The Identity Series
In all the pandemonium that surrounds us, it can be challenging to reach an ongoing state of contentment.
I say contentment because I believe that happiness is only a temporary state, conceived in moments, not a continuum.
The attainment of contentment takes work – work – work. The majority of this work is self-reflective.
The biggest step in the direction of contentment is to try your best to restrain from comparing to others. We all know that comparison isn’t healthy. I think the quote goes something like… “comparison is the thief of joy,” yep sounds about right, I feel robbed whenever I do it. Yet there are going to be those times that we really can’t seem to help ourselves. It’s a damn slippery slope, made worse by the constant drove of social media. It used to be “keeping up with the Jones” down the street and now the Jones are pervading your handheld screen.
So aside from deleting all social media accounts, what can we do to quell comparison and be content with our present?
Being at peace with our present doesn’t mean we can’t dream big and want more than we already have for ourselves and our families. We just need to reflect on what fills us up rather than weighing us down. What is going to add value to to daily life or just be some unsubstantial fluff?
I’ve found that the act of simplification is invaluable to self betterment. Even though individuals are complex, our wants don’t need to be. In fact simplifying — expectations, desires, commitments, responsibilities — can create the space for us to better connect to the person we want to be and make our goals more attainable.
Change as a human is hard. We embrace and resist — resist and embrace. It can seem overwhelming where to start to make shifts in our behavior, even ones we know are positive.
Baby steps people. My son is the baby king of baby steps. He is one of those whose development is contingent on his continual practice of learned behaviors until he masters them (for better or for worse, ha). You don’t have to just go all-in. Our behavior is formed through our habits. The variety and frequency of these habits are really up to you.
Though my goal of contentment is a constant work-in-progress, I’ve found the following habits to be helpful in building positive changes and finding abundance in the day-to-day.
1. Practice kindness and empathy — with others and with yourself
As Cinderella said “Be kind and have courage.” Kindness is the key to everything in my opinion. Learning to be kind to others, learning to be kind to yourself. If everyone practiced empathy on a regular basis, it would transform entire civilizations. It would replace selfishness and negative reactions with a more supportive human condition.
Your reactions in life are your choice, so practice a constant stream of kindness and empathy. I can attest to being a moody person at times and there are drivers behind those moods, so I try to remind myself that if a person I know (or a stranger) is acting crappy then maybe something is going on in their day/life contributing to that behavior. Being kind or empathizing with that person instead of ignoring or reacting in an unhelpful way can be a changing force in your and their day (or life, you never know).
This can also mean practicing selfless acts without expectation. Perhaps someone left their wallet behind and you buy them lunch, bring in your neighbors trash cans on trash day, start a meal train for someone who has a new baby, walk a dog from the shelter, make a phone call to someone you know is struggling and just listen. Be creative in this realm. We all need our tribe, but sometimes we also just need the wisdom or support of a stranger.
My biggest struggle is with being patient and kind to myself. I can really be a jerk on the regular her. Self-care is important, but more important is disarming that inner critic and replacing it with a a gentle, but motivating voice. For me, this is the hardest, but by instituting some of the habits below I’m equipping myself to build a stronger mindset.
- Compliment someone outside of your circle each day
- Buy the person behind you in line a cup of coffee
- Offer your skills to someone in need
- Befriend your elderly neighbor
- Institute a self-care regime
- Treat yourself, giving yourself permission/rewards
- Avoid depravation behaviors and consider moderation instead
- Try some weekly yoga and meditation
2. Slow it down
Time is arbitrary and yet it isn’t. Being a part of any society creates undue pressure. Many “obligations” are of our own doing. Let’s alleviate what we can and live our lives for ourselves and our tribe. There is a reason why movements such as “slow food” and “slow travel” exist — people yearn to escape the rat race of this fast paced world. People move away from big cities because they can’t quiet their mind amongst the chaos (hello, me). But you don’t have to make such a dramatic shift, you only need to intentionally slow down the way you do things in your daily life and make time work in favor of your own personal pace. Take the actual time (and even a bit more) needed and stop trying to cram it all in and power through things. Going too fast you will miss things, including the experience. Though I love to travel and want to experience everything, I’ve found that slow travel gives me more enjoyment. So when I’m in another place, I treat it as a temporary home and try to settle into similar daily habits (e.g. I love visit food markets and find a favorite coffee shop where I can chat with local residents).
Give yourself permission, without guilt, to choose one activity for the afternoon rather than three. We can all enjoy more with less.
- Take a long walk a couple of times
- Look at your to-do list for the day and reduce it by half
- Don’t task orient your day
- Take breaks
- Put the phone away and be present with the people you love
- Focus on cooking at home if possible
- Limit screen time (especially on your phone)
3. Make a list of your top 10 values and regularly reflect on them
Focus is a weakness of mine. I have so many interests and a tendency to multi-task. Our world offers so much, it’s like being a kid in a candy store. But last year I asked myself what I really wanted in life. This was a hard question to answer and of course can be ever evolving. However, contentment goes hand-in-hand with embodying the values that are most important to you.
A valuable exercise I used to reflect on the most important values was to envision the old woman towards the end of my life. Who would she be? What would her surroundings be like? What kind of life would she want to look back on? Spending the time to visualize the person you hope to become can really simplify our perspective. Sometimes what we think we want isn’t really what we want deep inside.
After you’ve listed your top 10 or so values, use that list as measurement against how you spend your time. If something doesn’t align with your values (and isn’t a dire requirement of your/your family’s survival) seriously consider ridding yourself of it.
