Walking home from the train after an especially rough day, I decided not to lose myself in an audiobook as I usually do. Instead I did something very simple, exceedingly easy, and yet it was something I’d considered doing for at least a year but had always put off. I fired up my phone’s voice recorder and, one at a time, spoke every true sentence I could think of that began with “I want to…”
- …read more books.
- …write more often, and for more people.
- …reach out more often to family.
The list continued. Desires are a kind of burden, and a few minutes’ time taught me that I’d been carrying far more than I’d accounted for, quietly annoyed with myself for not measuring up to goals I didn’t even know I had. To speak them was liberating.
When I got home, I listened to the recording and typed up each thing on the list. That’s when things got even more interesting. I began to notice patterns, which crystallized into plans.
- …exercise more.
- …stretch more.
- …drink less coffee, maybe switch to tea.
Having moved closer to where I work, if I use my extra time in the morning to exercise, I may not need a cup of coffee to wake me up.
- …cook more interesting things.
- …cook larger meals, so I can have leftovers and spend less money buying lunch out.
The two main barriers to cooking more exotic foods are the expense of ingredients (especially spices) I may use only rarely, and the higher effort-to-calories ratio. But if I make a point of preparing larger quantities, these barriers will be less of an issue and I’ll have extra to bring for lunch the next day or two.
- …be less anxious.
- …give more to charity.
- …plan for the future, financially but also more generally.
- …have a wider perspective on my own life by more often taking stock of things.
Having moved out on my own and multiplied my financial responsibilities severalfold, much of my anxiety centers around money. If I could get a better picture of my financial situation–make a budget, track expenses–I might reduce that anxiety and at the same time know how much more I can afford to give to charity and how much I need to save for future goals.
- …spend less time with screens, and more in the world.
- …give back.
- …meet more strangers.
I might work towards all three of these goals by seeking out my local community garden or someplace else to volunteer on a Saturday.
- …own less stuff.
- …share more physical things.
- …get to know my neighbors.
- …have plants and keep them alive.
All of these might be accomplished by getting to know my new neighbors and sharing a meal, a grill (something I’ve written about before) or herbs from the small garden I’m going to plant.
- …spend less time checking the internet for things that don’t matter.
- …work from home, and get good at it, so when I have kids I can see more of them.
- …meditate more.
All of these revolve around improving my ability to focus and be disciplined with my attention and energies. I’ve begun a meditation course, but have a long way to go toward taming my inner magpie.
So, I would heartily recommend this exercise of taking a few minutes to list the things about your life that you’d like to change. Perhaps take a walk with your phone’s voice recorder like I did or sit down at a cafe with a cup of tea and a notepad on a Saturday morning. (Either way, I would recommend somewhere outside of your normal routine in order to open your mind.) You may chase some hidden unhappiness out of the woodwork and begin to see a long list of yearnings as a few manageable chunks of opportunity.