Discover more from A Little Better
Here is my best random advice.
A Little Better is taking the summer off.
I’ve been writing A Little Better for a year now. They say that teaching others how to do something enhances your own learning, and I have to say that writing this weekly newsletter has really firmed up how I feel about these topics. I think I’ve become even more committed to my own well-being by writing these newsletters and have had a great time revisiting favorite practices when I’ve introduced them here. A Little Better has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for me, and if I’ve helped even one of you take on a new challenge or form a helpful habit, then I consider this a success.
However, I’m entering a short period of intense busyness right now. We’re currently updating our new home, after which we’ll be packing and moving, and I’ve just started rehearsals for a musical that opens in mid-July. I haven’t had so little time to myself in years! So I’ll be taking my own advice and scaling back: I’ve decided to take the entire summer off from this newsletter.
A Little Better isn’t going away forever! I’m just taking a hiatus, and if all goes as planned, I’ll resume publishing on September 25th.
In the meantime, I thought I would celebrate a year of newsletters with my best random advice, so here are my top ten tips for better living:
Write everything down. No, you’re not going to remember it later. Just write it down. Think this is only for older people? I started doing this in my twenties, and one of the most common items I got in job reviews was, “You’re so organized, and you never miss deadlines!” I became more vigilant because of the occasional brain fog I experienced after my chronic fatigue diagnosis. Now, thanks to long covid, many people of all ages are experiencing the same kinds of symptoms. However, you don’t need to have any form of impairment to benefit from this. Make it easier on yourself: From grocery lists to appointment reminders to ideas for newsletter topics (see what I did there?), just write everything down.
Take it day by day, and if that’s too hard, take it moment by moment. All of us will deal with something that seems unbearable at some point in our lives. Whether this is physical pain, an aspect of mental illness, addiction, an injury to body or spirit, or bereavement -- no one is immune to suffering. Some of us live in a mire of suffering in everyday life. But everything is impermanent, even pain. Things can always improve, and a 1% improvement may grant you immeasurable relief when things are genuinely dark. Just take it day by day. Try to breathe deeply and stay in the moment. Meditate or pray if that helps. You only have to make it to the next moment, then the next. What happened in the past is unimportant now, and the future will take care of itself. Breathe and move forward as best you can.
Get comfortable with other people viewing you as an eccentric. Whether you collect model trains or eat a vegan diet, some folks will question any choice you make outside of the mainstream. You will likely experience some pushback whenever you make significant changes in your life. Friends may worry that you’ll leave them behind, and family members may want to protect you from taking on too much risk. But you can have a much better life when you’re true to yourself. Embrace your oddness. (And if you’re the “weird pioneer” in your circle, you may discover that you give your friends and family members permission to be their own strange selves, too. Happiness and self-acceptance can ripple outward that way.)
Willpower is unreliable, but you can work around it. The easier you make something to do, the more likely you are to do it -- whether or not your motivation is high. You can keep building a habit without much willpower by setting up your physical environment to support your desired behavior and aiming to do something tiny (instead of a profound change that will be difficult to sustain). Learning this changed my life. (I highly recommend the book Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg if you’re interested in habit change.)
Self-compassion is at least as important as self-discipline (maybe more important). Treating yourself as kindly as you would a dear friend may be challenging, but it’s so beneficial. Most important: Forgive yourself. We’ve all made poor choices and done things we regret. But picking yourself up to try again is easier if you’re not constantly beating yourself up for falling short. You’re worthy of kindness and compassion, so treat yourself accordingly.
Rest is undervalued. We live in a 24/7 culture where hard work is glorified almost religiously. I’m not opposed to hard work, either. (In fact, many of my leisure activities look like hard work!) But we don’t prioritize rest. I know I sound like a broken record in this newsletter, constantly reminding you to take breaks and schedule in downtime, but I’ve seen how making rest a regular habit has improved my own life. My energy level varies wildly, but I can sustain an almost normal amount of daily activity by scheduling adequate rest. Instead of the boom and bust pattern of pushing myself too hard during high-energy periods, then crashing into exhaustion, I can sustain a moderate amount of regular activity. I wouldn’t harp on this so often if I hadn’t seen such remarkable results in my own life.
Embrace your strengths and live by your values. You have unique capabilities and ideals, so why would you want to live the same way as everyone else? If you have strong analytical skills, you probably won’t enjoy the social pressures of a sales job. Lean into your strengths, don’t fight them. If you have strong feelings about climate change, you probably won’t want to live somewhere that forces you to commute an hour each way, and you may make other choices in your life that make you seem extreme to others. Live a life true to your values. Values don’t necessarily indicate moral choices, either. If you value beauty for its sake, make sure you experience some form of beauty every day. One of the best aspects of intentional living is deciding what makes your life more meaningful.
Make things easier for your future self. If there’s something you can do right now to save time tomorrow, go ahead and do it. This action can be as simple as laying out your clothes for the next day before you go to bed or as elaborate as an afternoon of meal prep. You can also keep your far future self in mind when trying to develop healthier habits. (I recommend [with some caveats regarding embedded fatphobia and problematic diet culture] reading The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner if you’d like to learn more about how long-lived people around the world stay healthy into their old age.)
Streamline repetitive daily tasks and remove friction wherever you can. If I had to distill my entire philosophy into a single motto, it would be, “Simplify everything!” Remove distractions, unneeded physical objects, things that waste time, and activities you don’t enjoy. Pare everything back to the basics wherever you can, especially when it leaves more room or time for the things that matter most to you.
Always use a grocery list. (And don’t go to the store when you’re hungry!) This warning is the most classic piece of advice in the world, and it’s still as accurate as the first day you heard it.
There you have it, friends. If you don’t think you can live without a regular dose of my writing, please feel free to subscribe to my other (far wackier and less helpful) newsletter, Bombastic Frippery, which will still be going out on a modified schedule. I hope you have a wonderful summer -- and I’ll talk to you soon!