morning-riverLife is full of choices. If you have to weigh the pros and cons of each option every time you make a decision, you’re going to drain your willpower and miss out on a lot of opportunities. That’s why it helps to develop habits that streamline your life and free up your mental strength for more important things.

These are the habits I’m currently working on building:

1. Going for a walk or run first thing every morning. This wakes me up and gets my blood flowing, and it gives me a chance to focus myself and plan out my day. I use the time to remind myself of my goals, take note of my feelings, and (recently) to plan out my daily blog post. Sometimes I even record my thoughts as a note on Voxer.

My favorite thing about my morning walks is that they keep me connected to my environment. My body attunes itself to the changing of the seasons and I feel more at peace with the weather. Right now I live less than a mile away from the point where the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers meet at the heart of Pittsburgh. There’s something about the flowing water and the crisp morning air that makes me feel more alive.

2. Being kind to strangers. Just because city-dwellers have armored themselves with blank stares of stoicism doesn’t mean that I can’t say hello—or at least smile—and make a fleeting connection with someone I will never see again. Whenever possible, I strike up a conversation. At the very least, I can make my day more interesting, and at best, I could make a new friend.

We’re all going through this same whirlwind we call life, so we might as well acknowledge it.

3. Hugging people. I’ve been in way too many of those awkward situations where you’re parting ways with a friend, and you’re not sure whether it’s appropriate to hug or not. Usually, I end up just walking away with a wave and a regret. So instead of putting myself through that dilemma every time or waiting for the other person to initiate, I’m going to just assert myself and do it. And not one of those lame side-hugs either—a full embrace that shows how much I care about the other person.

Human touch doesn’t have to be sexual, and it angers me that so many people see it that way. Along with numerous other therapeutic benefits, hugging releases oxytocin and serotonin, and it helps you to connect with people in ways that words can never do.

4. Meditating every day. I like to do this right before bed. It helps me wind down from my day and sleep better.

5. Standing while working. This is hard to get used to, and I’m only able to do this when the task isn’t very mentally challenging, but I’ve noticed that I feel more energetic afterward.

6. Being more sensitive to my own and others’ feelings. I’ve been learning recently that a lot of conflicts arise simply because one or both parties are not aware of their own feelings. I’m trying to get in the habit of asking myself and others what they are feeling at the moment so that I can make sure that whatever is being said is not just a result of feeling invalidated or hurt in some way.

7. Living more simply.  A few months ago I went “no poo”—I stopped using shampoo and conditioner and any other synthetic chemicals on my hair. After several weeks of overpowering greasiness, I finally reawakened my head’s natural mechanisms of self-regulating oil production. Now I can go much longer without washing my hair and can bask in my newfound independence from toxic chemicals.

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