Category: happiness

You’re allowed to take imperfect action in the direction of what you want. Especially now.

Do you struggle with perfection? Want to get over your perfectionism? Read on for a motivation tips and a pep talk you might need. #selfhelp #selfdevelopment #motivation #productivity #goalsetting“But I want it to be custom designed. And I need to change the font. And also maybe I need real headshots?”

It’s 2008 and I’m sitting on a futon in my “garden level” (read: basement) apartment, talking at my then-boyfriend about the blog I want to create.

I, of course, have grand visions for it.

There will be none of this free Blogspot template nonsense for me. If I’m going to do it, I want to do it really, really well and I’m not going to start until everything is 100% the way I want it.

“Sure, Babe,” my web developer boyfriend says in that supportive-but-non-committal way specific to 20-something boyfriends. “I’ll code something for you when I’ve got free time.”

The free time and the custom designed website never really happen. Ultimate frisbee and craft beers consume my boyfriend’s time, reading about how to blog and then not blogging consumes mine.

But one day, after a particularly stressful day at my $16-an-hour ESL teaching job, I come home, grab one of those previously-maligned Blogspot templates, and launch my deeply imperfect blog into the world.

I MEAN LOOK. (2008 Sarah loved this shot glass in Wall, South Dakota.)

And over the last 11 years (!!!) I have very imperfectly made my way towards a successful business I love.

I have published so many typos. I have launched products only four (FOUR!) people bought. I ran my business from a $200 Netbook, a yahoo email address, and coffee shop wifi because I couldn’t afford my own.

It was wildly imperfect and not always comfortable, but it still got me where I wanted to go.

I know that some of us are using this strange time to reassess our goals and what we want out of life.

Maybe you’re trying to learn a new language, or develop a new professional skill set, or build a morning meditation habit.

But this is not an ideal time, we’re all stressed out, so after some fits and starts you give up.
You are allowed to take imperfect action in the direction of what you want. Click To TweetMeditating three days a week is better than meditating zero times a week.

Half-watching a Youtube tutorial on email marketing is better than not watching it at all.

Half-assing DuoLingo Spanish is better than no-assing DuoLingo.

So I guess what I’m saying is:

1. You don’t have to wait for everything to be perfect to take action in the direction of what you want (P.S. There is no perfect time for anything, ever.)

2. Consistent, imperfect action will get you so much further than infrequent, perfect action. 

Photo by Connor McSheffrey on Unsplash

Why You Should Make An ‘If I Absolutely Had To’ List Today

Worried about money? Struggling with relationship problems? Whatever the problem, this list helps me calm down and take control of any situation. #selfdevelopment #selfcare #selfhelp #moneytips #FIRE #budgetingFor the ninth night in a row, it’s 3 am and I’m glaring at my ceiling. Narrowing my eyes at the light fixture I don’t  like and counting my worries like they’re sheep.

Like most of us, my anxieties have multiplied like wet gremlins over the last month. And the equation of ‘feeling constantly worried’ + ‘sleeping poorly’ does not equal, well, anything good.

So I’m returning to an exercise I used during my twenties when life was an exhausting mix of not-right-for-me boyfriends, school debt, a low-paying career, and changing apartments/cities. 

May I present an exercise that makes me feel a million times better in times of uncertainty?

I call this the ‘If I Absolutely Had To’ List.

And – like many things I teach – it falls under the heading “Seems Too Simple To Work But Very Much Does.”

How to make an ‘If I Absolutely Had To’ list

Step 1: At the top of a piece of paper*, write the problem you want to solve or the issue you’re struggling with

Something like:

I’m worried I don’t have enough in savings to get through this pandemic.

I’m worried my relationship will fall apart because we’re together so much and we’re fighting constantly.

We have to put our house on the market and who’s going to want to buy a house during a pandemic?!

You get the idea. One issue – just one! – at the top of the page.

Step 2: Brainstorm 50 different ways you could deal with this problem – including solutions you really don’t want to pursue, but could if you absolutely had to

When you’re listing ways to deal with a chosen problem, you’ll find that the first 5 – 10 ideas you come up with are probably pleasant and sensible.

