Design Tweaks for Better Living, or Putting On Your Oxygen Mask First...

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Winter is coming and the days are getting shorter and colder. But lately I've been doing a lot better at keeping things organized and healthy at home, and I've been amazed at what a difference it's made in my daily life, especially with my daughter. Instead of feeling behind all day long and instead of being on edge and cranky when things don't run smoothly (as they never do), I've been getting ahead by - surprise - taking care of myself first. It's been really nice. So, naturally, I thought I'd share a few tips and ask you to feel free to add more.

This is NOT a new idea, but it always amazes me when I realize the ironic wisdom heard every time you go up in a plane, to put your own oxygen mask on first, before you help others. It's so true, particularly when dealing with children. If you're starving for air, you are very little help to those around you, BUT we often forget this in our daily lives.

So, I've been looking around at myself and others during the past few weeks to see if I could take this new awareness and put together a list of good things that help in this area - things that give you oxygen on a daily basis, when you need it most so that you can help others really well.

Here's to the cold days of winter and putting a little more ZIP in your step!


FOR YOUR BODY

1. Sleep Hours Before Midnight Are The Most Important - This was told to me and apparently it is true, that the hours you sleep before midnight are more important than those after. For example, seven hours of sleep from 12-7am is NOT as beneficial as, say, 11-6am or 10-5am.

I think this may be the single biggest secret to life and the one that is the hardest for me. As a night owl, I love the quiet, night hours and always get a lot done, but it ends up biting me in the butt when I get run down and cranky by week's end. Now I try to always be in bed before 11pm to get up at 6am.

6 Tips for night owls to fall asleep better:

A. Use melatonin on a Sunday night after a late night weekend to get yourself back on schedule. Don't try to use it every night as it won't work anymore, and it's probably not that healthy.
B. Go to bed and wake up at the same time. Your body responds really well to rhythms like these and it WILL get sleepy and fall asleep if you are consistent about these times each day.
C. Get up earlier. While not the most fun solution, getting up earlier will definitely make you sleepier earlier and get you back on schedule.
D. Take a hot shower before bed.
E. Give yourself 15 minutes to read or write in a journal before sleeping. I find taking my mind off of the day and thinking about something bigger, more expansive is really helpful. It's like a little bit of fertilizer for your dreams.
F. Stay away from email, your phone or computer in the hours before bed. I LOVE surfing before bed, but it always keeps me up!

2. Get Up Earlier Than You Need To - I used to get up and hit the ground running with an array of morning activities, none of which involved much thoughtfulness. Now I get up at least a half an hour before I need to (and before my daughter wakes) so that I can make a cup of tea and sit for 15-20 minutes to go over email or look over my day. While I know I'm a night owl, this kind of morning person activity - when I pull it off - makes me giddy, I like it so much.

3. Drink Less During The Week - As a full blooded Irish/English descendant, I find a glass of wine (or two!) with dinner very satisfactory. And the truth is, that when my daughter was born, daily alcohol consumption (and coffee consumption) began to creep up slowly as we dealt with the stresses of a family and work.

Now it has become super clear to me that much as I love drinking with food and with friends, it puts a huge drag on my system, ruins my sleep and sets me back the next morning. Accordingly, I've been dialing it way down and saving it mainly for social situations on the weekends. It was tough at first, but it's great now.

4. Exercise Six Days a Week (Rest on the Seventh) - It doesn't really matter what your personal practice is. I do Ashtanga yoga six days a week, I used to run and just plain walking is fine. Movement is the key, and like good flow in a well-designed room, your body's health relies heavily on a wide range of movement and good circulation.

I find that this little gift each morning to myself stays with me all day long and keeps me mentally alert and calm.

5. Get Your Hair Cut Regularly - As a man, I used to think about haircuts as a necessary inconvenience and possibly vain. Now I take a different view. I find getting my hair cut (with the same woman who's been doing it for over ten years) a splurge, a pleasure and something that leaves me feeling great, more presentable and more pulled together.

It's another present you give yourself that puts oxygen back in your tank.

FOR YOUR HEART

6. Host a Dinner with Friends at Home Each Month - Connecting with friends and family is another thing that we all want to do but one that usually slips through the cracks. Sure, we see some friends in passing, see near friends often and feel in touch, but when was the last time you sat down, shared a meal and had a long, open conversation for a few hours? Cooking dinner at home and inviting folks over is a great way to do this and aiming for it once a month is a lofty, but attainable goal.

