How did you change your life?
May 20, 2008 1:21 PM   Subscribe

How did you change your life? What small-ish changes have you made that greatly impacted your life?

I'm 19 years old, a freshman in college, and I feel entirely blasé about everything. Adjusting to college life was fantastic -- everything was new and things were changing. The novelty has worn off, college life is now normal, and it's time for me to take more small steps on the road to bettering myself.

My biggest problem is dedication -- I like the idea of something but then fall off the wagon pretty quickly. I like learning languages, moderate exercise, projects (especially ones that involve a video camera and editing software), waking up early, etc. -- I just don't have the dedication to put the time into them I should, so they often end up not happening or stagnating and I'm back to square one.

So, for you: what little changes have you made in your life that made a big difference, and what tricks did you use to dedicate yourself to your new task? Any experience with any of my aforementioned interests is welcome, particularly how you forced yourself to hanker down and pursue the interest past procrastination and boredom.

But I'm also interested in your changes (vegetarianism? charity? saving money? etc.). Why did they help you and how did you go about pursuing them?
posted by elisabethjw to Grab Bag (46 answers total) 109 users marked this as a favorite
I find that if you have a bit of company, you're more likely to stay dedicated to something. Why not try finding someone who has some of the same interests as yourself. Consider joining a club or an organization. If someone is with you, a friend, you're more willing to be motivated about stuff. Cheers.
posted by Fizz at 1:26 PM on May 20, 2008

I could have written this question. Recently the only change that I've been able to make, and stick with, is drinking more water. And it's helped my mood a lot, actually. Which I think in the future will help everything else, at least a little. So it's a tiny change that doesn't seem like it would help with anything else, but feeling good most of the time is better than feeling good sometimes, and groggy and grouchy the rest of the time.
posted by d13t_p3ps1 at 1:28 PM on May 20, 2008

It's always really helpful if you can find a friend to make these changes with you, you know, to kind of keep you on track. You like waking up early, but don't have the dedication for it? Find a friend who's also an early bird who will meet you at the local cafe for coffee and conversation three times a week. You like exercise? Find a friend to join you at your school's rec center.
posted by King Bee at 1:34 PM on May 20, 2008

I made a resolution a few years ago to talk to strangers. It was the best decision I have made. I met my wife and many other great people as a result of that decision.
posted by birdlips at 1:38 PM on May 20, 2008 [25 favorites]

I like the idea of something but then fall off the wagon pretty quickly

One change I have made is accepting this is human nature, or at least my nature. Having ideas is fun and easy. Following through is hard work.

The main thing I do, outside of my day job, is writing. I strive to approach writing exactly the same as my day job. I don't buy into any pie-in-the-sky "inspiration" stuff- i just try to work when it's time to work. I try to do some writing every single day, whether it be a little or a lot. Sometimes i fail, but I try again the next day.

The other thing I try to do is prioritize and cut out distractions. I have pretty much picked writing and making movies as my "thing" at this point. This is my one thing I do, specifically I write and attempt to produce MY stories. If someone asks me to collaborate on something that sounds fun, I pretty much always say "no." i don't blog in any serious way. i feel like I have a very limited reserve of time and energy, and the only way I will get anything done on my writing is to focus all my resources there.

It can be a lot of fun to say "yes" to everything, but at some point you have to choose a focus, or at least I do. I would love to think i am the kind of person who can do 10 different things consistently and well, but I obviously can't. If I have worked my day job and also written one page on my script, i mark that day down as a success. Because even that is hard.

(weird, i was going to say "drinking more water" too. it really does help!)
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:40 PM on May 20, 2008 [4 favorites]

When it comes to pursuing an art form, the only way to see if its the right thing to follow is to give it a really good shot. That means doing it every day no matter what..even if its just for a few minutes or writing down ideas. Its hard to do, but its effective.

