Make a Plan to Improve Your Life

Have you considered creating a plan to improve your life? If not, how about doing it right now? Or if you don’t want to make one for yourself, you can use this one.

A friend asked me to help him make a plan to become happier. He is already pretty happy, but thought he could be more so. What you see below is the general life improvement plan we came up with, which should apply to most people (plus some improvements I added for this post).

Each week of the plan is an experiment, where you work on improving one aspect of your life (sleep, friendships, work, and so on). Trying new things doesn’t take much time, but can yield large benefits. Some parts of the plan will inevitably be duds, but the great thing with experimentation is that you can continue doing the stuff you discover to be most valuable and just discard the rest.

If you decide to try this for yourself, you can use the plan below exactly as is, or just pick out the weeks that seem most relevant to you. And if you do give it a try, let me know how it works for you!

Here’s the plan for improving your life.

Week 1:  Savoring Week

Savoring week is a response to the idea that people often forget to schedule highly pleasurable activities (especially when feeling depressed), and easily fall into a habit of doing the easy, always available things that are only modestly pleasurable (e.g. TV watching). Really enjoyable experiences often take a bit of planning and effort to create.

What to do this week:

  1. Plan three highly pleasurable experiences that you wouldn’t typically do.
  2. Make sure to savor as intensely as you can during each experience. Turn off your cell phone, remove other distractions, and try to become fully and solely aware of the experience itself.
  3. Set a reminder on your phone or in your calendar that will go off just before each pleasurable experience begins, reminding you to turn off your phone and to focus intensely on savoring.

Some ideas for pleasurable activities:

  • Take a walk in the most beautiful place you know.
  • Watch the sunset or sunrise from a nice vantage point.
  • Play a sport that you really enjoy.
  • Schedule a professional massage, or trade long massages with your significant other.
  • Buy your favorite dessert, and eat it very slowly with a small spoon (avoid conversation or distractions during this, just focus on the taste).

 

Week 2: Gratitude Week

Gratitude week is inspired by the positive psychology movement and researchers like Martin Seligman, who’ve found that so called “Gratitude Visits” can have a substantially positive impact on people’s moods. The task may sound a bit daunting, but people frequently find it to be a moving experience (for all involved).

What to do:

  1. Write a 200-500 word letter to someone who did or said something that changed your life for the better. Tell them in the letter about how what they did that improved your life, and express your gratitude.
  2. Ask them to meet with you, but don’t tell them why.
  3. When you see them, tell them you wrote something for them, and read  the letter out loud. Alternatively, you could just send them the letter, but that is less likely to be an emotional and moving experience.

Some ideas for people to write your gratitude letter to:

  • A friend or mentor who once gave you fantastic, life changing advice.
  • Your father or mother.
  • A teacher who had a large impact on you.

 

Week 3: Friendship Week

Our social relationships are one of the most important drivers of our happiness, yet it’s so easy to fall into routines regarding who we spend time with. It can be helpful to step back from time to time and think about prioritizing our social relationships, so that we stay in close contact with those we most value.

  1. At the beginning of the week, set aside 30 minutes (it’s best to schedule this in your calendar) to jot down a list of your close friends, as well as acquaintances you’d like to know better (use Facebook to help if need be).
  2. Go through and pick out 3 or 4 of these people (that you are not already seeing on a weekly basis) that you most enjoy seeing or who you think can add the most value to your life.
  3. Email or call each of those people and setup a time to see them during friendship week.
  4. After seeing each, schedule another time on the calendar to see them again during the two weeks afterward.
  5. Start building a pattern of seeing these people regularly.

 

Week 4: Sleep Week

Sleep week has a huge impact on how we feel, yet a great many of us don’t sleep enough or don’t sleep well. For some, it’s been years since they’ve gotten as much sleep as they need for 7 consecutive nights.

What to do:

  1. Try two or three new ways of sleeping (schedule in your calendar when you’re going to try each). See below for a list of ideas. You might find (as many people report) that one of these improves your sleep quality.
  2. Set alarms to remind you when to start getting ready for bed each night, such that you make sure you get as many hours as you need to feel your best. Do this for the whole week, so that you get an entire week of the ideal number of sleep hours. Try to get to bed at the same time each night that week, as well. You’ll be reminded  what feeling extremely well rested feels like!

Ideas of sleep experiments to try

  • Install flux for your computer to reduce the amount of blue light you get before bedtime.
  • Put on special glasses at night to block blue light.
  • Try sleeping with a sleep mask or ear plugs.
  • Try using a different number of pillows than you usually do (fewer or more).
  • Find a way to block light in your room (for instance, by draping a dark sheet over the windows).

 

Week 5: Work Week

So much of the time in our lives is spent working, that even making a small change at work could have a large impact on total well being. Work week is designed to help you reflect on what you’re doing at work and see how you can enjoy it more.

What to do:

  1. Jot down all the different things you do at work, and how much you enjoy them each (it may help to do this while working, if you have trouble thinking of all the things you do in a day)
  2. Set aside 30 minutes to brainstorm about how to make your job include more of those actions you enjoy, and fewer of those you don’t (schedule the time in your calendar to do this).

Ideas for how you could change what you do at your job

  • If you’re quite unhappy with what you spend your time doing at work, consider reading through job postings to see what other possibilities are out there, or start sending your resume around.
  • Could you change roles at your current job? See if that’s a possibility.
  • Could you have your colleagues do some of the things you don’t like as much, and you take over other responsibilities that you’d like better?
  • Can you delegate more of your work than you already do, or say “no” more often?

 

Week 6: Relationship Week

Romantic relationships are one of the largest drivers of our happiness. Our romantic partners are usually the people we spend the most time with, of anyone in our lives.

What to do:

  • If you are not in a relationship (and would like to be), make it a goal to take at least two actions towards meeting more potentially attractive people, or making yourself more attractive. See the ideas below.
  • If you are in a relationship, make it a goal to improve your relationship with your partner this week. See the ideas below.

Idea if you are not in a relationship

  • Sign up for an online dating website.
  • Ask three friends (email them during the week) if they know anyone they think you’d like.
  • Join a hobby group or club that you think might have the sort of people you’d be attracted to.
  • Ask a friend (or better yet, two) with good fashion taste to go through your wardrobe with you so you can sell or give away the stuff you don’t look good in, or go shopping with this friend for new clothes.

Ideas if you are in a relationship

  • Ask your partner what little behaviors you could change that would make them happier.
  • Ask your partner which of your clothes they most like and most dislike (and make it a habit of wearing those they like).
  • Schedule a romantic trip or event with your partner.
  • Surprise your partner this week with something he or she really loves (e.g. a favorite dessert or a gift, or a letter about how much you love them).

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