Modern life requires seismic adjustment and involuntary change: Turn your home into an office. Turn your home into a school. Modify lifelong methods of human interaction and hygiene. Oh, and remain optimistic. Easy!
Yet when COVID-19 hit, so many articles, tips, and Instagram accounts cropped up dedicated to making ourselves the Best Pandemic People Possible: how to transform a living room into a learning den; how to stage a quarantine “glow up” and emerge lithe and toned. Always, a battery of self-improvement advice with undercurrents of scolding: You are failing, and a pandemic is the prime opportunity to do better.
But lasting change is incremental and manageable.
“You are what you repeatedly do,” says Alanna Fincke, a board-certified health coach and senior vice president of Boston-based resilience training program MeQuilibrium. “We think our health and well-being is in grand declarations and huge changes, but it’s built in small, tiny, repeated actions.”
If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you lack time for major life overhauls but wouldn’t mind feeling a little bit better, some of the time. What if micro, non-intimidating shifts unleash actual consequences?
They could. Here are a few from Fincke and life coach Rachel Estapa, founder of Somerville’s More to Love Yoga, focusing on plus-size wellness.
Measure wellness through values, not metrics. Wellness comes from many sources: Maybe it’s making your favorite dinner or going to bed an hour early with a book. It’s not just about calories burned or minutes on a treadmill.
“Factor in your body, mind, and heart, not just how many steps, calories, or minutes. Aim toward wellness acts that enhance your day-to-day life and satisfy core values,” Estapa says. “What’s the best wellness act? The one that is doable in this moment.”
Visualize your energy output. Fincke keeps an actual jar on her desk filled with 60 beads. (You can use Legos, pennies, whatever.) She thinks of it as a tank that shows “energy in, energy out.” Draining meeting? Remove a Lego. Scored a deal at Carter’s? Add one. If this feels taxing, just make checks in a notebook. The important thing is to maintain a concrete picture of your energy tank so you know when it’s low. This way, you’ll see it before you feel it — in the form of a headache, explosive encounter with your kids, et cetera.
Take three minutes before waking up. I usually roll over and grope for my iPhone, then sleuth acquaintances on Instagram (How are they on vacation? Are they vaccinated? When will I get vaccinated?), and check messages. Before even standing up, I’m at a mental disadvantage. Instead, Fincke urges clients to lie there and name three things they’re grateful for. Maybe you have a day of zero meetings or you’re getting takeout from your favorite sushi place later. Conjure your happy trio — then, if you must, check your phone.
Delegate, delete, do. If your days feel unmanageable, pare down. Don’t martyr yourself: Delegate jobs to a partner or kids; delete pointless tasks that zap your energy; and reprioritize. For instance, Fincke’s husband now does the laundry, which she always did out of habit. “He shrunk my shirts, but I let go of that,” she says.
Habit stack. Intertwine good, new habits with long-standing ones to make them stick. “Think of it as a sandwich. Wake up at 6:30, have coffee at 6:40, shower at 6:50. Could you sandwich something in between that, like two minutes of meditation?” Fincke asks. “Cue yourself by attaching a habit to something you already do, which makes it much easier to implement in your life.”
Ritualize enjoyment. It’s as simple as savoring small moments, like the taste of iced coffee or the coolness of your pillow at night. “Savoring is a form of mindful meditation that invites you to experience enjoyment in the moment. When we savor, we practice paying attention to nice things,” Estapa says. Attainable things, too — something as tiny as a cold glass of water.
Move a little bit. “Start small, so small that you think, ‘Pfft, that won’t matter.’ All bodies like to move, and no type of movement is ‘better’ than another,” Estapa says. In other words: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Roll your wrists at your desk, rock your ears toward your shoulders, stand up and stretch (just hide yourself on Zoom).
Treat yourself. We’re motivated intrinsically and extrinsically. You might work out because you know it’s good for your heart, which is intrinsic. It’s also abstract. If you need an extra push, Fincke recommends attaching external motivators to tasks. “If you go for a walk three days in a row, tell yourself you’ll buy something at Old Navy when it’s on sale, or whatever is going to motivate you,” she says. Doesn’t have to be fancy.
Make visual walls between home and work. In this netherworld of zero boundaries, Fincke tells clients to drape a scarf over their computer when they’re done with work: Think of it as a subtle door-slam on the day. Or put your stuff in a drawer. Shove papers into a filing cabinet. Whatever it is, signal visually that you’re off the clock.
Keep a win list. “We’re wired to experience negative emotions more quickly than positive ones, so call out the wins, from the tiniest thing to the biggest thing,” Fincke says. Keep a running list — in a notebook, on your phone, wherever. Nothing is too small. Maybe you cleaned the hell out of a closet. Maybe you negotiated a mega-raise. They’re all worth tracking, and they’re great to refer to when you’re in a slump.