When someone visits a psychiatrist for the first time, it’s usually at an inflection point: Something big has happened, is happening, or is about to happen. Helping patients navigate their way through such transitions is the goal.
Over the years I have learned an important lesson. In addition to discussing the “big issue” that brings a patient through the door, it is equally important to focus on the everyday. Talking about how the person spends their time and conducts their daily life is essential. Understanding their habits and rituals not only helps me understand who they are, it also enables me to recommend small changes that can help them feel a little bit better. Often, a minor tweak in someone’s day-to-day routine can help them feel stronger—even within their stress.
As writer Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Her words ring true for all of us. The actions we perform on an everyday basis determine who we are in the long run.
Here are seven ways to make the most of your daily life:
1. Learn something new.
Look for an opportunity to expand your knowledge every single day. Listen to a podcast, read an interesting article, or learn something from a friend. Remember, everyone you meet knows something you don’t.
2. Make someone’s day.
Do something, anything, for someone else. It’s an immediate mood booster. Going out of your way to be kind to others also helps you feel more in control.
3. Use your strengths.
You excel when you get to do what you do best. Research shows that employees who get to use their strengths outperform those who don’t; these employees also feel more fulfilled.
4. Fortify yourself.
Actively decide to eat well, move more, and sleep better. Every bite of food, every extra step, and every extra hour of rest has a significant impact. Your everyday decisions affect the quality of your health and life.
5. Think forward.
What are your long-term goals? Do at least one thing that brings you a step—even a baby step—closer to them each day.
6. Do something meaningful.
Do something, no matter how small, that somehow improves the world. It may be as simple as picking up a piece of garbage from the street.
7. Take a moment.
Spend, at minimum, 30 seconds reflecting on what you have accomplished and appreciating what you have. Expressing thanks is one of the simplest ways to feel better.
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and assistant attending psychiatrist at Weill-Cornell Medical College.