A friend of mine and I had a glass of wine together this past weekend and he remarked that, in the past ten years since he’d met me, I seemed different. “Changed,” was actually what he said. He saw that I was actively pursuing a writing career, had lost considerable weight, still remained deliriously happy in my married life (he’d gone through a divorce). I couldn’t disagree with him because there’s been a lot of change in my life. Breathtaking amounts of it, at times, to be honest. But they key difference, he pointed out, was that I seemed happier than ever before, and he wanted in on the secret. I tried to convince him there wasn’t really one other than that I chose to be happy, but he pressed the issue.
“Most change is completely overwhelming to me,” he confessed. “I don’t know where to start.” Trust me, I know how that feels, and I told him as much, having been through it more times than I care to admit. So after we had a glass or two, I told him that the key for me was to change how I approached the things I wanted done differently in my life, especially writing. I told him that I thought most people take on too much. I’ve written about it before and I’ve been guilty of this as much or more so than anyone else. I tried to change huge amounts of things, but tried to disguise them as one single thing like “I need to lose weight.” It didn’t work for me because when the task was big like this, it was just too hard to figure out where to begin. I had no idea where to start.
So how did I figure all this stuff out? How did I start changing my life, actively pursuing a writing career, and generally being a happier person? Don’t laugh.
I started by not buying chips.
Yep, you read that right. I stopped buying chips like Doritos. I needed to lose about 100 lbs but the weight loss itself wasn’t the issue. It was much larger than that. I needed to learn about food. I needed to learn about nutrition. I needed to learn about exercise. I needed to learn about me and how I treated these things. That’s a helluva lot to learn. So, I started small. I stopped buying chips. Chips are my kryptonite when it comes to snack at weird times and when I’m not hungry. Chips were what I went to when I was feeling emotionally exhausted. Chips were what I eat when everything in the world seemed totally not right.
So I started by not buying them. That led to me learning about other snack foods. That led to me learning about body chemistry and its influence on the emotions, which led to a brief forray into addictions and chemical processing during them. I could keep going on here about how one little change made so much difference.
But the net result is, today I weigh 100 lbs less than I did 10 years ago and I’m healthier than was even 20 years ago. I’m happy the vast majority of the time, because I choose to be, and I’m at peace with where my published fiction writing career is (the one where I write novels, not my dayjob where I also write).
So how could he start? How could you start? Here are a few suggestions that worked for me.
Pick a Small Habit for Eating Better
Trying picking a small, easily accomplished eating habit. For me this was drastically reducing the number of chips I consumed in any given week. I stopped buying chips. I bought carrots instead. Any time I wanted chips, I ate carrots. For you it might be getting rid of soda and pop in your life and drinking water instead. Whatever it is, make it small and make sure it makes you happy, then STICK TO IT. That one change can affect everything you do. For me, it left me feeling lighter, less chubby. And it led to me learning to cook tastier real food instead of buying packaged everything. It also led to exercise.
Pick Some Fun Way to Exercise
Most people think of exercise as this horrific thing they have to endure. What you really need to do is pick something that can be fun or turned into a game. For me, I picked tai chi at a local martial arts school near my house. It was slow, soothing, barely seemed like exercise, and was something that even old people did. I’m a little smarter now and realize that it’s a true martial art. But the important point here is that if it hadn’t seemed fun to me, I wouldn’t have kept with it. Now maybe this is a little more complicated. Maybe what you need is a better partner to do your exercise with or a better team to play on. For a girlfriend of mine who plays hockey, the key for her was finding the right crowd of guys that needed a goalie. Sure, she ends up playing at bizarre hours of the morning before she cruises off to her high-powered executive day job, but the important point is that she’s having loads of fun doing it. If you’re not having fun with your exercise, what can you change to make it fun? Find a new coach? Find a new exercise buddy? Find an new exercise entirely? Try a few things and see what works best.
Pick Ways to Simplify Your Life
A big part of my life’s simplification process was just getting rid of the clutter in my life. I’ve already talked about how I think starting with your desk clutter is a great idea if you’re a writer. What else can you do? Try an area of your house. Pick a “hot spot” that seems to gather clutter, like the kitchen table or an area of the counter and clean it off. Or, start even smaller and do as The Fly Lady suggests: clean your kitchen sink and then shine it. The next time spend 15 minutes, just a small amount of time, to declutter another space.
Simplifying your life isn’t just about getting rid of things that take up space. It’s about getting rid of things that take up time too. What do you have in your time schedule that’s taking up time you could better spend on writing? Checking facebook just because? Deleting email notifications from stores you rarely shop at? Get rid of those. Unsubscribe from the email. Turn off your browser. Stop driving to that one store because you only get one thing there. Wait to go until you need several things or get it at another store you already go to more regularly. Find one thing in your schedule each day you can get rid of so that you can make room for the things that are truly important (you’re here because you’re a writer, most likely). I’m willing to bet you see that your focus and your outlook improves drastically because you have more time to do the things you really care about (it’s writing, right?).
Pick a Way to Add Mindfulness Into Your Life
I hesitate to propose anything to people that smacks of religion because I think that’s a very personal choice you have to make yourself. I’m also probably one of the least religious and most spiritual people in the world. When I tell people I practice meditation, though, they get confused, thinking that it’s a religious practice. It’s not. It’s how I’ve opted to add mindfulness into my life. It’s just a way of calming, stilling, and thus controlling my mind so that I go about my day free of other distractions and be more mindful about the things that really matter. For some people, meditation is what they need. For others, prayer. I know of one buddy of mine who simply practices bowing (like you would to a master martial artist). That’s it. Just bowing, over and over. The point is that he’s practicing being mindful while he does it. All he does is practice the bow. He doesn’t listen to music or television or think about what he’s going to be working on for the day. All he does is focus on bowing. Think about what you do in your life that you can focus on to the exclusion of everything else (hint: if you’re reading this, you’re probably a writer of some kind). Can you do that thing you choose and be mindful at it, to the exclusion of all else, even for just 5 minutes? Start small. Mindfulness starts to change habits. The best habits start small.
I’ll repeat that last sentence here a moment because of how important it is: The best habits start small. What one thing, one small thing, will start the process for you? For me? I stopped buying potato chips.
PS: I still eat chips. But now I know how to do it in moderation. And I choose the best chips in Michigan when I don’t make them myself.