During my 14-year legal career, my most financially successful years were the most disastrous to my physical and emotional health. I was constantly stressed out and under a lot of pressure. I had no social life. I was sleeping less and drinking more than usual. (“But it’s with clients!” was my typical justification). Most days, I felt exhausted, overwhelmed, or anxious. On those especially crappy days (of which there were MANY), I felt all three at once. That crazy emotional cocktail left me looking like Angelina Jolie’s character in Girl, Interrupted. (If you haven’t seen the movie, Google it). It was not a good look for me.
In the years since, I’ve come to appreciate myriad other ways to measure success outside of my bank account balance. Now, when I feel that familiar Girl, Interrupted syndrome creeping up, I assess how I’m feeling in a holistic way to keep myself in check. Here are some important factors to consider when you need a good old reality check:
- How Unhurried You Feel
Are you constantly rushing from one “to-do” to the next—dropping off dry cleaning, grocery shopping, speeding to your Cross Fit class, eating lunch in your car—with one day blurring into the next? Do you typically “catch up” with friends and family via text messages and social media updates instead of actual conversations?
Some days, I still feel like I’m in a bit of continuous sprint to get things done. But I’m more aware of it now. So, when I realize that I’m driving around town like the Energizer bunny, or I’m “connecting” with friends solely through text messages and Instagram likes, or I decline lunch/drinks/dinner/shopping(!) because “I’m just too busy,” I stop and think, Hey, it’s OK. There’s no emergency. Chill. Out. Slow. Down. You’d be surprised how much that small, jolt-like reminder, and a few deep inhales and exhales, help you relax and jump off the proverbial hamster wheel.
The next time you find yourself moving through the day at warp speed, slow down and remind yourself to enjoy some of life’s simple pleasures: watching the sunrise/sunset, chatting with your neighbor, grabbing coffee and a walk on the beach with your friend, or binge-watching House of Cards, Luther, and/or Billions. (All epic shows, by the way. I’m just saying . . .).
- Having Hobbies
it’s so important to carve out time for activities that recharge your batteries and bring you true joy. (Scrolling through your social media feed does NOT count here). I love working out, volunteering with animal shelters, reading travel blogs, doing yoga, and spending time with my fur babies. If you don’t have any hobbies right now and can’t even remember what activities you enjoy (yikes), think about what brought you joy as a kid. Tennis? Riding your bike? Painting? Building stuff? Believe it or not, your passions may evolve and grow, but they never actually leave you.
- How Your Body Feels
How you feel physically is a great barometer of what’s going on with you emotionally. Pay attention to your body for a few minutes. Are you in any pain/discomfort? Are you always tired? Are your shoulders tense and permanently hunched up around your ears? Does your entire body just feel heavy? Are you making time for self-care (e.g., sleeping enough, meditating, scheduling and keeping doctor’s appointments, getting massages, bonding with your pet)?
- How Yourself You Are
True fulfillment comes when we are most fully ourselves. If, just for a day, you didn’t hold back an ounce of yourself and were truly you, what would you be doing differently? Would you be more outspoken? Would you be goofy and silly with your partner? Would you be pursuing an entirely different career? Would you stop spending so much time doing things that don’t make you happy?
Remember, the only reward for conformity is that everyone likes you but yourself.
- Anticipation of a Bright Future
Happy people believe the future will be even better than the present. Do you have a compelling vision for your life this year? And what about next year? Does what’s around the corner feel exciting, fun, and energizing?
Have you ever noticed that when you are in a light, chill, happy mood, great creative ideas come to you? Or you start to see a tricky challenge in a new light? When we lose a stress mentality, we start to see how easy it might be to handle that critical colleague or pick up that abandoned blog. We open up. We lose our mental blocks. We are in a receptive mode. When we decide to feel good, to see good, to allow good, more ease flows to us. As we lose the hustle mentality in approaching the day-to-day, the hustle factor itself starts to dissipate.
