Things You Can Do Today That Your Future Self Will Thank You For
Last Updated: Jul 30, 2015
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You know how they say hindsight is 20/20? The problem, of course, is that this perfect hindsight doesn’t save you from heartache, wasted time and dissatisfaction. But there is hope! You can often avoid the regret of bad decisions and missed opportunities by deliberately thinking about your future self. Will your future self approve of putting off your dental checkup despite that dull toothache? What about that job that is sapping your joy and creativity? Even if your current self grumbles at the advice, build the foundation for a happy, healthy future with these nine action items from psychologist and columnist Dr. Tracy Thomas, Ph.D., creator of the Total Life Reset Manual.
USE YOUR BODY AS A BAROMETER
Have back pain that won’t go away? Indigestion that appears every morning on your way to work? Our bodies have evolved to respond to both our internal and external environments. When things aren’t “right” inside or out, our bodies show us in the form of stress, acute or chronic pain and, in severe cases, disease and sickness. “If you are a person who is always getting sick and can’t figure out the cause, the answer might not be medically rooted,” says Thomas, whose writing and advice can be found in Redbook, Men’s Health and on DrTracyThomas.com. “It may be that you are living a life that doesn’t support your best self.” So don’t ignore those aches, headaches and breakouts, and instead look for potential causes in your mental, social or work life. Use your body’s holistic health to gauge your lifestyle and biological needs.
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DON’T FIT YOURSELF INTO A JOB. FIND A JOB THAT FITS YOU.
Often we pick a career and then try to merge our personalities and preferences into a preexisting set of criteria. Try it the other way around, suggests Thomas. “Before choosing a career path, sit down and look at the life you want holistically.” List out the characteristics of your ideal job. Do you want to work independently or collaboratively? Do you want to be able to set your own hours or have built-in structure? What type of people do you want to work with? How much responsibility do you want to have? Then try to map a path to get a position that is in line with your natural habits and behaviors. “Merge your strengths and your preferences,” says Thomas, “and see what the options are in the space in between.” Even if you’ve chosen a career path, consider these elements when it’s time to look for a new opportunity or if you’ve been offered a promotion. Many people feel urged to be increasingly ambitious without a clear end goal -- for instance, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s battle cry for women to “lean in.” However, in many cases, your day-to-day schedule has more impact on your well-being and state of mind than an awesome title or accolades. Find balance between achieving and loving what you do each day and your future self will be more than grateful.
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FALL IN LOVE WITH YOURSELF BEFORE YOU LOOK FOR YOUR OTHER HALF
Can’t seem to find what you’re looking for? Stop. “Oftentimes we can use a romantic relationship as a distraction from what we are dealing with internally,” explains Thomas. “We enter the lust stage with someone and then become high on love and expect it to fix all our problems. But that feeling is always temporary.” Instead, do the work to make yourself a whole person first, then search out another whole person that complements you. “The truth is we cannot have a healthy relationship with someone else if we do not have a healthy relationship with ourselves,” Thomas adds. If you don’t work on you first, it will eventually lead to problems in the relationship, such as projecting your own issues onto your partner. “A partner may act with pure intentions, but because of belief systems we hold about ourselves, we can see actions in a distorted or delusional way,” says Thomas. The only way to have a truly happy, healthy relationship with someone else is to have a happy, healthy relationship with you.
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INTEGRATE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY INTO YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE
Physical fitness plays a big role in our mental and emotional health, but often we associate fitness with work -- something we have to do -- leading to a battle mentality with exercise. Instead, suggests Thomas, find ways to naturally integrate fitness into your lifestyle by choosing activities that you love. “It often relates back to things you loved to do as a kid before you knew about gyms or scales,” says Thomas. “For me, that includes a few days of dance, yoga and walking.” Weights and classes can be an important part of maintaining your physical fitness, but for your physical wellness, take time to discover what activities not only improve your body, but also your emotional outlook. Feel energized after a long run? At peace after a bike ride along the beach? This is your key to lifelong physical wellness. “Find those physical activities that make you happy, healthy and fit,” says Thomas.
