Here is a question for you: how many fixable things are you “putting up with” on the daily that could be easily taken away? There are tiny sources of stress everywhere that seem so small and we endure them everyday, but even the tiniest source of stress like that one picture on the wall that never seems to hang straight is valid. A lot of our stressors and anxieties as we get older come from losing sight to how simple some things in life should be. I know personally I increase my stress by going about things all wrong and not believing that some things truly are THAT simple! While all of these tips may not apply to you- think creatively to see how they could, or pick and choose the ones you want to try to make your life less like one big terrible Tuesday.
1. Write your own rules and boundaries
Usually when hearing the importance of creating boundaries, it has nothing to do with creating boundaries with yourself. This is a simple way to make your life a lot easier on your mental and physical health. We are great at setting rules for others, and rules being set for us, but the concept of writing a rule for yourself and actually following it is a foreign concept to most. Additionally, a lot of people forget that rules include what you will do instead of all the things you won’t do. I created a rule for myself that I won’t log onto my work computer after I have shut the lid at 5 that day. Instead, I will use that time for myself to do something I enjoy (not that staring at a computer screen for 8 hours straight isn’t exhilarating enough.) Before this rule I’d find myself scrolling through my work emails while watching a movie before bed, which in turn ramped up my stress all over again when I should have been winding down for the day. Here’s a few more examples:
- I will not do housework while dinner is in the oven- but instead- give myself that time for self-care.
- I will watch one episode of a show on Netflix without any distractions- no phone or scrolling through Insta.
- I will do a workout while the clothes are in the wash and will not waste an hour of my day with my butt glued to the couch more.
- If it takes less than 2 minutes to do something, I will do it instead of procrastinate (another one I live by).
- I will pack my gym bag the night before and put it in my car.
- While my kid is napping I will take that time to relax, too.
- I will use this one hour before *insert least favorite college class* to take a mental break instead of do more homework.
- I will invest $100 of the leftover money from my paycheck into a Roth IRA account every month instead of blow it all in the Target dollar isle (it is a black hole in there, folks).
Declaring something to be a rule takes away the indecision from choosing what you should do and what you want to do. Our brains are wired to make it harder for us to follow rules we make for ourselves because evolutionarily, following rules set by others increases our chance of them liking us more and therefore they will not kill us (the brain is still very primal as you can see). So, make the decision once, and practice living by it. Having a hard time thinking of one? Look at how you are spending your time, energy, and money- what boundaries do you want to put in place in order to increase better habits and health? Find areas of your life where you feel those pangs of guilt and indecision, and choose what you could change to rid yourself of that unnecessary stressor. Remember, personal rules aren’t selfish!
2. Simplify Mealtime
Meal time should be enjoyable; a time to rest and digest, but our inability to simplify this process does the exact opposite of that as the innocent “what do you want to eat?” conversation turns into an actual argument for more people than it should. Psychology says that having too many choices can actually lead to a lot of distress, and humans thrive when they are given up to three choices. If mealtime is a source of stress for you or your family, this one is important because it is a waste of brainpower and time (it takes my family 15 minutes before my dad makes the executive decision since my mom and I will say we don’t care yet turn down everything he picks). A few ways to simplify could be looking into one of those meal kit subscriptions, meal plan every Sunday and write it on one of those Pinterest-esque chalkboards, or meal delivery services. Can’t decide what you want? Write meals on popsicle sticks and pull a random one, make meals according to what will go bad first in the fridge (no wasted money either!), or designate a theme for each day of the week. The key here, is to let something else decide for you so you don’t have to put your brain power towards deciding something not important. Who knows, maybe that energy you’ll save from trying to decide pancakes or waffles will be used to find the cure for covid!
3. Practice “Pause”
This is one super easy tip to do…but not so easy tip to remember to do. There are countless times in life where we should take a “pause,” but don’t, because society is so used to instant gratification. Taking these pauses saves potential time, money, and energy. I have learned to “press pause” before I make a purchase, decide what to eat, say yes to an invite, etc. In a world of online shopping, social media, and everything at the reach of our fingers, it is so easy to be impulsive which could lead to instant regret. The few seconds I take before I do something has saved me from wasting my money on something stupid, using too much of my energy and going out with friends when I should’ve stayed home, and living with little pangs of regret that add up to eat at you after a while! These pauses lead to a more intentional lifestyle and creates a habit of making a quick pros and cons list in your head. It teaches you to focus on values and priorities, and if what you are about to do aligns with your goals and intentions.