It sounds like you are a typical college student going through the normal, and sometimes painful, process of "finding yourself." It sounds cheesy, but it takes a while to figure out what you want from life. (I could of course be wrong...maybe you know exactly want but just want to be a better person in general.) In my opinion, and its just my own opinion so take it at that, you should try everything that interests you, one at a time maybe, until you find what youre looking for. And when it comes to not being able to follow through, well, thats just something you have to work on, but its definitely possible.

I read the book "Stumbling on Happiness" by Dan Gilbert and its pretty great. Its not a self help book, its a pop-science book about what makes people satisfied with their choices. I recommend it as an interesting read, but one sentence in particular really changed the way I think about life (I'm paraphrasing here): In a study it was found that more people regret NOT doing something than they regret DOING something.

So now I usually say yes to things rather than procrastinate or give in to laziness. "Should I work on my project? It will be hard and maybe frustrating! But whats the alternative? Surfing the internet probably. I better get to work."
posted by minicloud at 1:42 PM on May 20, 2008 [9 favorites]

Seconding "Stumbling On Happiness". Great read.
posted by everichon at 1:48 PM on May 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

The other small thing with larger-than-expected quality of life results was starting to cook a few times a week, at first just from this much-linked-to NYT recipe list.
posted by everichon at 1:50 PM on May 20, 2008

Doing what I want.

That is, if I have to "force myself" to do something, it's not what I really want.
posted by trevyn at 1:58 PM on May 20, 2008 [3 favorites]

giving myself downtime when i tell myself that it's ok to just lay there, watch tv, space out, read some drivel or otherwise be "unproductive"
posted by Salvatorparadise at 2:00 PM on May 20, 2008

Eating breakfast everyday. It started when my girlfriend convinced me to eat with her before class twice a week, then this year I started doing it all by myself. Not only has it gotten my day off to a good start, I think it's made me a healthier eat (not so much taken it at lunch).
posted by theichibun at 2:00 PM on May 20, 2008

I stopped drinking alcohol. The benefits have been manifolded and have positively impacted all facets of my life.
posted by Roach at 2:05 PM on May 20, 2008

I made an AskMeFi comment recently about "shoulding yourself"; it seems to apply to your question as well (procrastination, motivation, guilt). Here are a couple other thoughts:

*exercise, for me, works best if I take a class - the outside, visible commitment motivates me - I go to badminton once a week and the social aspect really helps; although recently I have been playing DDR every day at home and that helps since it is fun and doesn't feel like exercise (I have lost 13 lbs in a month and a half)

*anything can become a habit if you can keep it up for a month or two; but if I flake on one or two days before I have done it for that long, I usually fall off the wagon, so I make myself do it until it becomes a habit since I know just one day off will screw me up
posted by Melinika at 2:15 PM on May 20, 2008

I just recently started working with the Getting Things Done book. It's already impacted my life for the better in the couple weeks that I've been using it. I've found that the author's claim that you feel much calmer and less anxious about things once you get it off your mind and onto a list is really true for me. I used to stay awake at night worrying about lots of little things, only to forget about them in the light of day. Rinse and repeat. After I emptied my mind onto the lists described there, I've been able to feel confident that I'm not going to forget to do them. I've already amazed my parents a few times by wishing my uncle a happy birthday when I would normally have completely forgotten and by packing and doing my laundry well in advance of a trip. Just getting my life organized has given me a lot more free RAM to actually live life in the moment and not be constantly worrying about something.
posted by peacheater at 2:31 PM on May 20, 2008

It's not such a small change, but I changed the way I see myself. Mentally complaining about older siblings who don't take me seriously, I stopped and though "Do I take myself seriously?" I decided that in order for others to take me seriously, find me credible, etc., I needed to take myself seriously. It was a small change that turned into a very big change.
posted by theora55 at 2:36 PM on May 20, 2008 [3 favorites]

Reducing negative thinking.
posted by Korou at 2:49 PM on May 20, 2008 [3 favorites]

I guess this was a pretty big change, but when I was 19 I moved to a place where I knew absolutely no one. I didn't stay there, but for the time I was there I was forced to rely entirely on myself, with no structure (school, job, family) to support me. The confidence that instilled has carried me through many difficulties.

