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  • Writer's pictureHank Jacobs


American life is hard right now. Wherever you stand politically, socially, financially, or romantically, many of us seem to feel that our way of life is under threat, and we’re getting stuck in fight or flight mode– which is hard for the body, mind, and spirit.

Photo by Hank Jacobs

Here’s a few tips or life hacks on how to make things better for yourself (and your loved ones in turn, because the way you feel really affects them, like it or not). They can help you free up the bandwidth to simply enjoy your day a little bit more.

Of course we all need to pay attention to the big picture, identify important life goals and work diligently to achieve them. There are countless articles, programs, and systems out there that purport to teach you how to achieve more and do better– and many of them are genuinely helpful, if you commit to following them.

These technologies are not about achievement. They are about presence.

An unintended side effect of this culture of achievement may be to fill us with fear or self-recrimination if we’re “not trying hard enough.” Or trying and failing. And we all fail at times.

As an antidote to all of this stress, I offer you these practical tips and technologies that are simple to learn and use. In fact, it’s a good start to simply read and think about them.

1- Take care of yourself: Move your body. Pay more attention to what you eat.

You don’t have to be a marathon runner, cross-fit Adonis, or extreme sport champion to be healthier than you are right now.

A good start: stand up and lightly stretch. Find the ways your body likes to move right now, and do that. Roll your head around. Relax your jaw. Circle your wrists. Enjoy the subtle energies moving through you: flex your fingers and toes. Don’t worry if you’re doing it right or wrong. If it hurts, do something else.

Take a short walk through the office or around the block. Notice the place where you live and work. What is hung on the walls? What does it smell like? Feel the way your body changes the air around you, enjoy the space you take up. The point of this exercise is to do some conscious movement. The more you get comfortable with moving around, the more you’ll be in your own body. And that’s a good thing.

Pay more attention to what you eat. For many of us, eating better is difficult, and I’m not going to get on your case about becoming vegan. I’m merely suggesting that you raise your awareness of what you put into your body. Notice the effect that different foods have on your moods and the way your body feels. Ask yourself questions: do I really need another burger right now? Or could I have chicken, or fish? Or even no meat at all? Just for this meal. What does my body really need in this moment to feel satisfied? Do these wings give me heartburn? Does that cheese give me gas? Do I need that soda? Add more awareness to whatever you eat, and the way it affects you will change.

2- Be okay with where you are, right now. Don’t look at your phone so often. Look in the mirror less.

Information is everywhere now- some of it is true, some of it is not, but most of it is stuff you don’t need RIGHT NOW. Give yourself conscious breaks. Put the phone in your desk drawer or even {gasp!} turn it off at night. Get a cheap alarm clock for your bedroom so you can rest the phone at night. It will work better, and you will sleep better.

Your phone is like a fun house mirror onto the world. Sure, there are great things about it (how else might you be reading this wonderful article full of useful positive tips?). I love keeping in touch with friends and acquaintances from throughout my life, I know so many wonderful people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and stripes. But I don’t need to know what they’re all thinking or doing all the time! The smart phone is the most sophisticated and efficient tool for spreading fear the world has ever known, and we just don’t need that steady diet of fear. All that stress is bad for the body, mind, and spirit. Be triggered less, fear less, be in the present moment more, interact with the people around you.

Spend less time looking in the mirror, trying to somehow understand who you are to the outside world. A more important question is: How do I look from the inside? If you can make that better, you’ll look better to others. So, check yourself out in the morning, before that big meeting or interview, sure. Make sure there’s no gunk in your teeth, you don’t have any weird stuff on your face, your clothes are on point. Then get on with your life. Try not to dwell. Do the work to feel good, and you’ll look good.

A last thing: The selfie camera is the most insidious mirror of all. It distorts ever so slightly, giving us a warped view of who we are. Less selfies, more self-love.

3- Be present with the people you’re with. 

Look people in the eye. Listen to what they’re saying, let them finish sentences.They might be offering you opportunities. Listen to your own feelings about them, and trust those feelings. As a consequence of looking at our phones less, we notice the people we’re with more. Maybe this one brands me as the Gen X-er that I am, but I really believe in the value of person to person contact. Many of the best moments in life come from presence with people we love.

You don’t have to change your life overnight– but you have to start somewhere. I suggest being present with the people you are with, noticing what they do, and listen to the messages they are sending. There is a great deal of advantage in doing so. If you’re not in the habit, simply remind yourself to really listen in the next conversation you get into. See how it changes the way you are perceived.

4- Practice patience.

The cars in front of you would move faster if they could. The elderly woman on the subway stairs would love to have your young hips and be able to skip down the stairs again. When you find yourself getting furious with impatience, take a deep breath, hold it, then let it out slowly. Realize that wherever you are going, it’s probably not life or death, and it won’t make a huge difference if you get there 5 minutes later, give or take. Greater patience helps you notice things more, and much of life’s magic comes in noticing things that the others miss.

