Like many young ambitious women in the wake of Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” movement, I often have to make choices between two options that are both necessary: “sleep or work out?” “meditate or call my mom?” Beginning my career as a litigator at a large law firm in Los Angeles, I’ve been forced to make these choices all too often, eventually transforming into a thought-cycle of not being balanced enough, which inevitably transforms into being hopelessly imbalanced. Layer on psychosomatic GI issues, migraines, and an unexpected back injury, I turned to a wellness “industry” filled with preachers on becoming perfectly “balanced.” The vicious cycle’s dark magic would never cease unless I took action.
Acupuncture, water-filled vials “charged” with energy, reiki, long walks, yoga, meditation, and eliminating sugar occupied the little free space in my brain. Amazon’s app admittedly still lives on my iPhone’s home page and my recommendations based on past purchases feature a variety of non-FDA approved supplements, essential oils, and cushions to “enhance” my meditation practice. Although I undoubtedly am still victim to Amazon’s freakishly on-point recommendations in my most vulnerable states, I’ve accepted that these are all just a front disguising the reality that hides behind a single-click pay system–the real healing improves from within. Not due to supplements. Or essential oils (though I still love them). And definitely not due to meditation cushions.
Although I still have not completely released myself from the cycle of guilt stemming from my “balance” deficit, now, others ask me, “How are you always so chill?”
As many other “type-A” structure-loving personalities, I found that I wanted some kind of method; a recipe. I don’t consider myself a modern sage by any means, but five (Amazon-free) daily practices (mysterious vials not included) have helped me take care of my future self. I feel healthier and (dare I say it) more “balanced” in the present moment, and able to find space in the midst of chaos.
Wake up 15 minutes earlier.
No one likes to wake up early, especially after working until 1 a.m. the night before, but I found that waking up 15 minutes earlier positively changes the energy of the entire day. I adopted a routine upon waking that I legitimately look forward to: meditate, drink hot lemon water, write gratitude. Rituals makes things feel special, even if it is drinking a hot lemon water on the couch with a blanket around me for five minutes. These extra minutes of calm are a gift – my first win of the day.
Be in public.
Commuting from my garage at home to the garage at the office caused me slight panic when the sun set and I realized that I never once went outside. Getting outside – walking, taking public transportation, going to the grocery store instead of using Amazon Prime – helps me build strength and compassion. Anonymously, I have no insight into the stresses, challenges, or victories of the passersby. But reminding myself of their humanness reminds me of mine (and even that of the partner asking you at 6 p.m. on a Friday to complete a 50-state survey of a discrete legal issue by Monday).
Take a 5 minute break even if you don’t have time.
Taking a 5-10 minute break could be a luxury, so you can fake a break by drawing your imaginary curtains and focusing on your breath. There have been countless times where I’ve felt so underwater that I convinced myself I could not possibly afford to breathe for five minutes. Rather than ending up in a ball of tears underneath my desk, I learned to save myself by inhaling and exhaling deeply ten times. Six counts in; six counts out. Not only does this shift the energy within myself, but within the room too. A simple state change renews my energy for the task ahead – and makes me even more productive and efficient. A few abstract, mindful moments are more valuable to me now that I know how productive I am after.
Reframing my to-do list to what I “get” to do.
Rethinking my to-do list can make any task feel like a victory. Ostensibly, I maintain a to-do list just to offload remembering my tasks to a hardcopy to free up some space in my brain. When I list even the smallest tasks, (Recycle the papers on my desk. Sort my mail. Calendar that court date.) crossing that item off of the list leaves me feeling psychologically more accomplished and motivated. Most importantly, I reframe my to-do list as a list of what I get to do. (And, yes, this motto was inspired by a Barbri lecture). For the most part, I choose to be where I am and, even if I would rather be elsewhere, I feel gratitude toward the opportunity to be doing what I am doing. Even if the positivity helps me feel only 5% less stressed and happier, isn’t that 5% worth it?
Look forward to moving.
Thinking about moving my body, not punishing it, has made me look forward to physical activity. It might be tempting to commit to going to that 600-calorie burning HIIT class 5 days a week, but everybody’s body needs a break and stress is stress, even if it’s “good” stress. Sometimes I switch out my intense workout for a long walk and listen to a podcast. Or a video yoga class at home. When I over-commit to demanding or expensive workouts, I find myself feeling under-rested, more burnt out, and discouraged to move entirely.
The Takeaway: When we build gratitude, a bit of planning, and compassion into our everyday, we’ll find ourselves happier and more energized tomorrow. Step outside yourself and remember you are living out an opportunity that not everyone has. You get to do this.