On a (much) smaller scale, I quit smoking. I moderated my drinking. I taught myself to ride a bike while in my 20s (another great confidence builder). I went to Europe by myself. I joined a group of like-minded people who met on a regular basis. I started meditating. Basically, it's about doing small things that take care of my needs, and the rest takes care of itself.

Procrastination and boredom are human nature and there's no need to judge yourself for them. As a wise soul says, "Fall down seven times, get up eight."
posted by desjardins at 2:51 PM on May 20, 2008 [4 favorites]

2nding Fizz. I wanted to get in better shape this year (also my freshman year in college) so I joined the frisbee team. I wanted to try my hand at art so I signed up for a painting class. It's easier to stick with something when you've made a commitment to other people and not just yourself.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 2:57 PM on May 20, 2008

The debt thing is not a little change, but it did change my life. Husband and I paid off a LOT of debt (student loans, credit cards) about 7 years ago and have not racked up debt since (we do have a mortgage, but that doesn't count as far as I'm concerned).

If we can't afford it, we don't have it. That said, we have just about everything we could need and we're saving up for a new backyard and a new garage door. Without the debt, we should have enough by the end of summer. It's absolutely amazing having all of your money go to something real rather than to credit card companies.

How did we do it? We each got a consolidation loan and second jobs for a year and just budgeted the hell out of everything until it was gone. Now everything is cash or AmEx which is paid off at the end of the month without fail. My FICO is 820 and though I don't have impulse buys (I do really want that pink Cynthia Rowley hose and a pretty new MacBook Air) I want to be debt-free a lot more than I want any thing .
posted by Sophie1 at 2:59 PM on May 20, 2008

I was in something of a rut at the same age as you, and I managed to save about $5000 with no idea what to do with it. My parents were advising me to get a car, or put it in long term savings, but instead I went to Japan for 5 weeks, more or less on a whim. By myself, when I'd never traveled alone before, and never been overseas at all.

Best thing I ever did. Really made me come out of my shell socially, and change my perspective on a lot of life things. I backpacked, met interesting people, and when I got back home I immediately moved out of home, changed my career, and became a lot more social.

That 5 weeks completely changed my life.
posted by Admira at 3:03 PM on May 20, 2008 [5 favorites]

I'm 24 and have been going through some pretty intense changes for the last 16 months or so. My parents saw me for the first time in a while last weekend and commented more than once that they barely recognize me (it has all been positive change). Some of the things I've been doing:

*I signed up to run a half marathon for a charity. Committing to do this with a group helped me stay on track at the beginning when I couldn't run for twenty minutes. I also forgave myself when i "missed" a run. Watching my endurance grow and my body change (not to mention the weight loss) was really remarkable.

*I donated my hair to Locks of Love and ended up with a short, easy to manage bob.

*I got involved with Women for Women International. I have a sister/pen pal in Rwanda who I write to once a month. She writes back. And she is going through change too, learning job skills, among other things in part through my sponsorship. I can go on at length about this organization, or you can check into it yourself. I can't say enough good things about volunteering, just make sure it's an area that you yourself are interested in.

*I started reading a book on finances for people in their twenties called "Get A Financial Life" (It was recommended here). Now I find it much easier to save money because I save for specific vacations that I plan for myself like going to Mexico in June to take a brief Spanish Class.

Finally, (I swear I'm almost done). Most of these changes were spurred by going to Rwanda last April. I saw so much change their, and the hope that comes with change. I looked at my own life and realized I had become stagnant since finishing my undergraduate work. I looked around for how I could become the person I wanted to be and now I'm going to grad school in a field I really want to study. Obviously some of these changes are bigger than what you're looking for, but I find change begets more change....Oh, also small thing, but I started wearing dresses. Changed my whole perspective... YMMV. Good Luck!!
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 3:10 PM on May 20, 2008 [5 favorites]

We're the same age and I have trouble finding motivation as well. For me, I had to put myself in situations that forced me to better myself.

