Clients often ask me how to feel less stress, how to find out WHAT their “purpose” is, or what would bring more joy, balance, and meaning into their lives. How to even make time for all this stuff, in the midst of the practicalities of everyday living – juggling work, family, obligations, and hopefully some semblance of a social life.
I’m a fan of giving small steps that make a big impact. The key to making a big impact is to STICK WITH these small steps. And the key to sticking with them is to take them one or two at a time, and to choose the ones that you already most likely WANT to adopt.
Below is a list with 11 options – simple ways to bring more balance and calm and meaning and joy into your life. This is NOT a to-do list. It’s best if you choose just one or two of these suggestions – the ones that seem the easiest and/or most enjoyable to you – and implement those one or two changes consistently each day. Forget the rest. Give it a month to six weeks before you even consider revisiting the list for additional changes. Sound good? Sound do-able? Yes? Ok, here we go!
11 Small Steps for MASSIVE Changes: Living the Life You Want
1. Clear your chakras once a day, using visualization and breath, or sound. (See these links for guidance!) Your chakras are the primary energy centers in your body. Just like your smartphone gets clogged with too many apps running in the background, and loses battery power the more you use it throughout the day, so, too, do your energy centers get bogged down and lose power. Some get overcharged. They get all out of sync with each other, and you feel out of sorts. Clearing and re-aligning your chakras is EASY, you just need to set aside a little bit of time each day to do it. You take the trash out of your house and re-charge your phone each day, do the same for your body/mind/spirit!
2. Sing a love song to yourself. Find your favorite love song, or wait until a good one comes on the radio. One that makes you feel good all over. One that you really want to belt out. And then sing it to you. I realize this sounds incredibly cheesy. It IS cheesy. But it also feels pretty awesome when you do it – full force, no holds barred. You are a rock star in front of a wildly cheering crowd of thousands of YOU. Let that rock star ego out, soak up the love of your adoring fans, and sing your heart out.
3. Choose an element that feels grounding for you – earth, fire, or water – and spend at least 15 minutes in mindful connection with it each day. Light a candle or build a small fire, mindfully striking the match, feeling the warmth, watching the flame dance. Go outside and sit, feeling the earth underneath you – the blades of grass or the stones or the dirt. Or draw a bath and soak in it, feeling the water envelop and support you, noticing the way the water ripples out with the slightest movement. You can choose the same element each day, or mix it up. The important thing is to be mindful and present with this element. To allow it to ground you, pulling your energy back to yourself, coming back home to you, in a space of nurturing support. This practice is both relaxing and energizing, and it’s a favorite of mine!
4. Breathe deeply, fully inhaling into your belly and exhaling all the air out, 10 times in a row. Or 11, since that’s my favorite number. Deep breathing is absolutely the easiest and most effective way to release tension, center yourself, and come back to the YOU you really are. Focused, intentional, deep breathing is cleansing, relaxing, and rejuvenating. And can be done anytime, anywhere.
5. Make a list of everything you feel like you “should” do tomorrow. Delete at least one (and 3 if you’re feeling really ready for big changes!). We try to do entirely TOO much each day, and we still manage to feel bad about not doing ENOUGH. It’s time to give yourself permission to do less and be ok with it. And for most people, that takes some practice. So start dropping one thing per day. See step #9 if you start to feel bad about letting one “should” go.
6. Take that list of “shoulds” and choose one task during which you will practice mindfulness. When you do that task, breathe deeply and slowly, and be very aware of what you are doing in each moment. What are your hands doing? What smells do you notice? What sensations? Where are your feet? How do they feel? Anytime you notice a thought that is not directly about what you are experiencing IN THAT MOMENT, related to the task at hand, breathe it away and direct your mind to observing (not analyzing!) what your body is doing or how your environment interacts with your 5 senses.
7. Put on music that gets you moving, close your eyes, and DANCE for 5 minutes. With beautiful abandon, guided by the song. Close the curtains if you feel self-conscious. Do what you need to make yourself feel safe to let loose, to move however your body feels guided to. Not only is dancing grounding, bringing you more in touch with yourself, it’s also FUN and uplifting. It moves energy through your body, releasing energetic blocks. It allows your right brain to have a louder voice, giving your logical left brain a break for a chance. Artistic expression, grounding, joy, and connection to the flow of life – the flow your most authentic self craves and feels at home in – all available in the simple act of dancing.
8. Heart-centered journaling: choose a notebook explicitly for this purpose. Light a candle or put on relaxing, instrumental, or theta-wave music (this sends your psyche the message it is time, and it is safe and ok, to let your heart do the talking), and write a question you want guidance on at the top of the page. If you don’t have a specific question, write “What message do I need at this time?” or “What does my heart/inner wisdom want me to know?” Then take at least 3 deep, cleansing breaths and once you sense a word (just one! not even a full sentence!), begin writing. Allow the words to come out without thought or analysis. Just journal until it feels time to stop and then go back and read what you wrote.
