Save your Sanity and Set your Intentions with Sarah Sweeney
In light of May being Mental Health Awareness month, and as someone who has to actively work to maintain my own mental health (I’ve personally dealt with an eating disorder and Postpartum Psychosis, among many other challenges in life). I decided to write my own list of daily reminders to see if I could identify any interesting patterns – things that stand out as my coping mechanisms.
You’ll notice that a lot of the things on this list address negative emotions and sources of anxiety. I’m a firm believer that happiness is 100% controlled by you and I try not to blame other people or external factors if I feel unhappy or frustrated. That’s why so many of these daily reminders revolve around eliminating negative thoughts that only I can control.
- Slow down
I have a tendency to rush to complete and do things quickly in the sake of progress. This can result in me not being 100% happy with my work or having to redo things later. I have to remind myself to slow down so I can achieve the right balance between output and quality.
- You don’t have to do everything right now
This leads me to the next point, you don’t have to do everything right now. It’s okay to delay projects or ideas until the future when you can give it the focus it needs. It’s better to do one thing really well rather than 10 average things. Think of your life in seasons where you completely reinvent yourself, change jobs or do something completely different.
- Remember how far you’ve come
As our life’s change on a micro scale every day, we often forget just how far we’ve come over the long-term.
Hedonic adaptation, is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.
If you think about any time you’ve received a pay rise, at the time it felt great. But your lifestyle slowly adapts to the new level of income and over time we no longer appreciate the additional benefit.
Whenever I feel frustrated with my current situation or lack of progress, I think back to where I was almost eight years ago working a full-time job as a teacher and slogging through graduate school. Back then, all I wanted to do was be working for myself. And here I am now, actually doing it. It’s easy to forget as the change has been gradual but I’ve come a long way and this is worth remembering.
- One day you’ll be dead. Live life NOW
If you’re a client of mine, you’ve likely heard me talk about this idea before. This is a principle from the Stoic school of philosophy. The idea here isn’t to be morbid but to remember that life is fragile and your life could end tomorrow. It’s a powerful way of remembering to live life now. Stop putting things off until “one day”. Stop waiting for the perfect moment before you start a business, go travelling or have a baby. As Steve Jobs famously said, remembering that you’re going to die is the best way to get the most out of your life now (or words to that effect).
- Remember what’s really important
Along this same vein, remember what really matters. In our day to day lives, it’s easy to get caught up worrying about money, our jobs and material possessions. These things pale in comparison to what’s really important: our friends, our family, our health, our free time, our beliefs and doing what makes us happy.
All of those things, material things, can be replaced, recreated or simply done without. The intangibles are just that – you0 cannot hold them but they are the real treasures.
- Happiness is a choice
As I mentioned at the start, I feel like happiness is more of a verb than a noun. External factors and people can lead us astray, but we get to decide how to react to these things. I know this is easy to say and much harder to practice in reality. But when you remind yourself that happiness is something only you can control, you begin to take ownership of your own happiness. If you feel frustrated or angry, you’ve done that to yourself. Forget about the person who may have triggered this emotion. It’s your choice to get upset. So instead, choose to be happy.
- Respond to hostility with kindness
On a weekly basis, I come across hostility and negativity. I’ve literally had people sit down for consultations with me and then tell me to pound sand because they don’t want to listen to sound science. While I could respond by pointing out their stupidity, I choose to be really polite and respond with kindness. That doesn’t mean I let this go. I’ll often point it out if someone is being unnecessarily rude but I do it in a very civil way.
The way I see it, responding to aggression with aggression only adds fuel to the fire. By contrast, when you respond with kindness, people often backtrack on their words as they become aware of just how hostile they’re being.
- Everything will be okay
It’s funny how often the things we worry will happen usually never come to fruition. One of the biggest lessons I learned from Tim Ferris’ The 4-Hour Workweek is the benefit of “fear setting”. In the book, Ferris talks about defining the thing you are worrying about and describing what the worst case scenario would look like. Then he gets you to think about how likely this scenario is.
The example he gives is starting a business. The worst case scenario is you quit your job, lose 6 months and some savings. But the reality is you could recover from this very quickly if you need to.
I’ve done similar exercises a number of times in the past when contemplating a big decision or potentially life-altering events. In my experience, even if something does go wrong, it’s almost never as bad as you think (because we naturally think about the worst case scenario in our head). Everything is usually okay.
- Be present and don’t use your phone to fill idle time
In our fast-paced world, very rarely do we get time to be present. Every minute of idle time is spent playing on our phones. This means we never get a chance to just sit and be alone with our thoughts, to explore ideas and let our minds wander. It also means we get addicted to the stimulation.
So whenever I’m standing in line at the supermarket, sitting in a waiting room or simply on the toilet, I try not to reach for my phone to fill this idle time.
- People aren’t really looking at you
If you think about it, it’s crazy how often we make decisions about what to wear, what to buy, what to say or how to act based on what other people will think about it. We continually worry about what other people might think.
But think about it some more and you’ll realize that all the time you worry about other people, these people are equally concerned about the opinions of others and aren’t really looking at you at all. So whatever it is you’re worried about, get on with it. The chances are the people you’re worried about are too distracted to notice.
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