Another kind of pause is to literally take a break. This may sound weird, but I LOVE to sit in my car after I have parked. I could sit there for hours. It feels like I am in a bubble where the rest of the world can’t touch me for a few moments and the silence is loudest in there. Another great pause place is the bathroom, I mean honestly, it is one of the few places where someone can’t try to hurry you up without making a very awkward situation. There is nothing wrong with sitting there for a few more moments, washing your hands longer (you should be with covid anyways), touching up your makeup, or using it as a safe haven like I did when I was little because it was the only room that had a lock on it when my brother liked to chase after me. A bathroom is the epitome of self care ( I will let your mind take you where it wants with that), why not add a mental/emotional break to the list of all the things a bathroom can accomplish? Taking these short pauses allows you to feel more in control of your life rather than your life controlling you.
4. Go to Bed Early (at least) Once a Week
I don’t know if you know this, but life is better when you aren’t tired. It is amazing what happens when you are well rested: remembering driving to work rather than your zombie auto pilot self somehow making it there, not having eyelids that weigh 100 lbs while sitting at your desk after lunch, being able to have a solid workout, actually enjoying time with your significant other because you are mentally there, and being productive! Not only does sleep help you this way, but it also improves physiological processes in your body. Your hunger hormones level out which lead to not consuming all and any carbs in sight because your brain is looking for an energy source to keep you going (sugar and carbs are the quickest way for your brain to get energy, hence, cravings when you’re tired). Your cortisol levels start to balance because being rested is less of a stress on your brain and body. Your mood heightens because you have the energy to do let it. Not only is an earlier bed time good for you, but also everyone around you that has to put up with you everyday! On whatever day you designate this to be- make it happen and make it a priority. If making dinner or cleaning up prevents you from that early bedtime, allow yourself to leave it until the next day or order takeout. This can be a hard task for those with night shifts, kids, etc…just try your best!
5. Audit Yourself
The key to making your life easier is to see if your financial records conform to the law.
Just kidding, sorry to any accountants out there. This goes along with something we psychology nerds call “pain points.” The first step is being able to pay attention to the parts of your everyday life that cause stress, or friction. These can be pet peeves, things you ruminating on, or irritabilities. Insignificant little nuggets that don’t seem like they should stress you out are just as important as the big things, because eventually if you ignore the little things enough, you will blow your top. Examples of these little things, for me, are my car keys are never in the same spot, always having to find my phone charger, and having to climb on the counters to get a plate everyday. Even ridiculous stressors need to be taken into account, and for me those would be stressing over showing favoritism to certain coffee mugs rather than using them all equally, and paranoia about my greek yogurt going past its expiration date before I can eat it even though it is perfectly fine a week or two after (can you tell I am a bit OCD yet?). Next, think about the easiest possible way to get rid of these problems. For me, I hung a command hook for my keys, have multiple chargers around my apartment, got a step stool, created a weekly rotational mug system, and I buy and eat my yogurts in order of expiration date. It is literally that easy and I feel so relieved not having those naggy stupid things on my brain anymore! What little obstacles bug the heck out of you that you actually could do something about instead of living with it? Audit yourself for that feeling of friction in your mind/body, and physical feelings of stress…after you find all your pain points, remember to regularly audit for more because little things that piss you off never go away.
6. Everything Needs a Home
While sometimes it seems easier to just throw your keys on the counter, hang up your shirt in a random part of your closet, or put all your notes in one giant folder; it will not be easier for you when you have 30 seconds to find that one piece of paper within 100000000 other white papers in your folder. Think about it, what if you were trying to drive to a friend’s house and instead of them giving you their exact address they gave you the general area of their house instead? Sure, you’d probably find them if you knocked on every door along the way, but it would save you so much time and energy not doing that. The same goes for your pile of clothes sitting in the corner of your room or a random chair right now (yeah, I am looking at you). Any energy you spend is energy spent (no duh), but this obvious statement is so true! Ripping your closet apart, thinking real hard about where something was last time you saw it, stressing over losing your phone even though you’re holding it, spending 10 minutes looking for lost nail clippers when in reality you put them in a different spot than usual (me yesterday), and walking in circles looking for an earring is all energy that could have been put towards something a lot more important. So please, for me, go put that nasty cup that has been sitting on your desk for way too long where it belongs.
7. Repeat as Much as Possible
How much variety do we actually need in our lives? For some odd reason, I think we overshoot the need for variety from day to day. Who ever said we had to eat different meals everyday? Who said we can’t wear the same exact thing two days in a row even if we like it? Why do we need to constantly find new recipes, workouts, outfits, products, etc? The feeling of needing to avoid doing the same thing everyday causes more difficulty than needed. Instead of actively looking for ways to make things that already work for you different, spend your time an energy looking for what things in your life you can continue to repeat.
- Have some staple basics in your wardrobe and find ways to tweak them a bit rather than buy all new things, or, embrace wearing the same things from week to week. It is not a crime!
- Have the same meal theme on each night week to week (taco Tuesdays, breakfast for dinner Wednesdays, etc..)
