In life, you either grow or stay stuck. Three years ago, I was part of the latter. I despised going to my recruiting job every day. My relationship at the time felt like a vicious game of seeing who would hurt who next. I hadn’t yet realized that I was deeply depressed. I was stuck in a life that felt completely out of my control.
Fast-forward to today and, above all, I’m happy. I found a relationship that is filled with deep love, connection, and mutual admiration. I wake up to work that I love doing every day. And, for the most part, my mental health is pretty damn clean; if clean is a word you can use for finally enjoying life. There wasn’t a pill or trick that changed my life in this drastic way. I didn’t wake up one day to a magically different life like a Disney movie.
In reality, it was small changes I made that ended up creating the biggest differences. My habits and choices, every day, added up to transform my life into something I enjoyed living; one where I had control and a sense of purpose.
I bet you may feel stuck, in the same way that I did, and just want things to be different. You have an idea of what you want in life: maybe it’s to find a loving partner; perhaps you want to improve your health. Or maybe you want to burn the book of your life and write an entirely new one.
But wanting isn’t getting. Creating change is much harder than simply desiring it. Why? Because the expectations and judgment we place on ourselves easily get in the way of long-term goals. Luckily, you can invest in yourself in ways that will help you get over the obstacles that hold most people back. And what’s better? You can begin doing them today:
Invest in Journaling Your Thoughts
No, this is not the same as keeping a diary. Journaling is an effective tool that many top businessmen and writers use for their personal and career growth. Why? There are a plethora of benefits that researchers have linked to journaling.
Not only are you making sense of your complex thoughts and feelings (and increasing your self-awareness, bonus), but journaling increases your creativity, improves your mental health, hones your writing skills, and helps you keep track of your overall, objective goals. Because all too often, life gets in the way of change. Unless you’re aware of when it does, and actively work against obstacles, you will feel like a victim to the journey. That’s where journaling comes in.
How to get started:
Choose a time that works best for you to journal. Maybe that’s in the morning before you start your day. Or perhaps you prefer to write before bed, getting all your thoughts onto paper before you go to sleep. Personally, I prefer the latter. Not only does journaling help me make sense of life, but it also improves my sleep. As an overthinker, I’ll lay awake in bed for hours because my mind is racing. Journaling alleviates that.
Once you decide when you’ll journal, it’s time to write. You don’t need a fancy notebook; all you need is a pen and paper. When you’re first starting off on your journaling journey, focus on a few exercises to help find what works best for you:
- Write down what you were grateful for that day.
- Practice stream-of-consciousness, writing whatever comes to your mind without a filter or structure.
- Write about past experiences that affected you. Focus on the emotions that come up.
- Jot down your goals. How do you want your life to look in 5 years? 10 years? What are the steps you need to take to get there?
- Write any ideas for work that pop into your mind. Elaborate on them or try to form new ones.
Journaling has the potential to drastically change your life if done consistently. Whatever your goal is — to increase creativity, work through anxiety — you won’t regret putting pen to paper.
Invest in Your Sleep
People who brag about powering through the day on four hours of sleep aren’t people to aspire to be. They’re digging their own grave. Sleep isn’t a burdensome activity everyone must do. It’s vital for your well-being. In fact, it’s the reason a lot of people have poor health, feel stressed, and are generally unhappy.
“There’s practically no element of our lives that’s not improved by getting adequate sleep.”
— Arianna Huffington
Research has found that sleep:
- Improves memory
- Decreases stress
- Makes people feel less lonely
- Improves mental health
- Decreases blood pressure
- Improves overall mood
I assume you’re wise enough to know how all of the above can drastically change your life for the better. Sleep is your time to reset, restore, and revitalize yourself. And it’s something you can invest in every single day.
How to get started:
You’ll spend one-third of your life in bed. Invest in learning what your body needs for optimal sleep.
Buy a better mattress. A new mattress not only changed my relationship, I finally started sleeping through the night. You might be enticed to buy a cheap $200 mattress on Amazon, but you’re better off spending more money on a quality mattress if you can afford one.
Blackout your room. Blackout curtains are one of the greatest inventions of the 21st century. Light disrupts people’s sleep patterns, and having your room as dark as possible will help you sleep more soundly.
Take herbal supplements. Always talk to your doctor before taking new supplements. But if you struggle with falling or staying asleep, there are natural supplements to help you like Melatonin and Valerin Root.
