this is my short list of things i’ve found to be helpful; take what you will. it’s probably most useful to people who do a lot of sedentary computer work.
people were built to live out in the world. we originally spent our days out in the open air and just came in at night or to take shelter from a storm. now we’ve turned that on its head, trading the broad sky for a few feet of ceiling and rarely going out.
take a walk every day. thoreau wasn’t happy unless he’d had his daily four hour walk (read his thoughts on it). if you can’t make time for that, at least start with going fifteen minutes out and walking fifteen minutes back. pick different directions. surprise yourself with how far fifteen minutes will take you.
see your neighborhood. hear the birds. get some weather in you. if you just get out of your head for a little while and see the big world, your problems will be much smaller when you get back.
giving your body some work to do improves the state of your mind and makes a preemptive strike against disease and medical bills. try a form of exercise you can do outside at any time and with no equipment, such as tai chi or qigong. cutting grass and planting a garden are also good.
if you engage in an an occupation which makes you work with your brain and not the rest of your body, spend some time each day getting out of your head and into the bigger world, practicing just paying attention to everything and giving up the idea that you have to analyze it, criticize it, or do something about it. there are many forms and traditions of meditation you can learn. i practice zen.
these are good ideas for anyone. if you’re not buddhist, just skip the last one.
- be reverential and mindful with all life; do not be violent or kill.
- respect others’ property; do not steal.
- be conscious and loving in your relationships; do not give way to lust.
- honor honesty and truth; do not deceive.
- exercise proper care of your body and mind; do not be gluttonous or abuse intoxicants.
- remember that silence is precious; do not engage in frivolous conversation.
- be humble; do not praise yourself or judge others.
- be grateful for your life; do not covet, envy, or be jealous.
- keep your mind always calm and at peace; do not give way to anger.
- esteem the three treasures: buddha, dharma, and sangha; do not defame them.
“Psychologically I should say that a person becomes an adult at the point when he produces more than he consumes or earns more than he spends. This may be at the age of eighteen, twenty-five, or thirty-five. Some people remain unproductive and dependent children forever and therefore intellectually and emotionally immature.”
— Henry C. Link
until i was in my late 20s, i was so wary and defensive against the american curse of materialism that i swung to the opposite extreme and held a pointed and even self-righteous disregard for money and possessions. the unfortunate and ironic result was that i used things up at a needlessly quick pace, consumed more, and produced more waste for the world to deal with.
i eventually found a middle way between greed and neglect: stewardship. during your lifetime, you can cling to the things you have, you can neglect and ruin them, or your can simply care for them and leave them in good shape for the next person. this is as true for money as for shoes and teapots.
ignoring money doesn’t make you morally superior. learn basic accounting and investment skills, and use money as you see best, responsibly. the longer you ignore it, the more anxious you’ll be about it.
spend less than you earn. care for the things you have. take the bus. reach the happy point of having enough, and stop taking more.
find out how to stay on top of everything you need to do and enjoy your work. try david allen’s systems.
give your attention to everything you do, individually, for as long as you’re doing it. “multitasking” is a path to anxiety, not productivity.
respect music. don’t insult it by making it background noise. if listening to music is what you’re doing, give it your full and close attention.
choose a few commitments and do them as well as you can. get rid of all the other clutter in your way.
if a computer is central in your work, learn to use it as sensibly as you can.
if you work long hours at a computer, don’t leave your body suffering in the same position for the whole time. get a laptop so your computer can go with you, and alternate between standing and sitting. put your laptop on a dresser or filing cabinet and stand in front of it. then, if you can help it, don’t sit in a chair; long stretches in a chair are horrible for your back and legs. learn sitting meditation postures, put your laptop on a coffee table, and sit on cushions in front of it.
have your computer remind you at regular intervals to stop, get up, go outside, etc. i like workrave for this.
an investment in learning unix skills will repay you enormously over a lifetime as you make your computer fit your work and style more and more closely and learn to use the unix toolset to make hard things easy and impossible things hard.
after i recovered from a hand injury many years ago, one of the steps i took to prevent harming my hands again was learning to type with the dvorak layout. when people used typewriters, there was no reasonable alternative to qwerty, but with computers, it’s trivial to load a different layout. relearning typing is difficult at first, but you’ll find the effort is worth it as you’re soon able to type more quickly, for longer stretches of time, and with far less stress and pain.