- Use canned responses to reply to FAQs over email at work
- Find a workout circuit you love and feel free to use it everyday
- Eat the same breakfast everyday
All in all, look for areas of your life where you are trying to solve problems that don’t need to be solved. This will save you so much time and energy, and will preserve the joy of actually looking for a new recipe, outfit etc. rather than feeling the need to.
This seems pretty obvious, but when you own less stuff, that means there’s less of it to clean up and care for. And when there’s less stuff to clean and take care for, there’s more time in your day to do things that are more fun than scrubbing sauce off your 15 dinner plates even though you live by yourself. Decluttering is one of my favorite things to do because it often leads to more money! I am a big fan of selling my hardly used clothes and items on Poshmark or Facebook marketplace. Minimalism is all about making your life more simple by making everything around you more simple. As they say, less is more: more time, more energy, more space, more money, and more appreciation for what you already have.
9. “Why am I doing this?”
Get in the habit of asking yourself “why am I doing this?” because it leads to better decision making, and can call you out on your stupidity in a nanosecond. If you have no explanation to why you are doing something, it is a great indicator that you need to reconsider whatever the heck you are doing. In most cases, good ideas have answers: if an accountant asks “why am I interviewing for this auditing job?” – so I can be responsible for earning my own income , and because I like the job and can picture myself sitting at this desk auditing financial reports to conform to the law for the rest of my life while wearing a boring beige suit and eating a boring cheese sandwich everyday. That seems like a pretty well and thought out reason to spend time and energy on it. But if I ask myself “why am I interviewing for this auditing job?” I would reply with “I need money.” This would then be a terrible use of my time, energy, and I’d probably only last an hour with that mindset. I could have used that time to do something with purpose. The reason we need this self check is because habits or goals can start out beneficial, but as time goes on, those habits or everyday things turn into a “I should be doing this” type deal rather than a “get to” mindset. A common example we see is “why am I working out?” To get skinny and then I’ll finally be happy” – terrible reasoning because it is for all the wrong reasons and is not enjoyable! Correct answer: to better my overall health to live the life I want. To sum it up, this wakes up the PURPOSE of actions and decisions. If there is none, just do yourself a favor and stop.
10. Create a Flow in Your Schedule
You probably already do some of this because it is common sense. For example, the gas station is right next to my gym, and while my tank is not quite empty, by the time it will be I will have to go out of my way to fill up, so I go ahead and fill up on my way out. This whole idea is hitting two birds with one stone. Save yourself time by picking up your groceries at the store next door to your kid’s soccer practice while waiting for them to get done. Stop in and see a friend on your way home from your parent’s house. Pick up dinner on the way home from work. This one is pretty self explanatory but it will save you both time, energy, and gas money.
It is also important to align your to do list with your energy levels. There is no use in putting something in your schedule to do if you wake up with only enough energy to walk to the coffee maker. I have a whole to do list on my wall, but I don’t go in order because sometimes it makes no sense to. If I feel more productive, I will choose the items on my list that require more physical or brain power. For me, I am most productive in the morning- it’s not uncommon for me to get back from the gym and clean the entire apartment, change my sheets, do all loads of laundry, do a few handstands, and then write a whole blog post in half an hour. If you checked back in with me around 3 PM, the only thing I could manage on the to do list would be to sort laundry- and I do this while watching TV to ease the pain. No one ever said there was a correct way to get things done, so do them when you’re literally able to.
11. Create Morning and Evening Routines
Life gets so much easier with routine. For all you night owls/early birds out there, mornings/nights can be hard without a routine. I like to think that my morning and nightly routine allows me to be like a Tesla- on autopilot but still going places without crashing and little effort. My morning routine of wake up, coffee, journal, and read allows my brain to wake up a bit before I put it to work for a solid 8 hours. Similarly at night after my brain is fried, my nightly routine of dinner, shower, netflix, fall asleep watching netflix while trying not to fall asleep watching netflix allows my brain to shut off. The best routines are the ones that you look forward to and don’t require a lot from you.
12. Transform Difficult Tasks
This whole post thus far has promoted getting out of hard things that you don’t want to do. Well, I am here to tell you that life doesn’t work like that. You will still be faced with situations where you have to do the dang thing and there is no way around it. While there is no way to change the task, there can be ways to reframe. Example A: traffic. There is no way, even for a Tesla, to hit a button in your car and make you fly over all the cars on 494. But, there is a way to make the time “fly” by. Find a good podcast, create a flow in your schedule to call your grandma since that is on your to do list, or play some good tunes! Example B: work emails will not reply by themselves; so go sit outside if it is nice out, get your favorite snack or drink, or even bribe yourself with something to get the job done. Each of us have a “thing” we hate doing, but think about what can make it more bearable and less terrible. If all else fails, the “fake it till you make it” phrase is an actual thing in psychology so might as well try to trick yourself into thinking scrubbing the toilet is the most fun you’ve had all week.
