It’s 6 A.M. on a cold and dark winter day. The alarm goes off and I wonder: “What am I doing here?”
After traveling the world for four years and living in tropical countries, of course it’s a shock to be back in Europe: cold, dark and wet.
I remember years ago when I was a consultant and I had to get up crazy early to
drive to work be stuck in traffic jams for two hours.
I hated those mornings. It felt like a complete waste of time to spend time in a traffic jam – sometimes four hours a day.
Darkness, cold and winter blues
It didn’t help it was dark when I got up and it was dark when I got home. I always had a winter blues. Especially around February/March, when winter had been hanging around for too long. I was craving some vitamine D again. I was craving sunny days and relaxing in the garden or on the beach. I was craving a life where I didn’t had to get up at 6 A.M. in the morning only to queue up in traffic.
And after all this traveling now I’m back in the same situation. My alarm goes off at 6 A.M. And trust me, I still don’t really enjoy darkness and winter and cold. It’s okay for a few weeks, but then I desperately need some light and sun again.
But something has changed.
My awareness has increased heaps and am starting to see clearly. To see things as they really are.
Yes, it’s true. Life is just so darn busy around here. I feel like being caught in the hamster wheel just a little too soon again. Having a full-time job, freelancing after work and in the weekends, spending time with friends and family and making sure I have proper and healthy meals throughout the day, I do wonder how I’m actually supposed to find peace and rest and quiet. To just be.
Healthy habits that I developed during my journeys are really difficult to keep up with.
But the truth is, I’m only fooling myself when I constantly come up with lame excuses for why I don’t have time to improve myself, to work on my health and my dreams.
So if I’m not careful, anytime soon I’ll find myself lying on my deathbed wondering where life went. That I’ve been so busy in day-to-day, trivial and nonessential tasks that I forgot to truly live.
How to design your life
But luckily there’s a way to avoid getting stuck in life and let it pass by without genuinely enjoying it. You can actually rethink your approach to life. You can come up with a list of things that are truly important for you, things that are meaningful, things that give you joy.
Luckily we live in an age where we actually do have the choice and power to decide on which terms we want to live. Previous generations mostly lived on other people’s terms and expectations. This is not necessary anymore. You can actually decide to take responsibility for your own life and happiness and live with intention.
You only have to decide and commit to it.
I have found that there are seven routines that have tremendously changed my life for the better. This is often a challenge and sometimes I feel like cheating a bit. But hey, that’s okay. Life is to be enjoyed and every one is entitled to at least a few guilty pleasures, right?!
These 7 habits have transformed my life for the better and actually made me a happier person.
1 Get a healthy sleep
This is essential for me. I need my eight hours of sleep. I can do with less, but I will immediately feel it. And if I continue going to bed too late, I’lll only get more and more tired. It all adds up.
Slowly I get exhausted and this also has an influence on my health and mental and emotional well-being. I get agitated more quickly, people irritate me more and I get negative and pessimistic.
But when I go to bed at 10 P.M. and get my eight hours of sleep, I’m fine. I wake up feeling energetic. I’m even proud of myself I did it again, I beat the demons who told me to stay up just a little longer. Especially in spring and summer, I actually jump out of bed at 6 A.M. Preferably I jump start my day with some yoga and meditation, but I have to admit I don’t always do it. But that makes me feel like I’m on top of the world.
2 Physical activity
I used to be sitting in a car four hours a day to get to work, only to sit there for eight hours behind a desk doing meaningless work. And when I got home in the evening I just sat or lay on the couch, stared at the television watching TV shows that didn’t contribute at all to my peace, joy and happiness (well okay, I have to admit I did and still do truly enjoy Grey’s Anatomy).
This lifestyle didn’t do any good to my physical well-being and thus, also not to my mental and emotional well-being.
I now have a job that requires much more physical work. I walk around all day, I carry boxes and I basically just move that pretty butt of mine. This makes me feel much, much better.
On top of that, I practice yoga. As much as I can. Yoga keeps the body, mind and soul flexible and strong. When practiced regularly, it changes your body’s immune, digestive, circulatory and lymphatic systems, which will improve the quality of your life.
I believe people are not meant to just sit all day, so do yourself a favour and make sure there’s enough psychical activity in your day. If you do have an office job, take a walk during lunch or in the evening. Even better, set the alarm thirty minutes earlier and take an early morning walk. Exercise decreases anxiety, stress and depression.
Your body is your temple, treat it well.