For example, junior year of high school I decided to lose weight so I joined a club soccer team and my golf team at school since I knew that I could never just get up and start fully dieting or running everyday; I needed other people relying on me in order to get up and stay motivated to achieve my goal (which I did).

Another example that changed my life is when I decided to work as a cashier at a drug store rather than work in landscaping senior year. Interacting with as many different types of people as I did increased my people skills definitely made me a better person. It was the first time I saw the goodness, badness and ugliness of people.
posted by Kevbo947 at 3:12 PM on May 20, 2008

1. Nthing the drinking more water. I used to fill up 6 glasses at each meal in the college caf.
2. Start running.
3. Start writing.
4. Don't stop any of 1-3.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:14 PM on May 20, 2008

Doing what I want.

That is, if I have to "force myself" to do something, it's not what I really want.

Heh, that's actually the opposite of the advice I'd give you. I'd second the person who suggested talking to strangers, but maybe that's not a problem for you. In any case, get out of your comfort zone. It's the only way you'll grow and find new pleasures.
posted by mpls2 at 3:34 PM on May 20, 2008 [4 favorites]

I'm concerned by the fact that you're looking for "little changes" to yield "big impact". That's not what life is like.

There are a lot of things you can do to make yourself and your life better, but they're not easy or little. They take a lot of work and a lot of commitment.

What's the most important thing you can do right now? Stop looking for easy answers to hard problems. There aren't any.
posted by Class Goat at 4:12 PM on May 20, 2008

That is, if I have to "force myself" to do something, it's not what I really want.

I have to also disagree. If I never forced myself to do anything, I would never do any writing. I would never have been to a job interview, and I probably would never have had a girlfriend (because I would never have made myself talk to a girl I didn't already know)
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:13 PM on May 20, 2008

not to keep harping on this, but I think it's important:

wanting to do something, or having an idea is easy.
Follow-through is very hard.

Do you think mountain climbers enjoy every freezing, can't-breathe, worrying-you're-going-to fall-into-a-crack-and-die step up the mountain? I'm sure they don't, but that doesn't mean climbing Everest isn't something they "want" to do, or that they won't gain satisfaction from doing it.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:18 PM on May 20, 2008

I have a policy that I don't do anything productive on Saturdays. It's a complete day of rest: no chores; no job; and when I was in college, no homework. Saturdays are about friends and movies and books and video games and just relaxing. I spend the other six days a week accomplishing things. I just need one day to idle.
posted by Servo5678 at 4:31 PM on May 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

Sometimes slight shifts in thinking are like slight alterations in a yoga pose: one subtle movement and suddenly everything feels different. I've had a few of these moments over the years, some psychological, some practical.

One of the things I did that was small and internal but changed my experience of things greatly was to decide to deal with difficult, unavoidable people by not "biting the hook" -- one day I just realized that if I stopped looking for subtext, I wouldn't find it, and therefore wouldn't be bothered by it. In other words, I decided to take those people at face value when I had to interact with them, and work from the assumption that they actually mean what they were actually saying, instead of doing the emotional heavy-lifting of deconstructing the sarcasm or double-speak or whatever and figuring out what was *really* being said. It was actually fun to try it at first, and after a while I became comfortable enough to just go into "surface" mode with those people all the time. Huge emotional engagement wiped right off the map.

Another thing along those lines was just learning as I got older that I really could trust my gut on many things. That made it possible to avoid what often becomes (for me) pointless circular thinking (which often turns into the handy end goal in and of itself). To me, it feels like a relief to know that for certain situations, I know what I'm doing and I can be confident about those things without having to have some kind of insane internal monologue to justify everything to myself.