13. Set daily goals
Every morning, I grab my journal and ask myself “what goals do I want to accomplish today to have a good day?” These goals are not anything huge like “cure the common cold” or “find a million bucks in my parking garage,” but more like “start my new blog post,” “feel good about my workout,” or “eat three meals today. “Yeah, this may seem like some fluffy psychologist type exercise, but psychology does say if you write something down, you are more likely to do it, so I’ll take fluffy psych method over lost productivity any day.
But for real, this question is so important for several reasons. 1. it helps to find the priorities in your day instead of trying to get everything done, not finishing everything, then beating yourself up for not getting through all 127 items on the to do list. This allows you to knock out what will make the biggest difference for you right now.
2. It reminds you to think about your wellbeing. I’ve always been a go go go kind of gal, so setting a goal to take care of myself rather than add another to do list item goal seemed like a waste of my time until I realized I could get a lot more out of my days when I felt like I wasn’t dead! I now make sure to have at least one health related goal for the day because I have not been so great at that realm in the past. It’s hard to believe that writing “don’t forget lunch” on a piece of paper can magically change your habits- but it does, it’s accountability. After all is said and done, it feels great to look back and see all the cumulative goals you have achieved over time, even if they’re just loads of laundry or go to the store.
14. Simplify “Money Stuff”
“Money stuff” is what I say when I am referring to anything related to economics and finance (this is why the accounting job makes no sense for me). It goes in one ear and out the other- my brain can’t hold onto much of what it all means. That being said, dumbing down the process of managing my money has made my life much less stressful and has saved me brain power rather than expending it on comprehending investing in international stocks. Here’s a few ways to refrain from pulling your hair out:
- Make a budget– I use the app “Mint” since I am no expert in budgeting, but something I am pretty darn good at is making a plan and following it. It’s important to be realistic, this means, admitting to yourself that you have a spend happy problem. Once you have adjusted to your budget and have seen your cash flow, this allows for you to either give yourself some more slack in some areas, or, learn that you need to tone down the shopping on Amazon. Mint makes categories for your spending and recommends a budget for each one depending on your income each month. The visual of a pie chart diagram helps tremendously for seeing where your money goes each month, and bar graphs for how much you have left in each category, and gives you warnings for when you’re spending a bit too much at Target. The truth can hurt sometimes.
- Automate– A lot of subscriptions and monthly payments allow for an automated monthly transaction- this comes in handy when you have a billion monthly payments, but struggle to remember them all which can lead to late fees! Set that automated payment up and forget about it.
- Use your money– there’s so much talk about saving every penny and growing your bank all the time, but there is nothing wrong with using your money to make your life easier, and putting an ease on your mental health. Hire a babysitter, hire a cleaner, nanny, therapist, massage session, or whatever else you need!
15. Be at Peace with Pace
My last and overarching point of this post is to be at peace with slow progress. All of this will be pointless if you think you’ll wake up tomorrow stress free because you took one action to sit in your car 10 seconds longer than usual. Wanting and wishing for things to change instantly, and seeing no change, can cause so much distress for some people- but once you expect that the process will take time, it is less daunting. This is a lesson that has been hard for me to learn- I like to see instant results, and my expectations for some things are 100% unrealistic yet are realistic in my mind. They always say to “enjoy the journey” and as cheesy as it sounds it is true. I spent so many years laser focused from getting from point A to B that the years in between seems like a negative hazy blur. It is important to remember that you can only do so much in a given day, and we have limits. Give yourself the gift of going slower to enjoy all that comes with it rather than beating yourself up for the one thing you didn’t do. In my experience, trying to speed a process up only stressed me out more and backfired rather than if I allowed myself to go at a slower pace. It also led to more stress and unhappiness. Fast is not always better, and truly ask yourself what you’re trying to rush for. Allow yourself to let your life be more stress free because every day shouldn’t be a chore.
I get it, sometimes things like these can be so easy that we just forget to even do them or that they are there. That’s why we aren’t all living stress free lives with no worries all the time. It can be so easy to overlook the simple act of getting a hook for your constantly misplaced keys, stop for groceries after the gym, use your money to help you relax, take time to pause after parking, reaching for your journal rather than your phone upon waking up, making easy rules for yourself, going to bed just an hour earlier, giving yourself permission to make the choice without guilt, and asking yourself why the heck you are doing what you are doing. These are all mindful tips to take in a world where there seems to be none. I hope you choose to pick one to practice, I mean, what do you have to lose other than stress, fatigue, and more stress?
Have a great day, keep it simple!