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TAKE A DAILY INVENTORY OF YOUR FEELINGS
It’s easy to get so busy that we don’t take time to deal with our emotions, think about what brings us joy or handle festering problems until it’s too late. Avoid this by making a daily habit to check in with yourself. “The best way to construct a life that you thrive in and that delights you is to know how you feel and what truly makes you happy,” says Thomas. Put down your smartphone and practice checking in with your emotional wellness -- how you are feeling at work, in your relationship or with your circle of friends. Think about what makes you excited or depressed, nervous or calm. Understanding what fosters and fuels different emotions helps you have a clear window into who you are and changes you may need to make in your life. By understanding your emotions, you can cultivate mindfulness and self-awareness that will benefit every area of your life.
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SET GOALS, BUT BE FLEXIBLE ABOUT THE PATH AND TIMING
“It’s important to have goals and things to work toward, but you don’t have to map out every detail to get there,” reminds Thomas. This space allows you the freedom to create goals without worrying if every small step is correct or not. Micromanaging your life’s goals prevents you from staying in the present moment, Thomas warns. You risk dissatisfaction if you don’t meet your “married by 30” or “corner office by 40” goal. You also may risk missing out on opportunities, relationships and adventures because they don’t “fit” the path you had in mind. Keep your big goals in mind, but realize that there may be many avenues to get there. If you let the little things overrun your day, you’ll miss out on the present. “And the now is all that really matters,” says Thomas. “The future is never promised. It is the present that shapes your happiness.”
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INVEST AND CONNECT WITH PEOPLE, WHETHER FAMILY OR FRIENDS
“It is great to get satisfaction from your job, and it is absolutely OK for it to be one of your priorities. We all need to support ourselves and have the means to food, shelter and clothing,” says Thomas. But, she cautions, don’t confuse the praise, awards and recognition you get from work with the love, connection and understanding you get from your interpersonal relationships. While it might sound simple, it can actually be difficult to execute if you aren’t deliberate. It’s easy to get busy with work or absorbed by our social-media feeds and forget to connect with other humans -- both outside of work and virtually. “We wonder why we feel isolated and alone in a world where we are more connected than ever before, but the truth is, we aren’t actually connecting,” explain Thomas. “And we certainly aren’t connecting to the people who matter.” So, yes, call your mother and that good friend you haven’t seen in forever, and be deliberate about making time to check in.
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SCHEDULE YOUR PRIORITIES FIRST
What is your tomorrow filled with? What does your weekly schedule look like? In “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey reminds us: “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” If you know what your priorities are, you know what to say yes to and what to say no to. It eliminates the guilt of saying no to people, places and events that aren’t in line with your ultimate goals and beliefs. “Often we feel obligated to say yes to every invitation out of guilt of hurting other people’s feelings,” explain Thomas. “But once you understand what is important to you and why, it becomes increasingly easier to say no to other people and yes to yourself.” Get your priorities in order so you know where to spend your time
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UNDERSTAND THAT EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED
It may be cliché, but it’s true: All aspects of your life are connected. If you hate your job, it will eventually start affecting other areas of your life like your relationship or your health. If you are in a toxic relationship, it will have repercussions in your friendships and work performance. “It’s all connected,” says Thomas. “If you are deeply unsatisfied in one area of your life, it will slowly start to take over the other parts of your lifestyle, health and well-being.” When you recognize that something in your life is painful, don’t try to just “tough it out,” suggests Thomas. Instead, see how you can adjust the situation itself or your mindset. Seek out tools -- such as the advice of a good friend, meditation, exercise or therapy -- to help you deal with the burdens in your life. “Otherwise, it’s a very slippery slope from being unhappy in one area of your life to being unhappy in life in general,” warns Thomas.
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