On a more practical note, probably the smartest, smallest thing I've done that's saved me not only time but money is to order groceries online. (Sure, there's a delivery charge, but I'm not spending half a day in the store arguing with my children about why they absolutely CANNOT get some overpriced DVD/awful candy/nasty cereal/cartoon character fruit chews that is of course positioned directly at their eye-level. And all my previous orders are saved, so I can shop from home in about 5 minutes and be done with it.)
posted by mothershock at 4:33 PM on May 20, 2008 [10 favorites]

Say yes more. After reading a book called Yes Man by Danny Wallace, who decides to say yes to everything he's asked for a whole year, I decided to give it a shot on a smaller scale. I don't say yes to everything, but I do deliberately agree to do things that I would previously have tried to avoid. It's a way to challenge myself and get past my fears.

Results so far? I credit 'yes' with many of my friends, my job, living away from my family home, many trips to other countries in the last year or two, …

To be fair, I was starting to push my boundaries already before I read the book—making new friends, traveling by myself to Australia—but having the simple phrase, “Say yes more,” as an easy way to spur myself on when I needed the extra motivation has been very useful.

Incidentally, saying yes to things has led me to meet Danny twice already.
posted by roryparle at 4:42 PM on May 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Excercising completely changed my life. I look better, feel better, have more energy and personality. Stretch twice a day.

Making lists changed my life for the better. I'm more productive and I procrastinate (somewhat) less.
posted by HotPatatta at 8:47 PM on May 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Someone here wrote (and I'm paraphrasing) that once you no longer feel the need to enjoy the actual action that you will be performing, enjoyable experiences will follow. It removes a great burden from you. If you know it will be good for you, do it, despite all those nagging voices. Just ACT.

Another paraphrase: Action precedes motivation.
posted by lalochezia at 11:06 PM on May 20, 2008 [5 favorites]

One little thing that has (and continues to) have a very positive impact on my life is writing every day. I decided that even if it was only a sentence, I would do it daily, and bought a durable book that always goes with me. I'll be honest and say that since starting around February of last year I have missed a few days, but much fewer than I expected when I began. Generally I don't write much more than two paragraphs, but there are days when I end up with pages and pages.

The big difference that doing this has made - it has encouraged me to let go of my anxieties a bit and be more playful with some of my thoughts, and has led to a few 'break throughs' in my practice when I've been struggling with my ideas. I have been suprised by how powerful little things can become when they are written down - details about the world around you, songs that are playing while you're out and about, overheard conversations, amusing thoughts, etc etc. They're mundane things, but I would highly recommend trying this if you're feeling a little 'meh' about life.
posted by sleep_walker at 12:37 AM on May 21, 2008

I spent 2.5 years in therapy, which helped my depression so much that it's like I'm a new person. I have a new positive outlook on life and I'm more accepting of who I am. While it didn't solve all my problems or completely cure my depression, it was a huge change.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:12 AM on May 21, 2008

I stopped doing what everyone expected of me and did what I felt was right for my life. When I was growing up, I was always the "smart kid" in the class and I would always be told by my parents and other adults that I was going to go places. This continued all through high school, and I got a full ride to college, and that's when the same type of things you're experiencing now hit me, except that I smashed right into them like a car hitting a brick wall at 200MPH.

I didn't even last a semester in college because I didn't care about what I was doing so I couldn't dedicate myself to it. When I left college, I tried getting "real jobs" but never found anything that I felt was right, and I was miserable. Finally, almost six months ago now, I got a job doing something I never thought I would end up doing in a career, and I am absolutely loving it. When I told my parents and others around me about this job, they were very skeptical at first, but I feel so gratified at the end of every day that I'm doing what I am, and it's all because I smashed the expectations that were spoon-fed to me all my life and made my own decisions.
posted by joshrholloway at 5:47 AM on May 21, 2008

I made peace with my dad. We had a really strained relationship when I was in university and had stopped talking to him for a variety of reasons. This went on for years.