I've just been getting this started and it's nice just to think about the fact that I've created a new space for myself to invite people into. I've had one dinner and have invited people for December and January already.

7. Call Your Parents Once a Week - Ok, I'm still working on this one, but I do see my parents quite often as we all live in the same city. That said, having an actual, intentional, connected conversation with either of my parents is often hard to come by, and we mostly talk about urgent issues or plans. Now I've found that calling them on the phone just to see how they're doing is always a pleasant and - often - more connected conversation.

8. Read a Book or Write in Your Journal Every Night Before Bed - Getting your mind off of the cares of the day before bedtime is very important. Putting something into your heart/mind that is expansive, lofty and speaks to a higher plane is even more important. This is about checking in with your feelings or feeling those of another through their writing.

This is a classic oxygen mask, refill your own tank, type of activity that is akin to spreading fertilizer on top of your soil before going to sleep. It will sink in and open up all your emotional pores that may have closed down during the day.

9. Buy Good Food To Cook - I could have put this in the BODY section, but I didn't because I really think it needs to be about sensory delight that stirs your emotions.

I find going to the grocery store (mine is a Whole Foods) and buying food that I (and Ursula) really like to eat one of the most enjoyable and affordable luxuries in my week.

I find buying weird, tasty things exciting. I find buying the ingredients to a yummy in-store cooking demonstration a hoot. I find buying fresh organic juice and milk relaxing. I love buying good cookies and ice cream. I also have become very good at cooking and enjoying all sorts of vegetables. I like to buy expensive olive oil because I really think it's better. I've discovered condiments. The list goes on...

Bottom line? If you buy ingredients you love, crave and are drawn to, you will cook more. If you cook more you will come home more. If you come home more, you will keep it in better shape and enjoy it more. Then you will be happier, because that's what a good home really can do. :)


FOR YOUR MIND

10. Get Help With Cleaning Your Home Regularly - I like cleaning, but I find that getting help makes me really happy and is the type of support that goes a long way. I have a woman who deep cleans my home every two weeks, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE coming home on those days. I always send her a message thanking her and telling her how much it means to me. It's always true.

11. Plan Your Whole Week Before It Starts - I read and loved The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People years ago and always remembered that Steven Covey highly recommended planning by the week, not the day. It's true. Looking ahead at the arc of your week (and also your month) gets me out of the weeds and allows me to keep my eyes on the bigger picture. I try to do this every Sunday, when I'm less pressured and have plenty of time to move things around on my schedule if there's conflict or things are just too tight.

Two Tips for Organizing Your Week

A. Try to Stay home Sunday through Wednesday:
It's helpful to keep evening obligations light from Sunday through Wednesday so I have plenty of home time and that rhythm stays intact. This helps the sleeping and exercise routines.

B. Enjoy Thursday through Saturday: These are great evenings to get more expansive, without puncturing your oxygen tank. Plan things for these nights and be okay with a little disruption. You can always make up the time on Saturday and Sunday.

12. Be Direct with Family, Colleagues and Friends: Knowing what I want or what I can give is a really valuable asset, I've found that being more direct and more honest from the get go is welcomed by them and refreshing for me. It also lightens the load as I don't second guess myself or tip-toe around someone else's feelings - or what I THINK they are feeling.

I have started doing this more and more and it scared me at first because I thought I was being rude. Then I found that it allowed me to say more good things that I was thinking about people as well. In the end, I find that cutting to the chase and being direct applies to loving as well as being critical, and it is removing a ton of CLUTTER from my interactions.

13. Don't give your child a choice if you already know what you want to do: This is a pet peeve and one that I see more clearly from having taught school. Children want adults to be leaders and to set examples for them and to make the world a better place for them. They don't want them to be their best friends. Therefore, when you're with a child (particularly your own) give them more love and fewer choices. All too often, I see adults asking children questions about what they want to eat, do or wear, when they - the adults - already know what the best answer is OR what they want them to do. We should - us adults - replace questions with statements or commands and reserve questions for when they are really appropriate.

I think this comes from adults generally feeling hesitant in the face of the power of a full-on child (which can be formidable), but hey, children want and need boundaries and they want and need parents who are stronger and more confident than them.

My advice is to get to know children really well, know what they want and need, love them a lot and give them fewer options. Lead well and they will follow.

(Image credits: anonymous)

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