3 Meditation to facilitate clarity
Have you ever tried to become aware of your thoughts throughout a day? Have you ever noticed how many thoughts you’re constantly having? Have you ever become truly aware of how one thought follows the other and – most often – has nothing to do with the previous thought? At all.
If you’ve ever learned a bit about meditation, you’ve probably heard about the monkey mind. We all have a monkey mind. It just runs around in your mind, thinks this, thinks that, makes you wonder, judge and overthink. Yada, yada, yada. It distracts the mind from the task you’re doing. It distracts the mind from actually enjoying the present moment.
It’s like sand in a water bottle. When you shake the bottle, the water gets completely muddy and blurred. This is what the monkey does to you. It stirs up your mind. Your mind is scattered and it doesn’t really know what to do.
But when you just leave it for some time, the sand will sink to the bottom of the bottle and the water becomes still and clear. This is exactly what meditation does to the mind. It’s an excellent practice to focus and clear the mind.
In meditation you focus on a particular object, like the breath, and this helps you quieten the mind. With a quiet mind, you’ll get more clarity and peace of mind. You’ll get more aware about what you need to do during the day, what you want in life and what makes you happy, without feeling like your mind is a fuzzy mess.
4 A healthy diet
You are what you eat. Period.
Over the years I’ve experimented a lot with food. I’ve had times where I didn’t look after myself that well, and I felt like crap. I blamed it on a lot of things, but now I know better.
After my first meditation retreat, I quit smoking. During my travels I’ve completely changed my lifestyle.
I became a vegetarian and I only eat fresh, healthy and wholesome food. I tried a low-carb diet, it did me really well. I tried a zero sugar challenge, it did me really well. I eat veggies and fruits. Lots of them. Does me extremely well.
The more I become conscious and aware about what I eat throughout the day, the more I feel the effect of unwholesome foods on my body.
Coffee is a killer for me now. After one zip, I feel the caffeine rushing through my system and it makes me feel restless, shaky and uncomfortable. I only drink decaf every now and then. Sugar gives me headaches and packaged food tastes like crap.
I’ve spent a lot of time studying Ayurveda, nutrition and a yogic diet and I believe that there’s no one diet that works for everyone. But I do know it will help your health and well-being if you find out what food does your body well and what doesn’t.
5 Listen to or read uplifting content
I know this will probably not be for everybody – talking to you, you binge-watching Netflixers! – but I have stopped watching television for over five years now. I also don’t read the newspaper anymore.
A lot of people believe that I should stay up-to-date about what’s going on in the world, but my first question then always is “Why?”
Honestly, there’s no way possible to not stay up-to-date with all the information going around on social media and word-of-mouth. I’m pretty much up-to-date.
But I must say, not watching and reading all the negativity in the news has definitely made me a happier person. I’m not oblivious about what’s going on, I’ll find out anyways.
But not bombarding and brainwashing myself with words and images of all the bad, sad and horrible stuff that’s going on in this world has a positive impact on me. And for some reason, I feel more compassionate, loving and kind.
There’s so much information and stuff to look at, to listen to and to read. Choose wisely. Choose uplifting, positive and empowering stuff. If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
6 Think about your life vision
You’ve only got one life. Please do yourself a favour and think about how you want to live it. Don’t live it like every one else does.
Get in touch with yourself, get to know yourself. Your feelings, your desires and wildest dreams. Write down your life goals – short and long term. If you read and review these goals regularly, it’ll put your life into perspective. You’ll also be able to check whether you’re on the right track.
This will give your life purpose. It doesn’t mean all your dreams will come true. But if you follow a simple pattern, you can accomplish a lot of your goals – no matter how big they are.
You’ll just have to become aware, clear and honest about your dreams and start making small steps that contribute to realising them. One step at a time and trust me, you’ll get there.
7 Stop whining
I’d rather be an optimist who is sometimes wrong, than a pessimist who’s always right. Right?
Whining people generally suck up all my energy. Whatever happens in life, there’s always two sides to a story. Whatever happens, you always have a chance to decide – consciously and deliberately – how to react. When life give you lemons, make lemonade.
The more you start seeing this, the more you take control over your own well-being. Trust me, it’s not always easy. I’ve had my fair share of pain, sadness and depression. Life sometimes scares the sh*t out of me, too. But I always know: “This too shall pass.”
Have you taken a closer look at your daily routines and habits lately? Stop, stare and reflect on your life: What gives you energy and what doesn’t? I would love to find out what makes you feel happy, healthy and alive. Feel free to leave a comment.