I’ve been blogging about improvisation for a long time now.
This blog is not about improvisation.
I have anxiety and depression. I don’t experience depression all the time, but the more I understand anxiety, the more I understand that I’ve had it for pretty much all of my life.
I’ve read a lot about anxiety and depression (articles and books), I’ve been in therapy and I’ve been close to people who have contemplated taking their own lives.
I now have a system to help me enjoy life. It’s not foolproof and it’s pretty personal. I shared a picture of it on Instagram and I got a lot of messages and questions about it, so here’s the system and the explanation. Take or leave it. It’s a collection of the evidenced self-help I’ve found and successfully tested for me personally.
Don’t Do All of This at Once:
Because of my anxiety, I want to fix stuff immediately, do all my homework at once and tick all of the boxes. If I don’t, I get bored really quickly (ADHD?) but I learned from wellbeing that you can’t do it all at once. You can’t put all of the habits successfully into practice right now and be successful for more than a short period. This isn’t a crash diet, it’s a life choice. Put one in per week, or one until it’s stuck and then add another. Take or leave them according to what works for you. When you fall off the wagon and ditch all of these things, forgive yourself and just start again.
For me there are some things I like to do secretly. When I started jogging a few years ago, I didn’t tell anyone about it – not even my husband – until I could run continually for 30 minutes. My husband twigged of course when I kept leaving the house early in my gym clothes and coming back muddy. My accountability for that was to put an event in my diary and/or tick a box on a postcard when I’d done it.
Nowadays I’m happier to be held accountable by friends. There are various apps and systems I mention below where I have a buddy and we check in with one another. Today, for example, I checked in with my friend Eva because we are both trying to write 1000 words a day this week.
Routine is great for mental stability. It’s in all the Amazing Habits for Geniuses type books. I’m self-employed and my routine is very weird and up in the air. I can be travelling or coaching early in the morning and teaching public classes or doing shows late into the night.
As you can see from the image, I have a piece of card with a list of categories on. Each morning, I move the card along my pad and write out boxes which I tick off throughout the day. On the right-hand side, I have a hand-drawn version of my diary for the week. It only has bullet-pointed events for the days and no times listed. It means that I have an idea of the days ahead without having to look at my phone or computer (where my actual diary is kept). There’s very little space on there - only two to three things fit – so it’s very easy to see when I’ve taken too much on, or when I have neglected to take a day off.
Here we go, then. A little bit about what each of the boxes mean.
When you wake up, drink a glass of water. I learned this from the Fabulous app. It sounds so simple, but it’s amazing how long it took me to get this into my routine. I like it, it wakes me up. You can do hot water and lemon, but hot or cold is good and it starts to wake your body up.
Having something other than your computer or phone for the first few items in this list is also great for your brain.
I’ve been using Headspace for years. I tried it off and on for a long time. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve started paying for it and only in the last year that I’ve actually been able to stick to a daily practice. At first, I found that I wasn’t doing it for the sake of meditation, I would get out of bed at night to do it if I’d forgotten, just to get the tick for having meditated that day. Now I do it because I want to meditate, not because I’m married to the every-day streak. Sure, I’ll be annoyed if I break 125 days in a row, but that isn’t at the heart of why I’m doing it now. I’m feeling the benefits for real. Also, I’m still shit at meditating. My mind is all over the place for most of each meditation, but it’s worth it for those rare few breaths when I’m not rolodexing thoughts about everything else.
I don’t really know why this is on my list. I always shower daily. I guess it’s because it fits in with a morning routine and it’s satisfying to tick it off. Historically, I suppose, there are days when - even though I do shower - it can feel like a chore, so it’s important to keep showing up in this simple way.
Tea and (healthy) breakfast:
It doesn’t take any real effort for me to eat a healthy breakfast. I love brek. I love eggs, I love porridge, I love bircher. If I’m busy or getting up very early, I’ll make bircher the night before so I don’t end up getting a pastry breakfast on the way somewhere. That’s the change, making sure there’s a backup plan if busyness is going to get in the way. Tea is a ritual I love. I really do savour my tea. I make loose leaf tea in a pot and it tastes really good. I have a handmade cup from my friend Audra at Imaginary Attic Ceramics and it feels good in my hand. If I’m travelling in the morning, I’ll make a thermos full of beautiful sencha, oolong or popcorn tea.
