You say you want a better world. The solution is to work toward a better you.
There are a lot of people, probably a couple of billion at this point, who are unhappy with the condition of the world. Everyone has their own idea as to what it might take to make the world, or at least their corner of it, great again. However, regardless of one’s political leanings, the reality is that the world is made up of some seven billion individuals. If we want our world to be better, our first move is to make ourselves better.
The Internet is chock-full of lists for how you can make yourself better. The problem is that, much the “news” on sees on Facebook, not all the information in those lists can be trusted. For example, the list linked at the beginning of this paragraph recommends taking a cold shower every morning because, allegedly, Tony Robbins jumps into a pool of 57-degree water every morning. DO NOT TAKE THAT ADVICE! There’s a damn good reason we take warm showers. In water below 77°F, one’s breathing begins to be affected. If one is in water between 70°-60°, most people should be in some kind of protective thermal suit to avoid loss of breathing control. Water temperatures between 60°-50° are considered extremely dangerous and possibly even life threatening for the majority of people. Total loss of breathing control. Maximum intensity cold shock. Unable to control gasping and hyperventilation. So, maybe the advice on that list isn’t all the good.
There are safe things you can do, however, that will help improve your life. You won’t see a big change all at once, but give it six months and then look back. You’ll be amazed. Let’s get started.
Develop A Routine
There are times when spontaneity is good for you, but it’s not the ideal way for living your life. Our minds process information and our bodies operate more efficiently when they have some sense of what’s coming next. Little things like getting up at the same time every morning, getting dressed in the same order, and taking breaks at the same general time all help us to put a maximum amount of effort into our day without becoming fatigued as quickly.
Follow your body’s natural biorhythms and do your best work when your mind is most alert and schedule less intense activities when you’re not likely to have a lot of access energy making you fidgety. The biggest challenge to a schedule, of course, is following it. You don’t have to be rigid and precise in all your activities, but having a regular routine can make a lot of difference.
Prepare for your day the night before
My alarm goes off at 4:00 AM every morning. Everyone else in the house is still asleep. Lights are off. Vision is limited. I have to try to get dressed and get the dog out of the house for his walk without waking everyone else. How do we do that? By preparing the night before. I lay out my clothes, make note of where I’ve put my shoes, socks, coat, and glasses, and make sure my path is clear before going to bed. As a result, even if I still have a little bit of a hangover I can still get up and take the dog on his walk without any confusion.
The same goes for children. Having their clothes ready and their school materials by the door before they get up helps make their mornings so much easier. They’re less cranky, which I’m sure their teachers appreciate. Yes, this takes some planning and means one can’t just fall asleep anywhere. However, just five minutes of preparation before going to bed can reduce the stress of the morning significantly. Couldn’t we all do with a little stress right about now?
Plug Into The World
I am convinced that one of the biggest mistakes we can make is ignoring what is going on in the world. While we like to focus on ourselves, we must realize that we are all part of a much larger organism. Not only do our actions affect the world, the world also affects our actions. We need to pay attention to know that needs are direct involvement and for what we might passively await. Not doing can leave us disconnected and uninformed at some of the most important and critical moments of our lives.
For example, I was on the highway driving into downtown Atlanta when the tragedies of 9/11 occurred. Fear overwhelmed me when the second plane hit the World Trade Center. To keep my stomach from convulsing, I turned off the radio. At the moment, that seemed like the most intelligent thing to do. What I missed, though, was the information regarding possible targets in Atlanta. As a result, I parked in the tower at CNN as I almost always did when downtown. 20 minutes later, the tower was evacuated and no one was allowed to enter until several hours later. I was stuck in the middle of a developing tragedy with no way to get back home.
I know the news isn’t always pleasant and at the moment there is a lot of concern as to which news is true. Personally, I use Reuters and NPR as my primary sources in the morning. They come about as close as anyone to getting it right. Plug into the world so you can proceed with knowledge rather than ignorance.
Do Work That Means Something
Note immediately that I’m not necessarily talking about whatever one does for income. There are times in our lives, hopefully brief, where we take on work that is merely tolerable in order to secure the basic necessities of life. Regardless of how one feels about their occupation, though, one can still do work that matters. We’re not necessarily talking about anything elaborate or glamorous. Caring for your children or elderly parents isn’t likely to win any civic humanitarian awards but is some of the most important work on the planet. Work that matters is rarely glamorous but society’s success depends on that work taking place.
