After my coffee and meditation each morning, I tune into Morning Joe on MSNBC. A few weeks ago, I happened to catch a segment about the little things that can change our lives… and perhaps the world.
The team was interviewing Retired Admiral William McRaven, who has just released his book Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life… and Maybe the World. The book is based on his 2014 commencement speech at the University of Texas at Austin, which immediately went viral. He advised the grads to, among other things, make their beds each day.
McRaven credits his military background, with its emphasis on precision and attention to detail on even the tiniest of tasks, with teaching him many of the important lessons in his life; not surprisingly, he tells us it’s these little things that really matter the most.
In many ways, life is a matter of continually shifting our attention between the forest and the trees. Sometimes we dig in to the dirt to plant and sow, attending to the beauty, and even the tiny beasts, in our midst on a very granular level. And sometimes we pull back and survey the landscape to get a bit of perspective, ensuring that our small daily tasks are indeed helping to maintain the broad ecosystem of our life.
Our lives are made up of this expansion and contraction of attention. In keeping with this continuous pendulation, I have added some BIG things to the retired admiral’s list, and I’m sharing with you my list of…
1. Make Your Bed
Okay, clearly I’m not very original on this one, but in this segment on Morning Joe, I loved how McCraven spoke about the importance of making our bed each day. When we start our day this way, we create a little bit of order and tidiness in our world, something we can’t do in many other areas of our lives! (And the research tells us that clutter and disorder actually trigger our stress response, and lead to lower productivity. And that we also sleep better at night when we make our beds in the morning!)
Once we’ve made our bed, we’ve accomplished something — a task is already done! Sometimes we just need that little item to cross off our to-do list to get our momentum going.
Most importantly, McCraven asked the show’s listeners, “If you can’t do the little stuff well, how are you going to do the BIG stuff well?” Making his bed each day with military precision, with careful attention and perfect “hospital corners,” accustomed him to doing each job the right way.
True, sometimes things aren’t always so simple.
But sometimes they are.
I think making your bed each morning can be a lovely mindfulness practice. Pay attention to your work, express gratitude for blankets and pillows and comfort and warmth, and notice how it feels to tidy up your space.
This simple piece of advice from McCraven led Joe Scarborough to offer another simple suggestion…
2. Wear a Good Pair of Shoes
Scarborough shared a story of meeting with an expert in back and spinal surgery a few years ago. As he considered the quite invasive medical operations he could undergo to remedy his back problems, the surgeon told him to first try something simple: get a better pair of shoes.
That ended up resolving the issue — no surgery required.
The foundation on which we stand, the soil from which we nurture our lives, matters — sometimes all the pains and aches and problems that we think need all sorts of dramatic interventions and “doing” to fix … could actually be transformed if we just moved to softer ground.
Maybe we need to tread lightly instead of pounding the pavement. Perhaps we could rest on a comforting foundation of acceptance and allowing, instead of always resorting to those pinchy shoes that are really trendy, but only create a lot of pain and aversion.
Get the foundation right, and you can build something amazing.
Hearing McCraven and Scarborough share their words of advice on simple little things that make a big difference reminded me of the time I visited my doctor many years ago because I was dealing with unexplained dizziness and vertigo. We found no successful interventions that could work, though I tried various forms of therapy and medication. Eventually, she just gave me the following three suggestions. (I’ll share the little one first):
3. Drink Lots of Water
Ahhh, yes. Water. That forest needs water if it is to thrive, and so do we!
I would wager that at least 50% of my challenging interactions with my children are a direct result of one of us being dehydrated. It’s kind of the thirsty version of “hangry” — when I’m “thangry,” watch out!
This one — like wearing good shoes and making our bed — is easy. Just drink more water! It fuels everything you do and will make you healthier. Add a lemon or other flavors to your glass, and enjoy the simple pleasure of slaking your thirst and nourishing your body.
The next two things my doctor recommended are not so little:
4. Avoid Stress
LOL. I know now that stress cannot be avoided, but that I can choose how I respond to stress. I can remember to breathe, check in with how my body feels, and pause before responding to a situation.
I can use the clarity gained from a few deep breaths to see what’s actually happening, instead of getting wrapped up in the story in my mind. I can notice if I am fighting the present moment, as opposed to allowing it. I can notice if I am trying to control something over which I have no control.
I can acknowledge when things are hard, and remind myself that the things that stress me out — bickering siblings, crowded grocery stores, unpaid bills, looming deadlines — stress out other humans, too. I can show myself a bit of compassion, and acknowledge that yes, it’s hard right now. I can ask, what can I do to take care of myself?
5. Get Enough Sleep
Luckily, doing all of the above steps will likely contribute to accomplishing this one (just lay off on the water for a few hours before bed!)
You probably love and appreciate sleep already… so let me just share a few reasons why you might want to consider getting a little bit more of it:
- During sleep (particularly during REM — or dream — sleep), the brain consolidates the day’s memories and clears out toxins. The sleeping brain is quite active, doing lots of planting and weeding!
- Not getting enough sleep is associated with a whole host of health problems, including depression, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
- Not getting enough sleep also impacts our ability to think clearly, make sound decisions, and store short- and long-term memories.
- The body’s immune system strengthens its defenses during sleep.
You can nurture the forest AND the trees.
First, do your daily activities,
with careful concentration,
a solid foundation,
and adequate hydration.
Then get your zzzz’s,
and take care of yourself, please.