I owe my parents a lot.
They raised me, taught me to use a toilet, and stayed by my side during both the Terrible Two’s and the Terrible Teens.
However, when I moved out for the first time, I discovered a new mind-blowing truth:
I can do anything I want. Any TIME I want.
Unfortunately I found myself indulging in my new-found freedom a little too much. I regularly ignored the “no dessert before dinner” rule, broke my childhood curfew, and proclaimed I was “too busy” to exercise. Then I was actually surprised when my emotions flew completely off the handle. I could no longer handle simple life stresses or even bare to be around people.
My own irresponsibility was eating away at my health, happiness, and productivity.
Fortunately, after a couple of years I finally decided to start acting like an adult. I swallowed my pride and actually listened to the wisdom my parents spent 2 decades imparting to me.
I’m still not perfect, but going back to these 10 basic principles actually turned out to be some of the best choices I’ve made in my life.
1. Eat your veggies.
Pizza is convenient. Ice cream is delicious. Drinks with friends are fun.
But too much of anything (even good things) can destroy your quality of life.
Once I moved out of my parent’s house, I was suddenly experiencing a myriad of issues:
- Inability to sleep
- Lack of energy
- Loss of motivation
- Inability to handle stress
- Mood swings
- Weight gain
- And plenty of others
What I didn’t know, though, was how many of my symptoms were directly caused by what I put into my body. Instead of choosing a salad, I would order a greasy quesadilla. If I forgot my lunch, I made a quick Wendy’s run. After a long day at work, I was always too tired to actually cook. So I’d heat up whatever over-processed pseudo food I could find in the back of my freezer and call it a day.
But when I took a challenge to eat clean and healthy for 30 days (cutting out a lot of sub-optimal choices like grains, gluten, sugar, and dairy), almost all of my issues disappeared.
I slept. I was excited. My moods were stable. I lost weight. And I found I could handle any challenge that came my way.
Turns out my health was worth “missing out” on that bowl of Froot Loops and all the hours I “lost” teaching myself to cook.
Food is fuel. Stop filling your tank with junk.
2. Get your Zzzz’s.
Getting a good night’s sleep is crucial to your ability to focus during the day.
Without proper rest, your brain is inhabited by a constant fog. Your short-term memory doesn’t work well (which means your long-term doesn’t either), your attention span falters, and I bet your attitude at work ain’t so hot either. Just ask your co-workers.
And the worst part? Lost sleep adds up.
Sure, you only stayed up late twice this week, but those two times have already created debt that your body will demand from you eventually.
So bite the bullet, put down your phone, and GET TO BED.
While we’re on the subject of sleep…
3. Kick the caffeine habit.
Around bedtime, the chemical adenosine binds to adenosine receptors in your brain. This is what makes you sleepy. This function slows down nerve cell activity, preparing your brain for lights out. Funnily enough, caffeine looks a lot like adenosine (at least, to your brain it does). However, instead of slowing down your cells, caffeine speeds them up.
And caffeine is a jerk.
So as adenosine tries do its job, caffeine dropkicks it, takes its lunch money, and races to bind the adenosine receptors first. Then it looks for someone else to pick on. Unfortunately, the next person in sight… is you. Instead of slowing down your processes and getting you ready for sleep, it speeds them up, keeping you awake. All. Night.
Sure, sometimes on those gray mornings, you want a little extra boost, so you grab a latte on your way to work. Just be aware that the caffeine from your drink can stick around in your system 18+ hours without you even knowing it.
The half-life of caffeine is 6 hours. That means if you have 200mg at 8 AM (1 cup of coffee), 100mg will still be circulating in your system by 2 PM. And in another 6 hours (8 PM), you’ll still have about 50mg inside of you.
And yes, 50mg is enough to disrupt your sleep schedule.
Bottom line: keep your caffeine consumption moderate and only drink it in the mornings.
4. Shake your booty.
Exercise stimulates your body and your brain. It wakes you up and releases endorphins. It fills you with energy and it strengthens your muscles. Do I really need to tell you this?
EXERCISE IS GOOD FOR YOU.
Even a brisk 30-minute walk can wake you up and stimulate your brain. That 30-minute walk can be solely responsible for your sudden ability to focus, have clear thoughts, and your Superman-like mental fortitude.