Work of compassion, work that perhaps involves some sacrifice, work that serves others, work that heals, and so many other things are all work that matters. Work that creates beauty, opens doors for others to succeed, and in any way benefits humanity are worth every minute of time we give them. Toss in educating yourself and sharing your knowledge with others while you’re at it. You did not get where you are, you have not survived to this point, without someone else doing work that matters. Now it’s your turn. Make sure the work gets done.
Listen to music
To me, it just makes sense that music be a part of our lives. I can’t imagine a day going by without it. However, over the past 30+ years I’ve come across a surprising number of people who, for a variety of reasons, either didn’t or weren’t able to listen to music at any point during their day. None of those were happy people. They had a dim outlook on the world and their attitudes reflected that outlook.
Music’s benefit our lives is extremely well documented and there are so many sources now that it seems almost absurd, at least for those in the US, that anyone would have to go a single moment without music if they don’t want to. I think it can also be important to share music that means something to us. As well all listen to different genres and styles, there are some songs that reach deep into our souls. Sharing that music can be just the thing that helps someone else get through the day. So, in that spirit, here’s the playlist I’m listening to while writing this article:
We didn't ask for this reality. These songs help us deal with it.
Be A Pet Person
Everyone needs a pet. It doesn’t have to be furry, it doesn’t have to have legs, it simply is any animal that depends upon you for its care. Pets do this tricky thing where they allow us to think we’re providing a service for them when what is actually happening is that they’re providing a service for us. They’re giving us something to love, something toward which we can exercise compassion, a companion with whom we can share our deepest secrets.
Again, multiple studies have proven the psychological benefits of having pets. There are too many times when we don’t feel as though we can trust our fellow humans, but we can trust our pets. We perceive emotion coming from them when we fail to feel emotion from anyone else. Sure, some people have allergies to different types of pets, but I truly believe there is a pet out there, somewhere, for everyone. Give it a try. You might be surprised how attached one can become to a fish.
Don’t Be Afraid To Nap
One of the things you’ll see on a lot of self-help lists is getting seven or eight hours of sleep per night. That’s nice, but for a lot of people that much down time in one setting just isn’t possible. There are clothes to wash, rooms to clean, and other matters that keep us up longer than we might wish. While consecutive hours of sleep is certainly ideal, when that is not possible there is absolutely no shame in taking a nap. Personally, I hold two different spots in my schedule as options for napping. While I typically don’t need both of them, maintaining that option gives me the flexibility to attend to that need at the point it seems likely to do the most good.
What seems to be the biggest issue here is that we associate napping with being lazy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Taking a short nap refreshes the mind and reinvigorates creativity to keep us going through the rest of the day. Naps can also play an important health role for anyone who might have heart or lung disease as the downtime allows our body a chance to recuperate from the exhaustion of activity. Don’t be afraid to give it a try. Just remember to set an alarm.
Note here that we’re not necessarily talking about romantic love, though I’m certainly not opposed to that. Romantic love can be difficult for some people to find, though, and even where it exists it can be fleeting and leave one empty. What’s more important is that we learn to love people in the non-romantic sense, caring about who they are as individuals simply because they are people. Showing compassion toward someone, giving of ourselves without expecting anything in return, exercising selflessness rather than selfishness are all ways of showing love to the people we have in our lives.
One example might be the conversations I have with the widowers in our neighborhood. I’m not sure why it is, but there is an unusually large number of widowers who live right around us. A couple of extended family, but three of them do not. They have no one. They’re all older, they all have dogs, and they all walk through the neighborhood on a daily basis, pretty much on the same schedule every day. Stepping outside to say hi, strike up a moments’ conversation, checking to make sure they’re doing okay, makes a visible difference in their lives. They frequently arrive with their head down but always leave with their head up, almost always smiling, and with a bit of spring in their step.
Loving people isn’t difficult when one removes the sexual relationship away from the equation. All we have to do is accept them as the humans they are and show compassion. A few seconds of our time can make someone else’s entire day go better.
And there is where we begin to see the return. As we make our lives better, as we learn to love more people, to give of ourselves, we make a difference in the world. The one for whom we show compassion and kindness is more likely to share that compassion with someone else, creating a chain of humanity that compounds with every iteration. As we improve ourselves, we provide the seed for grown and progress around the globe.
No, we don’t always see the results right before our eyes. We rarely know the extent of the influence our actions have. However, to the extent we do good, both for ourselves and for others, we do good for the entire planet.
Very few people are satisfied with the world in its current state. Rather than complaining, however, perhaps we would do better to put our efforts more toward improving our own lives first.