Once upon a time, I was one of those people who thought I could ruminate or think my way out of a problem or toward a change in life.
I spent a lot of time in my head considering what I did and didn't want for my life and how I wanted to make positive change. I journaled my thoughts and dreams. I read dozens of self-help, healthy living, and spiritual growth books. And I sincerely hoped everything I absorbed by thinking and reading would somehow change my life for the better.
That isn't entirely untrue. I did learn a great deal from all of my reading and thinking and journaling. I had profound “ah ha” moments and mind shifts after discovering a new gem from great thinkers like Eckhart Tolle, Bryon Katie, and Thich Nhat Hahn or from delving into health and nutrition books like Younger Next Year.
Reading and thinking about all of the self-improvement ideas DID motivate me.
I did feel inspired and excited and eager for change.
I did very much want to become a better person — more balanced, more self-aware, healthier, and happier.
But somehow the chasm between internal desire and external change felt huge and daunting. When I thought about actually MAKING the changes I was considering, I didn't know where to start. These huge concepts just made me believe I should ponder and read more to make something happen, to find the magic key for rapid results. Do you ever feel this way?
I needed something to get me out of my head and away from obsessive reading to move forward toward actual change. That's when I began to work on something I call “practical personal growth.” Practical personal growth requires the one essential ingredient that thinking and reading don't offer — ACTION.
Nothing beats action for changing your life. Every big life change begins with one small action, and then another and another and another. But it took me a while to learn the power of action.
Practical personal growth begins with ideas and concepts that inspire or motivate you, but it goes much further by teaching exactly how to apply those concepts in your life and encouraging you toward small and manageable action. This is something I really strive to offer here at Live Bold and Bloom.
Let's face it: change is hard. And action requires more effort than simply thinking and reading. It is only through action that we stretch ourselves, learn what we truly want, and ultimately make things happen to change our lives.
As a result of my commitment to practical personal growth, I've started to pay close attention to what “works” for me. I examine my feelings and moods before and after I implement a new action. I pay close attention to my body and how it responds to certain things. And I'm mindful of the shifts in other people and how they respond to what I say and do. Then I taken action, recalibrate, adjust, and act again until I have momentum and results.
Recently I've used my philosophy of practical personal growth to implement four life changes that have positively impacted my quality of life. I'd like to share them with you so they might inspire you toward actions that will change your life.
1. Switching to decaf coffee
I love my coffee in the morning. It's a ritual for me. I grind fresh beans, and then as the coffee is brewing, I pick out a favorite mug (the right mug is critical). Then I pour the coffee and breath in the aroma for a few seconds before taking that first beautiful sip. I'll often drink 2-3 cups while eating breakfast and writing at my desk in the morning.
The problem: I've been noticing for awhile that around 11:00 am I start to feel agitated and irritable. Sometimes I was overwhelmed by a need to cry, but I had no apparent reason to feel this way. For the longest time, I couldn't figure out why this was happening. But then one day a friend mentioned he'd decided to switch to decaf and a lightbulb went off for me.
The action: I was really resistant to letting go of my caffeinated coffee. I thought decaf would taste like a watered-down poor relation to my morning treat. But I decided I would try mixing the beans and every day adding more decaf beans and less caffeinated. Then I gave myself a full week to test having only decaf in the morning.
The result: The change in how I felt was immediate. As soon as I cut out the caffeinated beans and drank only decaf, all of those weird feelings disappeared. I had more energy, less morning anxiety, and was actually less tired during the day. As a highly sensitive person, my body reacts strongly to any stimulants, but I just needed to pay attention to what my body was telling me and make a change. And I've found the taste of the coffee isn't significantly different.
2. Task at hand focus
As an online entrepreneur, I have a variety of projects and tasks spinning at any given time. I'm writing, working on courses, interviewing people, being interviewed, getting hundreds of emails, dealing with technical issues, etc.
The problem: Because I work online, I can't close my door and put a “do not disturb” sign on it. Interruptions and distractions are always just a click away, and emails, texts, dings, and pop-ups are always there to remind me of the next urgent task. I was constantly feeling scattered and unfocused.
The action: I've written many times about focusing on the task at hand, but I haven't been great about practicing what I preach. However, as my business has grown, I had to do something if I wanted to manage my ever-increasing work load. So I've re-committed to task-at-hand focus by shutting down everything except the thing I'm working on. I give myself an allotted amount of time to complete the task. I shut down my phone, other browsers on my computer, and mute the sound so I don't hear the dings of incoming messages. I don't allow myself to get up until the allotted time is over.
The result: My productivity has skyrocketed and my work is better. At first, I felt anxious about not checking email or looking at my phone. But then I realized the Earth was still spinning even without my constant attention to distractions. And I feel better about myself when I complete a project with full attention to it.
3. Becoming an “almost” vegetarian
I've been a carnivore all of my life. I like just about all meat (except for lamb, wild game, and organ meats). In recent years, I've cut back on red meat because I know how too much can negatively impact your health. But otherwise I ate some form of animal protein twice or more a day.
The problem: After reading The China Study and The Blue Zones, it became more and more clear to me that the healthiest people who tended to live the longest ate little to no meat. For the past two years, the information I've learned about consuming meat has been niggling at me and giving me pause every time I crunch into a piece of bacon or eat a deli sandwich.
The action: I have several close friends who are vegetarians, and the man I'm dating is a vegetarian. As a result, I've observed how and what they eat, and how it makes them feel. Because I'm seeing someone who doesn't eat meat, I've been eating less and less of it because we cook together. We make amazing vegetarian meals, and I've found I really don't miss meat. I still eat fish and will have the very occasional turkey sandwich, but 90% of my diet is now plant based.
The result: I have more energy. My digestive system works more smoothly. I have less cravings. I've reduced my grocery bill. I've found many new delicious vegetables I've never been inspired to try before. And I feel better about myself because there is something icky about eating animals. But if I find myself really craving animal protein, then I eat some fish or chicken or an egg. I listen to my body but with a general commitment to a more plant-based diet.
4. Winter rebounding
If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know I took up running last spring. I was serious about it and really grew to love my regular runs along the river near my house. Running not only made me feel great physically, but also I felt so proud of myself for taking on this challenge in my 50's when I really didn't believe I could do it.
The problem: I was running religiously up until mid-November when the weather started to get cold and daylight hours were shortened. I found (or confirmed) that I hate running in the cold and as a result was slacking off until I simply stopped except for the occasional balmy day. And of course, once I stopped I started gaining weight, losing muscle tone, and feeling bad about myself.
The action: Last winter, before I started running, I was rebounding on a mini trampoline. I've written about the benefits of rebounding and how much fun it is. But this year I kept thinking, “I'm gonna get out there and run no matter what.” But it just wasn't happening. So rather than see myself as a failure, I decided to punt. I pulled out the rebounder and made the decision that rebounding would be my winter exercise and running my warm weather exercise.
The result: I'd forgotten how much fun rebounding is and how great it makes you feel. There's none of the pain and pounding you get with running. You can do it indoors and stay warm. And it has tremendous benefits for the lymphatic system, digestion, and circulation. You can read more about rebounding here in a previous post. I feel so much better mentally and emotionally because rebounding gives a tremendous endorphin release.
Each of these decisions have evolved from a period of reflection and research, followed by practical planning and preparation for implementing a change in habits, and then by taking small and manageable actions toward implementing changes in your life. The cumulative effects of these decisions have made for a healthier, more energetic, more positive, and more productive me!