If you’re unemployed + worried about money, the first few items on your list might look like: 

  • Reach out to previous clients and see if they have any work
  • Update my LinkedIn profile
  • Email people in my professional network and see if they have any leads
  • Look for contract or freelance work
  • Keep calling the unemployment office, even if I have to be on hold for two hours

See? Normal!

But the magic happens when you force your brain to start thinking of all the things you could theoretically do to solve this problem. Including things you realllllly don’t want to do (but could if you absolutely had to.)

And, obviously, the “I really don’t want to but I could” portion of these lists will vary widely from person to person. One person’s “I really don’t want to do this” is another person’s day-to-day reality. Because privilege.

If you’re worried about money, your ‘If I Absolutely Had To’ list might look like: 

  • Start taking freelance contracts doing that thing I know how to do but don’t enjoy
  • Sell my plasma
  • Sell my eggs/sperm
  • Cancel cable and start watching library dvds
  • Get a job at a grocery store even though I’m really nervous about COVID-19
  • Sell the family china set or silverware
  • Get a roommate
  • Move back in with my parents
  • Split wifi with my neighbor even though I might not be able to stream movies
  • Cancel my wifi altogether
  • Get out of my car lease and become a 1-car family / figure out bike commuting / buy a cheaper car with cash
  • Sell my iphone 11 and buy a $200 Android

These are things you probably extremely don’t want to do! Who wants their Netflix to stall out because the neighbor just started a Zoom call? Nobody, that’s who.
Forcing your brain to acknowledge that there are many, MANY ways you could deal with a problem is one of the most calming, empowering things you can do. Click To Tweet

Knowing that there are solutions to your problem will help you sleep at night. 

It will give you the strength to make tough decisions because you’ll know that, no matter what, you can get through this. It might even prevent you from spiraling into self-doubt and anxiety!

What’s stressing you out these days? If you’re being super honest with yourself, are there ways you could solve that problem if you absolutely had to?

* Annoying and slow as it may be, I’d recommend writing this list on actual paper, with your actual hand. When we write things by hand, we’re digging new neural pathways and the deeper the neural pathway, the easier it is to have a thought again.
When you write out 50 potential solutions to your problem by hand, it’s going to be a lot easier for your brain to remember that all is not lost! There are so many ways you can deal with this issue!

Unintended lessons & where I learned them

Learn life's unintended lessons. Sometimes we think we’re going to learn A, but life is really committed to teaching us B. (It’s probably a good idea to learn both.)  #selfdevelopment #selfhelp #motivation #productivity

When I was 18, I packed my bags and moved to Germany for a month, fueled by visions of soft pretzels and hard cheeses.

I was taking part in an exchange program and – like all 18-year-olds – I already knew everything. Before I even boarded that Lufthansa flight, I knew what I’d learn from my time in Germany.

I was sure my trip would teach me:

  • How to speak German more fluently

  • How to pack light

  • Maybe how to finally understand soccer???

And did it? Yes, that trip improved my German and introduced me to one-suitcase travel. But more importantly, it taught me how to enjoy my own company and feel at home (almost) anywhere. I learned how to make friends across language and cultural barriers. I figured out how to take up space without apologizing.

All helpful, important things to learn! But since I was 18, I didn’t necessarily make the connection. I didn’t realize what I’d learned from my experience. I felt smug when I tested out of the second language requirement at college and that was about it.

Cut to ten years later and I’m heading to Wellington, New Zealand to get my M.A. in Applied Linguistics. And just like last time, I’m pretty sure I know how this is going to shake out.

What I expected to learn in graduate school:

  • Pedagogical theory

  • Neural Plasticity and how it affects our learning

  • Plosives and fricatives

And yes, sure, I learned those things. I also learned how to share space with multiple roommates, how to manage my time so I didn’t have to pull all-nighters, how to navigate the New Zealand healthcare system, and that I’m not really suited to graduate-level courses that are taught exclusively online.

It only took me ten years and multiple epiphanies to realize that learning is multi-faceted and multi-layered. It only took me a decade to realize that

Sometimes we think we’re going to learn A, but life is really committed to teaching us B. (It’s probably a good idea to learn both.) Click To Tweet

We think getting a dog will help us get outside more, not knowing that we’re going to learn about loyalty, responsibility, and why consistency really, really matters.