Be patient with yourself. Your time will come. Trust that your life is unfolding at exactly the right speed for you. Take a moment and breathe that thought in: You are exactly on time. So relax. In this moment, you’re good. If you’re not, do something to make it better, even if it’s just a deep breath.

5- Complain less.

This one took me a long time to figure out. I’ve had my fair share of burden in this life: divorce, foreclosure, poverty, pain, sickness, failure, the death of loved ones, the squandering of good fortune, ego crushing bad luck, problems and challenges with my kids, betrayal by those I thought I could trust. These things happen. They are called life experience. And there’s always so much to complain about, and dang it if it doesn’t just feel so good! In the past, I have just let it out, to let the world know how misfortunate I am!

But then one day a wise friend challenged me to go a week without complaining. That was some hard freaking work! I hadn’t realized how much of my time and conversation was taken up with complaining. Then I considered how annoying that must be to others who were taking the time to listen to me. Without all the complaints, I began to notice the magic and synchronicity that were always present, but I was just so caught up in my own story that I couldn’t really see them, much less take advantage of them to make my life better. Give it a try. You might just like the relief it brings.

6- Notice your story. If it’s not helpful, tell yourself a better one.

Your every day, from the moment you wake, to the moment you sleep, is heavily influenced by the story you hold about who you are and what you are capable of.

There are a great many factors that influence and put boundaries around this story: where you live, how much your daily life is built around financial and physical survival, the opportunities you’ve had, your family situation, your physical health, race and social status, the weather, do you deal with chronic pain or lived trauma, and many more.

Given these factors, I now want to invite you let all of that go, for just a moment. I invite you to, in your mind’s eye, stand naked before your God, your great Spirit, your Higher Power, your eternal rational humanist Everything, whatever it is to you, and just breathe. Let in the awareness that there is more to you than your story. You are a spirit being with incredible possibilities, connected to the beginning and end of all things. This is a huge idea, and you don’t have to fully understand it. Just know it.

I’d like to take you through a short exercise, if you’ll indulge me. All you have to do is breathe in before each paragraph. Read. Breathe out after.

<Inhale> Identify what you have going for you in this moment. Do you feel healthy today? Maybe your hair is on point. You love your shoes. You make a mean omelet. You are a great lover. You write beautiful code. Whatever it is, in your story, you are great at it. Recognize those things, then let them go. <Exhale>

<Inhale> Identify areas of weakness. All the things that have gone wrong, all the ways that other have it better than you. Are those leading your story? Recognize them, then let them go. Make your opinion of yourself a blank slate. <Exhale>

<Inhale> Now, tell yourself a story about being your best self, your most loving, positive, powerful, and free version of you. It doesn’t have to conform with what you think the world thinks of you, this is for you. Now live into it, with the awareness that the story you repeat every day is your life, the basis of all your decisions. Are you cool with that? If you’re not, consider changing it. You have the power. <Exhale>

Let me be clear: this is not a simple step. Breaking down the habits and negative stories built over a lifetime is not easy. But: Think about it. Know that you can.That’s simple as can be, and you can’t do it wrong.

7- Be kind to yourself. Forgive.

There is so much in life that can make one angry. It’s easy to fall into rage, vengeance, and despair. And there’s certainly no shortage of messaging to get you to really live into that mindset. But it’s unhealthy and exhausting to be furious all the time.

So give yourself a break. Be nice to yourself. Forgive yourself. You’re trying your best. And if you haven’t, you will. Regardless of the story you carry about what you’ve done, just let it go for this moment. What’s important is right now. Be here. Fill your world with love, just for this moment. If you can carry it forward, please do. Make the world a better place.

You don’t always need to be so hard on yourself. Be easy. Be kind to you.

Now see if you can extend that forgiveness out to those who have wronged you, those you hate, those you fear. You don’t do it for them, though they may appreciate it on some level. You do it for you. Anger is a heavy load to carry. Put it down for a moment. Because you need a break. Right now. Get off the worry wheel for a moment, and just breathe.

8- Breathe. Look around you. Be present.

This step is what the whole thing is about. Be. Here. Now. Don’t panic. Fill the world with all the love you can muster. Notice and appreciate what you have, don’t worry about what you don’t, not right now. There will be time for that later.

So, one more deep breath. Hold it. Let it out slowly. Yes.

I wish you a really great moment, right now.

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations, and thank you. This is offered to you with love, from one human/spirit/being to another. Maybe you can share this with your friends and networks, if you think it might be helpful to them. And give it a bookmark so you can refer back when you need a few simple reminders.

Hank Jacobs is a writer, actor, father, and martial artist based in Los Angeles. He has made and lost a few small fortunes, been kicked in the butt by life and love, and lived to tell the tale.

Photo and content ©Ramblin' Tank Inc. 2018
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