedly that it is in the kids’ best interest to have 2 parents in a functional marriage/relationship.
28. Here´s a piece of actionable advice. Drink your coffee without milk and sugar, but with a tablespoon of heavy cream.
Full fat cream has the lowest quantity of sugar per 100 ml, 3g per 100 ml, as opposed to at least 12 per 100 ml.
29. Every time you spend money, ask yourself if what you are buying brings value to your life
Marketing people want us to believe we really need a lot of things in our lives in order to be enough, to be accepted and respected among our peers. And the trap keeps unfolding in front of us, with every day more stuff that adds zero to the quality of our life. In fact, there is even a recent study that shows that after one point, making more money does not make us happier. There`s nothing wrong with consuming until we start to identify who we are with what we own. Especially when we have an overload of depreciative assets and our finances are spiraling out of control.
30. Be thankful for the things that are good in your life at least once a week
This is actually something that should be a daily practice and part of our core self and how we experience the world. You can only be fully satisfied with your life if you are happy with the small things in it. Food, a roof, medication and sanitation, incredible cooperation to keep us safe and alive, rights and obligations, these are things to be grateful for each day. We´ve got Netflix, Cinemax, popcorn and ice cream, people with awesome stories and even enough free time to enjoy it all, if we plan accordingly. Our ancestors had it so much worse than us and yet they managed somehow to keep afloat. Gratitude is about finding beauty in the middle of chaos and stopping a second to celebrate it. This is truly what welcomes more of the miraculous, intertwined existence we all share on Earth.
31. Learn how to manage your finances properly
I can´t stress this enough. I’m not even sure why this is not a subject in schools everywhere. First of all, if we happen to have parents who are bad with money, we will totally not see healthy financial behavior until later on in life, or maybe never. We could fall in the trap of chasing the money, making and then spend it as if someone else worked for it. We could be sweating away hours, doing something we are not even happy doing. Living on less than you make and investing part of your income are 2 main things that ought to be common sense. Here is a great resource to get you started on personal finances.
32. Set achievable goals – specific, actionable things like this list
Do not underestimate your resistance to change. I know I have, and usually in January, when I used to fall for the new year new me kind of thing. But change is hard also because in the process you have to undergo the painful process of getting rid of an old belief, a part of your identity and settling to a new, uncertain territory. Which is something that us humans are incredibly good at. You will probably not make it if your expectations are extremely high. Your mind cannot fill in the gap in between who you are at the present moment and what you expect to be. You have to slowly build on this new identity, by doing things that the person you want to become would do. Want to put your health in check and have a healthy lifestyle the second day after you quit smoking? Then perhaps you should not force yourself to work out, run, eat healthy clean food, get vitamins, diet, start yoga and go mountain climbing in the same week. You can start by having breakfast and a weekly walk. And a list in handy with all of the reasons why smoking is super bad for you.
33. Write for 15 minutes every day
This one is a life-changer. If you just commit to writing down a text for just 15 minutes, you will be able to create a pattern of writing much easier. Journaling is known to help us clarify our inner world and has proven benefits to our overall being. I totally recommend it. Had I not committed to this myself, you would have totally missed my silly internet jokes.
34. Give hugs
To your loved ones, every day and multiple times if possible. You can even tell people you meat for the first time that you are a hugger and go for a hug instead of a handshake. Everybody needs oxytocin.
35. Make a bucket list of free and cheap activities and do them one by one
You will get experience a lot of stuff around and it will feel good. Check out Pinterest for endless inspiration.
36. Dance to ____ (insert favorite music) at least once a week
Whatever moves your body. Dancing like nobody is watching.
And remember we are all in this together! Kudos!
* This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclaimer for more info.