One day I had the sense to realize that no matter what, you only get one dad and that life was too short. I wrote him a card (guess I was too chicken to start talking in person) and then he came and talked to me.

Now we have a great relationship and he has mellowed out a lot in his old age. So I'd advise to anyone (although there will be people who disagree with me here) make peace with your family. Not for their sake, but for your sake. Life is too short to be schlepping around the huge weight of anger and resentment.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 6:10 AM on May 21, 2008

Seconding many of the above (Getting Things Done, regular exercise).

I'll also add that I now only watch television that I absolutely definitely want to watch... not stuff I'm vaguely half-interested in.
So basically the news and less than an hour a night of other stuff. It frees up so much time to do other things.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:36 AM on May 21, 2008

I decided that fear was the core of all problems. Then I conquered fear by going somewhere alone without any way to go back and no money. Now I feel no fear. It was like I had been in hell, and now being back makes all those things I used to be afraid of seem so petty. I'm focused, I wake up early in the morning, I work and make a lot of money. Those weeks really changed me, and though I will never do this again, I have never regretted for one moment ever doing that.
posted by markovich at 8:01 AM on May 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Regarding career - I didn't really know it was fun until I tried it.
Try a lot of things, without committing right away.
posted by uni verse at 8:24 AM on May 21, 2008

My lifelong dream was to learn to play the violin. A couple months ago, I started taking lessons.

Now in the middle of my happiest day or worst nightmare, I can make my own music to share my joy or soothe my soul.
posted by mynameismandab at 11:05 PM on May 22, 2008

Best answer: I realized (and accepted) that life is a long string of mundane activities like laundry, punctuated by brief moments of sheer joy.
posted by desjardins at 8:15 AM on May 23, 2008 [4 favorites]

I put some candy next to my alarm clock. It helps me stay awake in the morning, which makes a lot of difference.
posted by springload at 3:56 PM on May 27, 2008

Replacing lapsed Catholicism with atheism, then omnivorism with vegetarianism and finally veganism. I feel better now.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:49 PM on May 27, 2008

Guess I'm a bit late on this one, but learning to accept reality was the biggest change in my life so far. I'm not sure how it happened, but it had to do with having to move house several times within a short period and having to manage people at work.

At times I'd rail and fume about how things were and how I wanted them to be, and on an intellectual level I already knew that my expectations didn't match ***how things actually were***.

That was the first part of "how to accept reality".

The other half of the experience was to accept that if you do nothing, nothing will happen. And if you do something, something will happen.

These two realisations have made a substantial change in my outlook on life (not as large a change in relationships, but I accept that feelings change slowly for me)

I hope this make some sense - it's all about trying to find the truth in a situation rather than judging it through your own experiences or preconceptions.

The book Loving What Is, by Byron Katie, actually explained my epiphany to me after I had it :)

I've read many a question and answer here on MeFi by people in their 20s who are concerned with where their lives are going, and my ex-housemate, who is 19, also worries about studying vs working, what she should do, and so on. Well, I'm twice that age and then some, and still really don't know what I want to do.

So, I've gone and done things, and things have happened, some very good, some extremely bad, but they have all changed me from being quite narcissistic into someone who (hopefully) has done some good in other people's lives.
posted by flutable at 3:49 AM on May 28, 2008

Focus on experiences rather than stuff. Novelty is a key component to happiness. Do new things and see new places.
posted by cnc at 10:53 PM on June 3, 2008

Hard work, patience, goal setting and a positive attitude and faith in myself helped change my life. In 2004, I arrived in Canada after spending ten years overseas. I was basically an ESL teacher (although I have a B.Ed) with strong writing skills, but I knew no one, and felt like an alien in more ways than one. Since returning, I've worked as a researcher, a speechwriter, have written corporate communications for Honda and now work as a manager in government.

My transformation comforts me, because I know that no matter what happens career-wise, I will have the resources to take on that challenge and come out successful.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:51 PM on June 8, 2008

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