9. Pick one time throughout the day during which you are feeling agitated and pay attention to the thought or thoughts that are triggering that feeling. A thought that comes from your head, and is about YOU – a judgment or criticism or scolding of yourself. “I am not doing enough.” “I am stupid/silly/lazy/unprepared/bad/wrong.” This voice or thought isn’t loud. It comes through initially as blame or anger towards something external… I’m stressed because I have too much to do, I’m upset because I’m late and there’s traffic, I’m mad because my husband didn’t do the dishes like he said he would and now the kitchen is a mess and I don’t have a clean bowl to use. That’s the loud thought, that’s what you think you are upset about. But what is underneath that? So what if you are late to work? Why does that make you so upset or stressed? It’s because there is an underlying judgment or criticism of YOU… if you are late, you are irresponsible, you are inconsiderate of others’ time, etc. Find the thought that is making you feel bad about yourself. Sometimes you have to follow this waaaay down the rabbit hole. Because you could say to yourself, “No, I’m stressed about being late because then my boss gets mad and my job is at risk. If I lose my job, I can’t support myself/my family. That’s a lot of stress and pressure. So that’s why I’m upset about being late.” Well, yes, those are more layers… but dig deeper… because while that is a stressful POSSIBLE FUTURE SITUATION, it’s not your present reality. Here, in the present, you are having a big emotional response to a potential future threat. You have not lost your job. You are just running late for work. The threat of losing your job, and the underlying thoughts/judgments that triggers, is what is causing such a big emotional response. If you lost your job and couldn’t support your family, then what? What does the mean, nagging voice say about YOU? “You suck. You aren’t good enough. You failed. You let people down.” That’s where this emotional reaction is coming from. You are NOT at risk of starvation because you might lost your job. There is not a true physical threat to your survival. I guarantee that if you are fortunate enough to be reading this post, you are not at risk of starvation in the foreseeable future. So, find that thought that is beating you up inside, and tell it to shut up. Or just replace it with a louder, better, brighter thought. “I am loved. I am enough. I am kind and caring and responsible and awesome.” Even if you don’t fully feel or believe that in the moment, find a better thought to re-wire your brain. Because until it gets re-wired, that negative thought is playing on a constant loop, triggered daily by the slightest stressors, and sending you spiraling into an exaggerated emotional or stress response, draining energy and vitality from your day. As you notice, catch, and re-write these negative loops, replacing them with positive ones, over time you will be MUCH less triggered by the stressful situations. It’s not the situations themselves that go away, but the impact and pull they have on you can and will disappear!
10. Slow down. Slow down. Slow down some more. We live in a society where everything feels urgent. Where things are rushed, hurried, pushed along. This urgency and constant rushing gets ingrained in us. Don’t believe me? Spend time with a child under the age of 3. They are completely on their OWN time. They don’t yet have a sense of what is “expected,” of the “places to be” and “things to do” and the bedtime and the mealtime and the time to get up. They just exist in a flow of their needs and wants. I need to eat now. I want to look at my fingers now. I need to poop. I want to pick this furry thing up and put it in my mouth and see what that feels like. And as an adult, it’s realllllllly hard to slow down enough to let them just be. We have that sense of urgency pushing us to do more, get to the next item on the to-do list, have more fun, and post it on Facebook! NOW NOW NOW! Slowing down is a gift you give yourself. You can’t really know yourself and what you want, and what balance even feels like, until you slow down enough to recognize it. So when you catch yourself rushing – stop. Take 3 deep breaths and tell yourself, “It’s ok. I have time.” This allows you a moment to center yourself, to bring your full self into what you are doing. It’s simple, and yet it’s revolutionary. It’s my favorite go-to centering tool.
11. Show yourself love and gratitude. Even if it’s just for 15 seconds a day. I’m not talking about keeping a gratitude journal here (although that’s great if that’s something you want to do!). This is a much smaller step. But equally as powerful. Place your hands over your heart, or bow your head, or do whatever feels respectful and reverent to you, and just send love and gratitude to yourself. Feel this love and gratitude and let the feeling wash over you. Or think of a specific quality or moment where you felt the most authentically you, and let yourself love that and be thankful for it. Or just say the words “I love you and I am thankful for you.” Even if it feels awkward or forced, allow yourself to sit with that. Love the awkwardness. Smile.
So there you have it, 11 options to choose from! Each will have a much bigger impact than it might seem. Choose one or two, but no more until you have consistently incorporated the first one or two into each day for at least a month. This is a chance to connect more deeply with yourself, to get in touch with what is truly most wanted and to move more fully and confidently in that direction. These small steps will help you nurture yourself and get to know yourself better – they will invite the answers in and the support needed to hear your inner wisdom, to trust it, and to act on it.