As we head into autumn, it’s easy to feel change in the air. The seasons are changing. The weather is finally cooling off, or will be soon. Sadly for us in Missoula, one change was from clear skies to wildfire smoke. But that too will change, and hopefully sooner rather than later.
As we look forward to fall and then winter, we can take a few moments to be proactive and intentional about how we will change in the coming months. Here are six quick tips that I saw recently and I thought were worth sharing.
Caring for others
It has been said countless times, including in many of my previous blog posts here, that one of the best things we can do for our own happiness is to take care of others. Nearly all animal-owners will tell you that the care they give to their cat, dog, or other animal is returned at least ten times back to them. Offering some extra care to our spouse or partner, children, parents, and so on can also break us out of any funk we are in as we see and feel directly the good we can bring to the world.
In the long-term, volunteering at community organizations can help build a great sense of well-being and belonging into your life. If you are lucky, you will find and appreciate a career that similarly helps others.
Give yourself a break
Our society pushes people to go, go, go. Having a side-hustle or two seems to be the norm for anyone under 40. But what is all of this busyness really getting us? If we’re not taking good, meaningful breaks, the answer is probably burnout. If we want to be successful, we need breaks. When I did my Ph.D. and lived in the UK, I would often stop my work for a shower, even if I didn’t need one. I just needed to physically remove my body from my books and computer. And I often had great ideas there.
Breaks can be a shower or bath, or something more active like a run or gym workout. They can also include TV time, but the stimulation of TV often leaves you more entertained than rested.
Eat good food
And by good food, we don’t mean hamburgers and iced cream. While those taste good, they’re not the kinds of things that nourish the body deeply. A big salad with fresh veggies and beans or chicken is an excellent feel-good meal. Apples as snacks and banana-yogurt (or banana-oat milk if you’re a vegan) smoothies can nourish us while satisfying our sweet-tooth.
Developing good eating habits can make returning to these great meals often a breeze. Reducing junk foods around the house gradually allows for more space, both in your snack schedule and in your kitchen, for healthy and fun alternatives.
Practice a hobby
A great way to take a break is with a new or old hobby. As we practice our hobbies, which can range from cooking or gardening to photography or painting, we step out of the culture of busyness and commodification. We are also doing things that simply bring us joy. And we’re learning and becoming better at them.
What’s more, as we develop our hobbies, we can share them with others. We can share directly buy offering our food or photographs, or indirectly by inspiring friends and family to similarly take up their hobbies.
Talk to someone close about how you feel
Taking up the opportunity to talk to someone close is a powerful gift we can give ourselves. Whether it’s our partner, mother, priest, or a good friend, it is helpful to get things off our chest. Oftentimes, we either bottle up small things until they blow up or we get hit with big emotions or events and have a difficult time processing them.
Our options often include doing nothing and weathering the storm or changing course and finding new opportunities. Both are often terrifying. But talking out the situation with others can offer perspective and a bit of calm as we weigh the options. Even if no decision is made, we connect with someone else in a way that immediately shrinks the problem.
Accept who you are
It wasn’t until I was well into my 30s that I heard the phrase, “don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good.” It was a revelation of sorts, even though I had probably heard similar advice countless times. This time it really stuck. In my academic pursuits I had been pushed to be something of a perfectionist. But of course, I was not perfect and still am not perfect.
This “ideal vs reality” contradiction meant a lot of late nights trying to figure out how to fix or alter things about myself and my work. Accepting that my work was good enough meant that I could take a much-needed break to pursue hobbies and spend time with friends. And accepting that my personality makes me good at somethings and terrible at others meant that I could stop trying to change that. Instead, I could focus my time on the things I’m good at. And that has paid off very well ever since.
There will always be opportunities to improve my work down the road if I wish. And I can improve on skills that I am lacking now. But by weighing the time spent on those against other things I could be doing, I’ve moved toward activities that brought me better community and fulfillment.
Justin Whitaker, Ph.D., holds a doctorate in Buddhist ethics from the University of London. He has given lectures, and taught Buddhist studies and Philosophy at Oxford University, the University of Hong Kong, the University of Montana, and at Antioch University’s intensive study-abroad program in India. A certified meditation teacher, he is a regular contributor to Patheos.com, and Senior Correspondent for Buddhistdoor Global. Justin is the official blog writer for Sunflower Counseling MT in Missoula, Butte, Kalispell, Billings, and surrounding areas. He lives in Missoula with his family.