This is a my purposely loose term. I learned to jog on a regular basis via Couch to 5K, then graduated to Zombies, Run! which is a ridiculously fun immersive storytelling running game. Then I switched it out for long walks training for a three-month trek that ruined my right knee enough that walking was painful for months. I still hope to get back there but physio is incredibly boring. When will they gamify it?!
I have, however got on the Yoga with Adriene bandwagon. She is excellent and very funny. I’ve taken maybe two or three live yoga classes in my life and only enjoyed the last one which was up an Austrian mountain for a holiday commercial. I do Adriene’s 30 Days of Yoga videos, but I certainly can’t do it every day. Instead it will take me a few months to do 30 days of yoga. The thing is – that’s okay! On the days I don’t do that for whatever reason I walk for 20 minutes or more. The other reason this box says ‘move’ is because sometimes – when I’m depressed - just getting out of bed or going to my desk can be difficult. Move, therefore can have a different quality depending on what is happening physically or mentally for me on any given day. I must to be honest with myself, though; if I just got out of bed on a day when I am more than capable of doing yoga, then I don’t get to tick the box. I often give myself a free pass at weekends or on days off. The days when I really try hard to move (exercise) are the ones where I am up at 6am and/or working 12+ hours. It’s perhaps counter-intuitive, but on a day off I like to relax and on a working day I like to be fit to rock.
This (and Big Rocks, coming up) are from Graham Alcott’s book How to be a Productivity Ninja. Inputs just means checking all the places where you get messages. I try really hard not to check all the time, but I’m not disciplined enough to stay off my networks save for two time slots a day. (I have taken Facebook and Twitter off my phone which meant that I completely forgot about Twitter and that I check Facebook rarely.) I respond to quick emails and file others appropriately for a dedicated session. See Graham’s book for the system stuff. I’ll go through my Slack channels, WhatsApp and socials and get all that to zero.
Clean and Tidy:
I read Marie Kondo many years ago and found her method excellent (even if she doesn’t like pyjamas). It wasn’t the decluttering so much that stuck with me (because really, you only do that once) but the mindful attention to folding and storing things. Clean and Tidy therefore is listed to remind me to be present whenever I am cleaning and tidying. It shouldn’t just be a rushed chore between important things, but a moment to relax and savour.
I have this check box twice on my list. At the beginning of my day, I write down the things on my to-do list that I am putting off the most. Perhaps it’s a big job, or perhaps it’s just something I think I won’t enjoy. Instead of having those things hanging over me, I’ll get them done as soon as I can so that I won’t be worrying about them all day. If it’s a really big task, I’ll allow myself to just do 20 minutes of it (which gets me started and probably I’ll go much longer).
I added kindness and most of the following points to my list after doing a Yale course on Coursera entitled The Science of Wellbeing which evidenced things that are proven to increase happiness levels. Kindness is a tough one for me. I’m still discovering things that fit here. It can be offering my expertise for free on something, giving money to a cause, offering my seat on public transport or anything really where I feel like I’ve been kind. Today, for example I had a new desk delivered, so I offered my old one up for free and a lady from my block of flats was grateful to take it.
This is also against-type for me. I can live behind a veil of work very easily. I had to make a deal with most of my close friends that at least sometimes we must just chat about life stuff and not a bunch of cool projects we do or want to do together. This box can be ticked by a non-agenda lunch with a friend, but it can also be ticked by a nice chat with a stranger. I’m someone who naturally goes to self-checkout even if there’s a cashier free, but studies show that that makes us less happy, so now I go and talk to the human when I can. I’ve even had a few chats on the Tube which is unheard of and definitely out of my comfort zone. You’d be surprised though, it’s pretty great.
Tracking (Celebrate and Be Grateful):
This is really the same as Celebrate and Be Grateful which are also tick boxes on my list. Every night I write a short list of things that I am celebrating or grateful for on a square of coloured paper which I put into a mason jar on my desk. They don’t have to be big things. At the end of the year, I’ll maybe dip in and read them. Taking the time to reflect on positives increases our happiness levels.
I took a test online (https://www.viacharacter.org/) which showed me what my signature strengths are. In order to tick this box, I need to do something which comes under one or more of my top seven strengths: Curiosity, Creativity, Perspective (wise counsel to others), Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, Leadership, Love of Learning and Bravery. Examples that fit mine include taking a new class, knitting, reading a book, teaching improv, being in the countryside, performing or writing.
I hope at least some of this is useful for you. Let me know how you get on and do share your own habits that help you enjoy each day.