We think decluttering is about bringing things to Goodwill. But anyone who’s watched Tidying Up can tell you that releasing things that no longer fit our lives is a lesson in grace, intentionality, and self-awareness.

I see this a lot in my Bank Boost program. In Bank Boost we talk about a lot of nitty gritty money things: why you should pay for things with cash, how to rescue money that’s in places it shouldn’t be, how to use x tool to earn y amount of money.

But we also talk about making sure that your money is bringing you joy, that you’re squeezing every ounce of happiness out the money you spend. We talk about being willing to get uncomfortable – whether that looks like asking for a raise or telling your friend you need her to repay that money she borrowed.

When we do this – talk about happiness and discomfort and self-advocacy – something surprising happens. Yes, Bank Boosters add hundreds or thousands of dollars to their bank accounts.

Just as importantly they start getting braver in other areas of their lives. They have really tough conversations they’ve been putting off. They send a third follow up email. They stand up to the shitty landlord.

They take their awful ex to court. Here, shared anonymously and with permission, is one woman’s story:

“I took your advice on the “uncomfortable” strategy but probably not in the way you meant. I spent 33 years in an abusive relationship and I finally got my divorce in April.

My ex was supposed to be paying me support during the divorce and he owes me alimony now. But I was afraid and I let him get away without paying me. But you taught me that I deserve it so I took him to court!

The judge ordered him to pay me everything he owes me plus my legal fees. I ended up getting over $6000 and I was able to pay off all my credit cards.

(He also had to pay my lawyer over $10K in legal fee so I don’t have that hanging over my head anymore.) For me, this was HUGE.

Having the guts to stand up to him and demand my rights was something I never thought I would do. Thank you for giving me the courage to do that. Thank you so, so much!

Now I can start planning for MY future. I want to someday buy a house all by myself and now that it possible.”

What would happen if we opened ourselves up to learning what life was trying to teach us? How would our lives change if we made space for unintended lessons?

Photos by Max Yamashita and Geordanna Cordero-Fields on Unsplash

Why You Need A Smile File + How To Make One

Looking for cheer up ideas? Want to make a smile file but you're not sure where to start? Click through for inspiration ideas and ways to cheer yourself up! #cheerup #happinesstips #selfhelp #selfdevelopment

Picture this: you’re grumpy AF. You overslept, you spilled coffee on your shirt, and because she wants to cheer a friend up, your co-worker is trying to tell you about something called a ‘smile file.’

Do you
a) roll your eyes so far back in your head you get a migraine
b) tell her she’s never allowed to speak in your presence again
c) pretend that you’re listening while quietly plotting her death

If this cheer up idea makes you want to punch someone, hear me out!

Really, a ‘smile file’ is just a personal collection of things that cures a bad mood – your bad mood. If the things that cheer you up are interviews with Nick Cave, hair metal music videos, and gifs of people falling on ice, that’s what you should put in your smile file.

Just as importantly, you are not required to call it a ‘smile file.’ If you think rhyming is dorky, you can call it something else! Or you don’t have to call it anything!

All I’m saying is: We all have bad days. Our bad days will be shorter + less awful if we take some time to create our own personal antidotes when we're NOT in the midst of one. Click To Tweet

Why do you need a smile file at all?

None of us are required to be happy at all times. In fact, that’s impossible!

I think it’s worth noting, however, that bad days and bad moods usually trigger our less-awesome behaviors and choices. Think about the last time you did something you regret – an expensive impulse purchase you can’t afford, snipping at your partner, mindlessly eating yourself into a cookie dough coma, stalking your ex all over Instagram and accidentally liking one of their photos from 2015.

There’s a pretty good chance that these things started with a bad mood. And if you could short circuit that less-than-awesome behavior simply by revisiting some self-esteem-boosting emails or watching a few funny animal videos, isn’t it worth a try?