As Tony Robbins says, “A compelling future is the food on which our souls thrive. We all need a continuing sense of emotional and spiritual growth.” Amen to that!
- How Much Fun You Are Having!
Fun is not something we hear celebrated a lot. Or if we do, it’s not really that much “fun“ at all. It’s the “fun“ team-building activities we do at a work event or the “fun” we have at a holiday party with people we don’t really know. It’s obligatory fun or an illusion of fun.
Is it really so difficult just to have a good time?
As research professor Brene Brown, Ph.D., writes in her best-selling book The Gifts of Imperfection, “A critically important component of wholehearted living is play… Play is as essential to our health and functioning as rest (but) spending time doing purposeless activities is rare. In fact, for many of us it sounds like an anxiety attack waiting to happen.”
Sure, we are all here to contribute, to infuse meaning and purpose into our lives. Hey, I’m a life coach and I teach my clients all about decision making, goal setting, gratitude journaling, visualizing, and taking action. But you know what? None if it matters unless you’re enjoying your life.
Our obligations—professional meetings, workout classes, social dates, morning meditations (the list goes on)—do not have to feel so heavy and burdensome. But they do a lot of the time. Our rigid calendars and planning don’t always leave room for much spontaneity. Nor does our culture, which rewards productivity above all else.
I get that you are busy. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t be productive or miss your deadlines for the sake of fun. But trying some of these random, fun ideas takes very little of your time and/or money. And you never know, they might just totally change your day or even your month.
- Try a new workout. Ditch the Tuesday night indoor cycling class that you attend religiously to sample a kickboxing or Zumba class. Want to kick it up a notch? Try a pole dancing or Krav Maga class. And prepare to be sore the next day.
- Phone a friend. Call a positive pal to relive a funny memory. A 10-minute call with a good friend is like taking a vitamin for the soul. Do it while cruising Whole Foods or waiting for your prescription at Walgreens. Easy!
- Get a little weird. When I was a second and third year lawyer, several of my colleagues and I spent many, many nights burning the midnight oil in our adjoining offices. One night as I sat in my office squeezing one of my stress balls, I decided to start a new ritual: after the partners left each evening, we emerged from our dungeons (aka offices) and played office softball in the hallway. We pitched a stress ball to the “batter” who used a rolled-up brief as a bat. We knocked things over, ran through the hallways, and just had a blast! I still always break out into a smile thinking about it.
- Take a walk. Just get up. Start walking. Walk without a destination. End up somewhere new. (You’ll find your way home, I promise). Be alert and open, and you might find something awesome you’ve never noticed before.
- Just dance. Dance in your own living room. Put on your favorite Spotify or Pandora playlist (Flo Rida Radio, anyone??) and just shimmy around. Busting a move has been shown to give you a huge boost in mood and even help relieve anxiety and depression.
- Do something creative without a goal in mind. Paint something. Sing loudly as you make your coffee. Flip open a cookbook and cook whatever appears on the page you land on. Grab some magazines and make a vision board with whatever images, quotes, and taglines speak to you.
- FaceTime a friend. While wearing a face mask. Pretend you are oblivious to the mask.
- Book tickets for something. A weekend getaway with your best friend. A Broadway show. A concert. A dinner cruise. The anticipation is as fun as the event itself.
- Go “shopping.” Go into a store you have never shopped in, and try something on that you would never usually wear.
- See how many grapes can fit in your mouth without swallowing them or spitting them out. Or jumbo marshmallows (as a kid, I stuffed 30 of these into my ginormous cheeks). Make a $5 bet with someone over it.
- Walk into a movie theater without a plan. Purchase a ticket to whatever is playing next.
- Wear something you’ve never worn—like a bow tie or cocktail dress—even just to pick up your dry cleaning.
Really, what do you have to lose? And if you need more convincing, think about how often you laugh. According to Psychology Today, the average 4-year-old laughs 300 times a day. The average adult? Only 4 times a day.