Stop using your phone before bed. You’re not only stimulating your mind through social media and YouTube videos, but the blue light is also messing up your circadian rhythm. Put down your phone thirty minutes before bed to prepare your body for sleep.
Sleep when you’re tired. I used to avoid naps like the plague, but now I think of them as a tool for my mood. When you’re tired, sleep (if you’re able to). Naps aren’t a sign of a weak person; they’re a sign of someone who prioritizes their health.
Invest in Learning to Enjoy Being Alone
When you come home at night to an empty place, what do you feel? Solitude? Loneliness? Your answer to that all depends on your mindset and ability to enjoy not having others around.
“Being alone has a power that very few people can handle”
— Steven Aitchison
Throughout your life, you’re guaranteed to always be with one person: yourself. If you fear being alone and don’t know what makes you happy outside of other people, you’ll always feel like your emotional state is at the mercy of external factors.
But when you utilize alone time instead of avoiding it, several things happen. You become more in-tune with your emotions. You get clear on what you want most in life, regardless of outside influences. You invest time in hobbies you love. You become a happier version of yourself.
How can I be so sure? I went through this process. I hated being alone. I lost touch with my authentic self. But after two back-to-back painful breakups, I decided to take a break from dating and focus on myself.
What happened? A lot. But the most notable was that I learned to love hanging out with just myself. As a result, I got clear on all of the major life changes I talked about above.
How to get started:
Be honest with yourself. What’s the issue at hand? Do you hate being alone, or are you avoiding certain emotions? Does being alone bring up painful memories? Recognizing the cause as a different, deeper issue can help you work to enjoying time by yourself.
Connect with your younger self. Remembering how you were as a child or young adult can connect you back with a former, happier version of yourself. Think about the hobbies you had and how you loved spending your time. Consider revitalizing those parts of your life.
Move your body. Spending time alone doesn't mean sitting in your room. You can go out for a walk or take a hike. You can try a new sport or go for a run. Personally, I feel most content going on solo walks around my neighborhood. I savor that me time.
Question the voice in your head. You know that one that says you’re stupid when you drop a glass? Or that you look fat when you see your reflection? That voice can be your worst enemy if you let it go wild. Instead, reel it in. Take note of what you tell yourself and replace that criticism with self-acceptance.
Invest in Reading More Books
The beauty of living in the day and age we do is that endless knowledge is literally at our fingertips. Whether you’re an audiobook, Kindle, or old-school physical book kind of person, books can transform your life.
When I set out on my one-year hiatus from dating, I wanted to improve my love life. Books were my ultimate tool. I read Attached, Co-dependent No More, and The Five Love Languages. Rather than flailing around looking for answers, I learned from people who worked in their field for decades to obtain this information. What took them ten years took me three hours to learn.
“If knowledge is power, then reading is a super power.”
— Jim Kwik
Books have changed countless people’s lives. They can teach lessons, guide you through dark times, and help you learn new skills from the comfort of your home. Whatever area of your life you want to transform, there’s a book for it.
How to get started:
First, it’s important to understand what you want to change in your life. If it's your mental health, then begin by looking up authors and experts in that field. A quick Google search will reveal the best books on improving mental health. Then, decide what format works best for you. Not everyone enjoys physically reading a book. Maybe you’re more of an audiobook kind of person since you drive for a couple of hours every day.
Everyone has different preferences. Once you’ve done both of the above, it’s time to consume. Remember that reading is like a buffet. You might not agree with every word someone says. Take what you do like, leave what you don’t.
To better retain what you learn, write down the things that stand out to you (maybe in the journal you started from reading the beginning of this article?).
Invest in Foods that Make You Feel Good
You are what you eat is such a cliche, but that saying holds a lot of truth. Your body is your temple. If you eat crappy foods, you’ll feel like crap. There’s no way around that fact.
Good food = Good mood
There’s an entire field of study dedicated to how people can increase their mental health and quality of life through the foods they eat. It’s called nutritional psychiatry. By studying people’s digestive tracts, researchers found that the foods you eat literally change your mood. Since serotonin — the chemical that affects your happiness and sleep — is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, your digestive tract needs to be in top shape for neurotransmitters to send serotonin to your brain.
But when you eat nutritionally poor food, your gut bacteria become imbalanced, and your digestive tract weakened. Researchers even found that your sugar intake is directly related to mental disorders like depression, as well. It’s important to eat well so you can feel well.
