The New Year seems to always start off so full of promise. But by February, the grand declarations of January 1st may already be a distant memory. If this is you, don’t fret; the best ways to make permanent life changes are not always to quit cold turkey, but to take very small yet consistent steps toward becoming the highest version of yourself. By deciding exactly who you are and how you want to live your life and then not deviating from that standard — no matter how difficult or unpleasant a situation you find yourself in – the quality of your life can dramatically increase. Here are five small decisions you can make to reclaim and maintain autonomy over your life today.
Leave a Generous Tip. The simple act of leaving your server a good tip (18-20%) whenever you dine – irrespective of the kind of service you’ve received—is probably the easiest way you can reclaim your life, and here’s why. When you leave a tip without regard for the waiter’s quality of service, you’re making a conscious choice to treat others with kindness, courtesy and respect, because you have decided that you’re a kind, courteous and respectful person. While it may feel good in the moment to write “next time better service,” on the tip line of the receipt, it feels even better to relinquish petty, tit-for-tat giving and create within yourself a standard of generosity that will naturally spill over into every area of your life eventually.
Apologize when you’re wrong. Apologizing when wrong may seem like a common-sense act—until you can justify why the person you wronged had it coming. Anytime you take the focus off of your own actions and consider the kind of person you find yourself having to apologize to – someone who’s rude, someone who’s wrong herself, or someone who’s otherwise “undeserving” of an apology – you can easily build a case for why you shouldn’t have to apologize to this person after all. But whatever comfort you get out of this will be short-lived and short-sighted. When you refuse to apologize when you’ve done something wrong, you undoubtedly bind yourself to a reactionary existence directed by a flimsy moral compass that can shift whenever the wind blows. Essentially, you hand the reins to your life over to someone you’ve already admitted that you find “rude,” or “wrong,” or “undeserving”—and what sense does that make?
Instead, reclaim control of your life by deciding to be a person who takes responsibility for her actions. Acknowledge your mistakes, apologize for them and make amends with those you have wronged. Shedding the pride that comes with never admitting mistakes creates in you a level of humility that may also lead you to apologize even when not wrong, simply for the sake of peace. When you find your relationships with people to be more important to you than being acknowledged as “in the right,” you’ll be surprised by how much more in harmony you are with yourself and with others.
Forgive others. The fastest way to give others control over your life is to hold a grudge or harbor hatred against them. Conversely, when you release the grudges you’ve been grasping so tightly onto, you’re free to pick up your life with both hands. Admittedly, this is easier said than done. People can be very cruel; they will inevitably do you wrong and some of them won’t even be sorry or ashamed about it. Have peace about that reality, knowing there is absolutely nothing you can do to change how someone behaves toward you.
You cannot reach into people’s hearts and make them feel or act as you wish. However, their lack of introspection, shame and empathy for what they’ve done to you is their problem. When you forgive people who have wronged you—especially when they don’t ask for your forgiveness or acknowledge how they’ve hurt you—you choose to become a person who doesn’t hold grudges, who doesn’t stress herself out over other people’s short-comings, and who doesn’t confine herself to the actions and emotions of other people and external factors. In short: you reclaim your freedom.
Designate an Electronics-Free Zone. No matter your career, some emails, texts, tweets and Facebook updates can wait. When you’re dining out with someone or spending time in with family, friends, or a significant other, put the electronics on mute or pause. Too often, life happens right before your eyes but you may be too busy sharing it with people who aren’t there to witness it that you forget to experience it yourself and enjoy it with the people who are actually present with you. Cherish the people in front of your face; honor their time and presence by being fully present with them.
Discover and Pursue Your Passion. Because the world is still recovering from an economic crash, it can be very difficult for you to live a life that isn’t ruled by how to get and keep money in your pocket. Add to that the responsibilities of family and parenthood and pursuing your passion may seem like a pipe dream. While your bills must stay paid, this does not have to be at the total expense of your heart’s desire.
As often as you can, sacrifice a little sleep or mindless reality television watching to think about your natural talents and how you would cultivate them if money were not an object. Then, determine to pursue those talents whenever possible outside of your home– whether at your church, at work or in your community. When you are personally fulfilled through the pursuit of your gifts, you will produce higher quality work while on the clock and be a happier person to be around. But most important, your passion may be more than just an outlet: it may very well be your life’s purpose. Do not cheat yourself or the world by neglecting it. Choose to be a person who lives life deliberately.