How to make a smile file

Create an email folder that’s filled with only sweet things

Every time a client, co-worker, or vendor sends you a thank-you note, put it in your Smile File. Praise for a job well done, an amazing testimonial about how your ebook changed someone’s life, a thoughtful response to your newsletter, put it in your Smile File. Funny email from your kid’s teacher or your dog walker – you guessed it! – put it in your Smile File.

In short: any email that makes you smile and will likely improve your day on a second reading, put it in a specific email folder that you can easily reference.

Save all your favorite Instagram images to a ‘smile file’ folder

Did you know you can save all the  insightful captions, funny photos, and inspirational quotes you like on Instagram? It’s true.

Next time you see something you like on Instagram, just click the little pennant icon under the image and you’ll save it to your Instagram account. You can organize your saved images into folders like ‘funny animals,’ ‘memes about the 90s,’ and ‘inspirational quotes’ – or whatever would cheer you up!

Create a day-improving Youtube playlist

A 2013 study in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that people who listened to upbeat music could improve their moods and boost their happiness in just two weeks. But we didn’t need a study to espouse the healing powers of sing-shrieking along to ‘The Dog Days Are Over” while flouncing dramatically around the living room, right?

No joke, I have a 33-song Youtube playlist entitled ‘happy dancing’ and it improves my mood faster than an episode of Brooklyn 99 and a bag of pizza rolls WHICH IS SAYS SOMETHING.

If you use Spotify or Itunes, you could also compile playlists there!

Make a physical ‘smile file’ – like a real, actual paper folder in a filing cabinet

There’s something to be said for holding mood-improving things in your hands, rather than just clicking through emails and online photos.

If you have tangible evidence of the things that make you happy – handwritten cards, photos, ticket stubs and receipts from memorable outings, the application paper work for the big project – put it all in an actual paper folder and put it at the front of your filing cabinet so it’s easy to find and access.

It’s seems like a little thing, right? How could an email folder, a playlist, or some saved Instagram photos cheer you up?

How could something so small (and free!) be the difference between a good day and a bad one? Why not try. Worst case scenario – you have another email folder. Best case scenario – you’ve got a stockpile of things that make you happy and remind you of how awesome you are.

P.S. How to restart a bad day + 101 ways you cheer yourself up

photo by Laura Olsen // cc

6 Instagram Ideas That Will Make Your Life Happier + Better (Instead Of Falling Into The Comparison Trap)

Looking for Instagram ideas? These aren't your usual Instagram tips about cropping and filters. Click through for advice on using social media in a way that makes you happier and supports your personal development!

What are your Instagram ideas?

“My house should look like that and since it doesn’t I am clearly a loser.”
“How in the name of all that is good and holy can they afford that? And why can’t I?”
“I don’t look like that in a swimsuit. I AM NEVER WEARING A SWIMSUIT AGAIN.”

I’m sure you’ve seen a million studies that say social media negatively affects our self-esteem. Instagram is charged with this more often than Twitter or Facebook – and I get it! It’s not hard to filter and crop our way to a perfect-looking life. It’s easy to forget that social media is a highlight reel.

There are certainly arguments for using our phones and social media less. But I’d like to make the controversial argument that – when used with intention – Instagram in particular can actually make us happier.

6 Instagram Ideas That Will Make Your Life Happier + Better 

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13 Birthday Ideas For Adults That Are More Fun Than Going Out To Dinner

Looking for birthday ideas for adults? Want to celebrate your birthday in a way that's more fun than a dinner out? Click through for meaningful birthday tips for grownups!

Birthday ideas for adults are often …. lacking, aren’t they?

It seems like our options are often limited to:

  • Corralling friends into a dinner out (but trying to do it on your Actual Birthday is nearly impossible plus budgets and traffic and dietary restrictions?)
  • Traveling (Which is awesome! But not always financially or logistically feasible)
  • Scrolling through all the Facebook birthday notifications and eating cake in the break room at work (When you’re really more of a pie person, anyhow.)

Today is my 39th birthday. We spent the last five days celebrating my birthday/our anniversary with a trip to Massachusetts and Vermont, but my thirst for celebration has yet to be quenched! I’m still going! If you’re looking for ways to celebrate your birthday, keeping reading.

13 Birthday Ideas For Adults That Are More Fun Than Going Out To Dinner

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