How to get started:
The best kinds of food for your body are nutritionally dense ones. My mom is a Naturopathic Doctor, and she always insisted that “the greener, the better” (candy not included).
Vegetables and fruits are always a sound choice that your body will thank you for eating. Protein is also an essential macronutrient that your body needs to function well.
A great rule of thumb that I try to live by 70% of the time is this: if your grandparents wouldn’t find it in their markets when they were kids, it’s probably made in a factory and far from real food. Best to avoid.
Invest in Memories
When you’re on your death bed and reflect on your life, you’ll remember the memories you made, not the car you bought.
“Good memories are like charms… Each is special. You collect them, one by one, until one day you look back and discover they make a long, colorful bracelet.”
— James Patterson
We’re experiencing an ironic turn of events in modern society. We’re tricked into believing we need to buy things, but even when we do, it’s only a matter of time until we want something else. The cycle continues, and we do this over and over until we die. The reason? Adaptation.
“One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation. We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them,” said Cornell Professor Dr. Gilovich. Instead of investing money into the latest iPhone or capitalism rat race, put that money towards creating memories. While an iPhone might get lost or stolen, a memory is something you’ll cherish forever.
Along the way of creating memories, you’ll grow as a person, strengthen your relationships, learn new things, and you’ll better handle uncertainty. All ways that will drastically transform your life in the long-run.
How to get started:
Put down your phone. You won’t be able to create memories if you’re staring at a phone screen, scrolling through Instagram. Be present in real-life. Engage with the people around you. A phone will only distract you from what could be happy memories.
Spend time with people who matter most to you. You never know how much time you have with someone. If a person means a lot to you, invest time into seeing them. Don’t let that relationship fall to the wayside. Even if it’s just a FaceTime or phone call, those are the kinds of moments you’ll wish you had more of one day.
Don’t try and make memories. By focusing too much on making an experience the best it can be, you don’t enjoy the present. Instead, focus on the experiences you want to try in life. Live in the present while they happen. The best memories are the unplanned ones.
Invest in Resolving Your Traumas
You might be thinking, “I don’t have any traumas. Skip!” but oh boy, would you be wrong. When you read the word trauma, you might think of a few things: loss, physical or sexual abuse, or life-altering experience. But trauma isn’t always that apparent. In fact, everyone has gone through some sort of trauma in their life that affects who they are in the present.
Any negative event in our past can affect who we are today. Perhaps it was something big, like a parent leaving you while you were a kid. Or maybe it was that time your mom forgot you at school until well past the sun going down. As a child, you internalize that experience to mean there’s something wrong with you. Even though that wasn’t the case.
But as an adult, you fear that people will leave you because of that trauma. In turn, you either cling to the people in your life or run whenever someone tries to get too emotionally close. That’s trauma doing its work.
When you don’t resolve your trauma from your past, it controls your life. That could look like your ability to believe in yourself enough to pivot careers, or maybe it’s the reason you can’t find love. Working through past trauma is hard, but it can be the last step forward that you need to live the life you desire. One free from pain that you don’t need to live with.
How to get started:
I’ll be honest that resolving trauma is most effectively done with a trained professional. A therapist or counselor can help you identify parts of your past that are causing you pain today and provide you tools for working through them. If you’re unable to afford to work with a professional, don’t fret. You can still do the work; it’ll just take some dedication.
Practice mindfulness. Notice your thoughts and feelings. Do situations justify your reactions like anger or need to withdraw? Or is there an underlying fear going on?
Meditate. Becoming aware of your body and breath can help you feel grounded in moments that trigger you. Rather than feeling out of control, meditation can help you feel more in touch with your body and mind.
Put your words to your feelings. You might think that you feel anger when in reality, you’re scared of people thinking badly of you. There’s nothing wrong about the way you feel, but learning to put words to your emotions, rather than using place-holder words like anger, can help you understand your experiences better.
To recap, these ways to invest in yourself will have a significant impact on your life in the long run:
- Begin journaling your life, goals, and thoughts.
- Prioritize quality sleep.
- Learn to enjoy being alone.
- Read more books.
- Eat foods that make you feel good.
- Collect memories, not things.
- Resolving your hidden traumas.
Going from stuck to growing takes the first step forward. And with these seven ways, you can start walking in the right direction today.