Exercise is so important that many successful CEOs prioritize exercise above all else (including their businesses).
Maybe a walk around the office (or an awesome Zumba video!) would be a better late afternoon pick-me-up than that extra latte.
5. Wash a dish.
Chores suck. But unfortunately it’s nearly impossible to be productive if your surroundings are a wreck.
Sure, your mess may be “organized.” But that mess also increases the time you spend completing a project.
If you have to wash every dish directly before use or search through piles of paper clutter before finishing that report for your boss, you’ll never be able to zip through tasks at lightning speed. Why not take a bit of extra effort at the end of your cooking, research, etc. (you know, when you actually have extra time) to clean up your mess? This saves you time during those crucial moments when every minute counts.
And it’s honestly not hard to clean up as you go. Go the extra mile. Set yourself up for success. Keep your home, purse, workspace, everything tidy.
And while you’re at it…
6. Use a planner.
Keep your non-tangible life tidy too.
“What was I going to work on today?” “Is that important event this evening, or next week?” “Is this the best way for me to spend my time?”
These are all questions you should NOT be asking yourself in the moment.
Get yourself a planner (or a planner app) and get organized. Use it to plan your months, weeks, and days. As soon as you plan to attend an event, jot it down. Open it up the night before and prioritize tomorrow’s tasks. Give each chunk of work the proper time allotment, and stick to it.
This will reduce the amount of strain on your mind, which will make your thought life healthier and happier.
7. Break up with Netflix.
A little TV can help you unwind after a stressful day. But when you look up from the screen and wonder how long ago the sun started rising… there’s a problem.
Limit your Netflix time. And I mean limit it. Let’s face it, you really don’t need to see what the Gilmores are up to every single day.
But if that little AutoPlay feature is just too hard to resist, cut then the activity out entirely. I promise you, it’s not as hard as it sounds!
There are plenty of other ways to unwind which are actually better for you than watching TV. (Shocking, right?)
Sports, books, art projects, recreational learning are all great ways to relax and escape. But, unlike TV, these activities engage your brain in a way that will allow it to rejuvenate and help you feel more energized tomorrow. And more energy tomorrow means a better, less stressful day.
So, say goodbye to season six of Cupcake Wars. You may never ever get back together.
8. Say no.
This may come as a surprise, but you don’t have to do everything. Not only that, but saying “no” every once in awhile doesn’t make you a bad friend either.
Sure, picking your roommate up from the airport may not be something you’d look forward to, so your “sorry, I can’t” might be accompanied by an unwelcome pang of guilt. But if rearranging your busy schedule to pick them up would throw your mental world into a tailspin, say no. Trust me, you’re not their only option.
And when it comes to social obligations, just because an invite was extended doesn’t mean you have to accept. Sometimes you need an evening at home with a good book more than you need an evening out with good friends.
Trying to do everything will ultimately make you successful at doing nothing.
9. Put down your phone.
Your phone is a devious little device, specifically designed to distract.
Every text, tweet, and snap breaks your flow.
How can you fully engage in anything if you’re stopping every 5 minutes to contribute to a conversation that isn’t even that important?
Set your phone on Do Not Disturb for a preset period of time. Hide it away in a purse, drawer, or coat pocket. Lock it up if you need to. And do NOT look at it again until you’ve reached your pre-designated stopping point.
This may take a little practice, but eventually the temptation to check every social media outlet you follow will die away, and your ability to concentrate the task at hand will triumph.
10. Don’t forget you.
Give yourself a break. You work so hard and you really do need a chance to unplug and just relax.
Do something that you enjoy, but you don’t ordinarily schedule time for. For me that means soaking in a bubble bath filled with epsom salt and surrounded by candles.
It’s important for your brain to have time and space away from the kerfuffle to just chill.
Don’t fill this time with noise or distractions. Just be. Spend time in prayer. Allow your subconscious to process all those thoughts, conversations, problems, or daydreams you don’t have time for during the day.
You deserve it.
A former student counselor and Lumerit Scholar, Abigail is passionate about empowering others to achieve their goals. When she’s not dreaming with her friends, you can find her reading or singing Broadway songs. Loudly.Read more by Abigail