- Get yourself a bunch of index cards and record your values and place them somewhere you can see them on a daily basis
- Align one short and/or long term measurable and obtainable goal with each of the values you have listed
- Keep a journal (daily, occasional) to serve as reflection and reminder
- Record the list of values in your phone
- Share your values with your close circle of people, giving them permission to remind you when you divert from your intended path
- Join or start a group around a similar interest/goal area (or just likeminded people) to meet periodically, it is engaging and keeps you accountable to your values
4. Institute a couple of mini-rituals to your week that bring you joy
Before recent years, I wasn’t very good with routines and there is definitely still a steep learning curve. So I say “rituals” because it’s not intended to be a strict regiment of obligation, but rather finding joy in the little things we get to experience over and over again.
Some examples of rituals I have chosen to integrate into my life include:
My husband teases me for “wasting money” by going to the coffee shop practically everyday. I told him that this is something I truly enjoy and wasn’t going to change. A) I love coffee and B) I love the energy and experience of being in that environment. For me, this kind of ritual motivates other parts of my day.
I shop for fresh food daily. It is less stressful for me to focus on that day’s meals and visit farmers markets and grocery stores based on what we want to eat. This habit helps prevent waste, allows me to keep better tabs over what I’m eating and supports my culinary creativity.
Instituting reading as part of my bedtime ritual (instead of screen time, though I’m guilty of occasional binge watching as much as the next person) helps devote time to new literature. Getting up extra early to carve out time for writing supports my need for personal time and my desire to write on a regular interval.
What little rituals would align with your values and bring a positive force to your week?
- Record the schedule for your local farmers markets in your calendar, so each week you know where you can access local food on any given day
- Visit a bunch of different hang-out spots, like Goldilocks and find which one “feels just right,” and keep that as your go-to when you need alone time
- Sign up for a library card
- Visit your local bookshop and pick up a copy of the 52 Lists Project by Moorea Seal or The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul by Danielle LaPorte
- Choose 1 day a week for a “date” with someone from your tribe
- Set daily intentions each morning (the smaller the better)
- Keep a journal/notebook for randomly jotting down of observations. Journals don’t need to be a monotonous recording of your entire day (just what is important/interesting for you to remember)
5. Develop a Yoga (or Meditation) Practice
The beauty of yoga is that it celebrates each individual where they are in that moment. I strive to remind myself of that whenever I haven’t been in a while. When I get back into it, I immediately realize why it is so valuable to my physical, mental, and emotional health. Full disclosure, meditation isn’t something I have practiced – yet. It is high on my list to make regular meditation practice part of my ritual repertoire as a space to quiet my mind and as an outlet for emotional release.
With yoga and meditation, you can build up your practice incrementally, making it more manageable for the reality of our lives. Keeping it simple, you start with 10 minutes or 30 do what feels comfortable, as a little bit can go a long way. These are also things you can do it on your own at home, which makes it more achievable and requires less energy to institute as a habit.
- Locally, I recommend Asheville Community Yoga and West Asheville Yoga for both yoga and meditation workshops
- A good online resource is Yoga with Adriene
- Engage your partner or a friend to be your “yoga buddy” to encourage each other to attend a class (even when you aren’t feeling so motivated)
6. Tidy up
Remove the unwanted and unhelpful from your life. This means things and people. If something is cluttering your life, let it go. If someone is dragging you down, it’s ok to let them go too. There is that age-old adage of “you’d be lucky to be able to count your closest friends on one hand.” This goes full circle back to your list of values, if something doesn’t correlate to your value-set, chances are it (or they) are not a healthy contribution towards finding contentment.
- Visit your local book shop for the The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
- Hire a local organization specialist for a couple of hours to help you let go of “stuff”
- Give yourself the gift of therapy or coaching to dedicate time and access to unbiased support in identifying and letting go
7. Get Outdoors
Observing our natural surroundings has a meditative quality and nature has an uncanny ability to make you appreciate the small things in life as you witness mother nature’s work. You’d also be surprised at how many people feel worn down because of a vitamin D deficiency, so even an hour of sunlight can help realign our systems. Whether it is partaking in the most recent trend of “forest bathing,” (or whatever they will call it tomorrow), planting a small kitchen garden, or taking your dog for a long walk each day, getting outside in the fresh air (even for a short period of time) will considerably improve your mood.
- Join a community facebook group and post in search of others in your immediate area looking for walking/hiking buddies (if you are a parent, the mama groups are awesome for this)
- Hit up your local Arboretum and/or Botanical Gardens for a local scenic adventure
- Volunteer to walk a dog from the local shelter for 20-30 minutes or longer
- Buy one plant, plant it outside your front or back door, and dedicate your focus to caring for it (watering, weeding, etc.) through the seasons
- Change your route, take a different way each day for walks/runs
Habits are formed intentionally. According to science they require activation energy and the higher the activation energy, the lesser the chance of you staying with it. To lower your activation energy, make things easier by placing visual cues, setting digital/written reminders, writing out your goals, engaging partners and support, and utilizing the power of groups (you can read more about the science behind these cues here: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg). Get specific with your intentions/goals, something you can measure against. Making them realistic and writing down the method of achieving them will help immensely along your path. As we satisfy our intentions and meet our goals, we naturally develop a deeper sense of contentment. But always remember, everyone is on their own journey, you need only measure yours by your own stick (and take it easy on yourself!).
I would love to hear back from readers on their individual experiences forming similar habits. Please leave a comment below.