Fifty Positive Steps to Change Your Life

Australian State Route Shield

You might think it an odd place to begin changing your life, but consider this: write your own obituary. What is it that you’d like someone to say about you after you are gone?

One of the tricks to changing your life is to widen your imagination, break your routine, and see and think about things differently. Here are 49 more small steps that you might consider in the process of reconfiguring yourself:

If you are a city dweller, drive far enough away from the city to see the stars on a clear night. There are lots more than you think.

Think of someone you dislike and make a list of all of their positive qualities.

Volunteer to do something that might be described as “community service.”

Start to write your autobiography.

Write a short story.

Eat a raisin slowly, as if you’d never tasted one before.

Go to a fancy restaurant and eat a meal alone; or go to a concert, play, or movie alone.

Make a list of all the things you are grateful for.

Apologize to someone who deserves your apology, including a “no excuses” statement of regret and some method of attempting to make-it-up to them.

Re-contact an old elementary school friend.

If your physician allows it, begin a weight-lifting program.

Wake up early to see the sun rise.

Make two lists, one of your strengths and another of your faults.

Create a “bucket list:” all the things you’d like to do before you “kick the bucket.” Make plans to do one of them within the next year.

Tell someone how much you appreciate him and why.

Write a letter. Hand write it.

Do some routine task (eating for example) with your non-dominant hand.

Build something, even if it is only a model airplane.

Grow something.

With adequate supervision so that you don’t get hurt, spend some time blindfolded.

Take an academic course.


Take a yoga class.

If you aren’t a dancer, learn to dance.

Remember all of the difficult life challenges that you’ve overcome and identify the qualities in you (strengths) that allowed you to overcome them.

Imagine a different and more rewarding life than the one you currently lead. What do you need to do to create it?

Create a five-minute comedy monologue and deliver it to a group of friends.

Learn to sing or play a musical instrument.

Play chess.

Give up something for a month (for example, TV, a favorite food, alcohol, caffeine, or listening to music).

If you have no children, consider becoming a “Big Brother” or a “Big Sister.”

Learn a foreign language.

Participate in a team sport.

Start a philanthropic project with some friends, no matter how small it might have to be.

Visit a public high school in the inner-city and think about the future of this country and what you can do to make it better.

Clean out your closet.

Imagine that you are to be stranded on a desert island and can only take five non-essential items with you. What would they be?

If your memory was going to be erased, what would be the single memory that you would ask to be spared? Why that one?

Go on a retreat.

Teach someone something. Show them “how it is done.”

Give some money (even if its only a dollar) to some needy person you know; and do it anonymously!

Buy a hard copy of one of the few remaining great newspapers in the USA (for example, the New York Times, Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal) and read every word. Then think about the fact that a Bell Labs study reportedly estimated that the average sixteenth century man had less information to process in a lifetime than can be found in a single daily edition of the New York Times.

If you wear a tie, tie the knot in a new way (most men tie a Four-in-Hand knot, but there are some others that actually look better).

Paint, draw, sketch, or sculpt something.

If you haven’t done so already, read Becker’s The Denial of Death.

Walk to some destination that you usually reach by car or pubic transportation.

Make a list of all that you have learned about life since finishing your formal education.

If you don’t have a tatoo, get a temporary tatoo (if there are no health risks to you) and observe how people look at you differently; if you have a prominent tatoo and can cover it up, walk around and notice the way that people look at you now.

Send me a suggestion on one more step to change your life.

The image of the Australian State Route Shield is sourced from Wikimedia Common.

Holiday Depression is Coming to Town

It is that time of year. The TV shows us happy families, all smiles, getting together around the Christmas tree or a turkey dinner. Festive window displays adorn your local department store. Greeting cards proclaim good cheer and the values of family and fraternity. And there you are, alone or lonely, wondering how it is that you haven’t been invited to the party.

The media often represent a version of American life that overstates the happiness quotient of the average person. It is difficult not to believe that many, if not most people are having a better time than we are; are more loved, more popular, and having more fun.

First off, don’t be fooled. You are not alone. Just because you are not represented in the media ads, doesn’t mean that you are solo in your suffering. Many of the “holiday singles” group keep a low profile at this time of year, fearful that they will be judged to be losers if they proclaim their isolation; few want to be objects of pity, and that is exactly what they expect if it should become known that they have nowhere to go and no one to be with on Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Year’s Eve.

But many people are alone: many of the divorced, widowed, and childless; many who live at great distances from their families; many who have recently broken-up with someone; many who are estranged from family or friends; many who have recently moved; and many of the unemployed, who have lost the connectedness to co-workers that was an emotionally sustaining source of support.

Holidays can also be difficult because of the haunting memories of better times. This is especially true if the loss of loved ones is fairly recent. The first holiday or two after a divorce or death is usually especially difficult to endure, so great is the contrast between the focus on family that the holiday brings and the solitary fact of being bereft. Moreover, holidays tend to rob the lonely of the distraction of work, generating significant expanses of empty time, filled only by reflections on one’s sorry state as the time moves with a dull, clumsy, funereal tread.

On top of all this, there is the problem of Seasonal Affective Disorder (appropriately signified by the acronym SAD). Typically, the pattern is one of onset of a depressive episode in the fall or winter, with remission coming in the spring. Additionally, the seasonal condition is not due to some external event (such as the beginning of school in the fall), but rather is thought to do with the relative unavailability of “bright visible-spectrum light” that is characteristic of  “the dark months.”

What to do then, if you are suffering from the holiday blues? Here are a few possibilities:

  • Although your unhappiness presupposes the absence of satisfying social contact, at least consider whether there is someone to whom you can reach out and who might even welcome your participation in his holiday celebration. Social withdrawal tends to feed on itself, only making us feel worse. While it is true that a rejection is painful, many people are more than usually welcoming at this time of year; the risk might be worth the reward.
  • Keep busy doing something productive. Don’t spend hours watching television alone, if at all possible. Clean your house, build something, exercise, or perform some other useful function.
  • Consider volunteering at a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen. Not only is this important work, but it will fill the time and might even make you aware that, however bad your situation, it is still better than that of some other people. One other benefit is the human contact that such volunteerism provides, including the possibility of making new friends, among whom might be some others who find themselves alone on the holidays.
  • Make a list of the things about which you are grateful. Most of us take much for granted. Perhaps there are still things in your life that you can count as blessings. Such reminders are often useful in boosting a sagging spirit.
  • If you have the means, travel can be a good and beneficial use of your time at the holidays. Fares are often cheaper on the holiday itself. Going to a warm climate or a new place might serve to break up your routine and, once again, give you a chance to do new things and meet new people.
  • Social-networking sites on the internet may be worth investigating. While not usually as satisfying as face-to-face human contact, this new type of relatedness can lead to friendship for some, and reduce one’s sense of complete isolation.
  • If you have been on the planet for a while, remember the past difficulties that you have overcome and how you did so. It is very likely that the same human qualities that enabled you to get past other tough times will get you over the holidays.
  • If you have been diagnosed with a seasonal depression (SAD), consider obtaining a light box that provides a full light spectrum for your own in-home therapy. These can be found easily by googling “light box.” Such devices are typically not enormously expensive.
  • Psychotherapy and/or anti-depressant medication are always available should you wish to take on your sadness in a most direct and powerful way.