If you’re a self-help junkie like me, you might be sick and tired of hearing about things that can make your life better. But you also might still be craving more (because you're a junkie). You’ve tried every workshop, read every book, done every diet, joined every religion, and maybe you’re happy or maybe you’re thinking, gosh there seems to still be something missing!
Well here are 5 things you might not have tried that could change your life, break up stagnation, or just be fun experiments.
Sweating is one of my favorite favorite favorite things. I like it because it’s both healthy and easy. It’s my go-to, get-back-on-track activity. There are multiple ways to sweat. The sauna or steam room might be the most obvious. But if you have can afford it and live in the area, I highly recommend trying Shape House, an Urban Sweat Lodge. (Fine, I might be biased because my stepmom owns it, but it's the best, I swear!) There are currently 3 locations in Los Angeles, one in Santa Monica, one on Larchmont, and one in Pasadena.
Why sweat, you ask? Well for one, it releases tons of toxins. This is about the only fact I know about it. But it's a pretty good one, right? In my own personal experience, I just feel better when I sweat regularly. My skin feels softer. I feel lighter and less bloated. And maybe most importantly, it encourages me to do other healthy things like eating cleaner, exercising, and meditating. Plus, it gives me an excuse to watch every Star Trek episode that ever existed. Hold the phone, you say! You love Stark Trek? Me too! Or wait, no. You're just wondering how I get to watch Star Trek and sweat at the same time. Well it's easy! When you sweat at Shape House, you get to spend that hour watching TV, a movie, or listening to music. You can even watch Shakira videos on YouTube. Or any videos! It's just an example! See? Healthy things can be easy and fun!
2. Get your email inbox down to 0.
I’ve always been a fairly messy person. I grew up in a fairly messy house. My mom had open sliding drawers built for me in my closet so I could just throw my clothes onto them instead of throwing them onto the floor. De-cluttering has always been this kind of inexplicably never-ending process in my world. I read the Konmari book. I did everything she said and got rid of tons of stuff. And still, it seemed there was always more!
I don’t know why this works, and maybe it’s just coincidence, but one day I decided to get rid of my 700 unread emails and since that day I’ve been able to clean. I can walk through my bedroom without tripping on anything. My closets are (pretty) organized. I can sit on my couch without moving a pile of junk to one side. It’s not perfect. I still have more things than I need, and the apartment does get occasionally messy. But it’s closer to being consistently clutter-free than ever before, and I give credit to not seeing any numbers next to the word "inbox" in my Gmail account.
Another thing about unread emails, for me anyway, is that it always makes me feel like I have something I need to do. At The University of Santa Monica, they call it “incomplete cycles of action.” To my "I need to always get everything done" brain, unread emails need reading, and that creates totally unnecessary stress, even if it's subtle or mild. I feel so much better, freer, and happier since deleting all my emails. Now all it takes is easy upkeep.
3. Stop eating Meat
Ok Ok, I know. You’re either thinking “Yay! I already don’t eat meat!” or you’re thinking “Oh no, not this shit again. Next!” But just hear me out. It’s hard to stop eating meat all at once. It’s taken me almost 10 years to stop, and I still sometimes eat fish. So I’m not asking you to stop right now forever and be done with it.
My meatless journey began in my freshman year of college when I tried being vegan for 2 months. I got the idea because my RA was vegan and I had never met a vegan and I thought it would be a good challenge. And also, spoiler alert, I was passionately in love with said RA and was pretty sure this would make him fall in love with me, if not at least give us something to talk about.
And I was right! We did have something to talk about. But we never fell in love. And two months later I was drunk and eating Taco Bell in the hallway of the dorm and he laughed at me and said “Sarah, Taco Bell’s not vegan!” And that was the end of that. The veganism, not the crush. Also, Taco Bell can be vegan if you order your food fresco and with beans instead of meat. But I digress.
Over the next few years I was fully and unashamedly eating animal products, though I did have a lot of vegan and vegetarian friends. And then my first boyfriend was vegan. And I slowly cut out meat in an attempt not to gross him out all the time. And then I ate meat again. And then cut it out. Back and forth until finally it just stopped being good enough. Eventually, I’d only eat meat when someone really recommended it. “Try the burger, it’s phenomenal.” So I’d order it and eat it and every time, I’d think, well that was okay, but a veggie burger would have been just as good, if not better. And after a few instances of doing that, I stopped eating meat altogether. Except, like I said, for the occasional fish. But really, it’s rare!
Ok, so why do I tell you all of this? To say that look, I know it’s hard! And I don’t think anyone should force themselves to give up meat until/unless they are ready. You’ll inevitably give in and eat it again. Food is an extremely primal experience, and for some reason when asked to give up something we like, it can create anger and resentment, which seem like totally irrational and over-exaggerated emotions in response to the request, but it is what it is and I'm not here to fight that. But I’d say it’s worth it to at least investigate. There are a lot of good documentaries about meat production that will at least make you more aware of what you’re eating. Cowspiracy is my favorite. And there’s something that, while uncomfortable, is very freeing about enlightening yourself from ignorance in general. And I’d say that’s one of the biggest reasons I put this on the list. We make so many choices everyday based on pleasure and habit and when we take a look at what are choices actually cost us and the rest of our planet including its inhabitants, it can be extremely liberating because it actually gives you more control.
In my own personal experience, I feel a lot more connected to the planet since not eating meat. The more plants I eat, the more I can feel their nutrients absorbing into my body. I feel like I’m part of the earth instead of separate from it. And every time I choose not to eat an animal, I feel like I’m connecting with animals all over the world, showing compassion toward them, and choosing kindness, which makes me feel like I'm living with integrity. Animals are so awesome. I like them, and I feel that I'm showing them respect by not eating them.
4. Break gender expectations.
This one is mostly for the ladies, because I identify as one, and therefore have been subject to expectations related to females. I'm not as versed in the ones related to men, though we could sure use some male allies to support us in breaking ours!
So here goes, ladies (and supportive men). Stop wearing makeup, stop wearing bras, and stop trying to get rid of all your body hair!
I’ve spent an embarrassingly large amount of time worrying about body hair. When I was 12 or 13 I remember begging my mom to let me shave my legs. BEGGING, do you hear me? That seems insane to me now. Please let me change my natural physical appearance to fit today’s societal norms for beauty, please! Crazy, right? And I spent a lot of my high school and college years wondering how much hair to remove from my bikini area. Eventually I just started waxing all of it off because I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to do and that’s what I was getting the most Groupons for. It hurt, but if I kept up with it regularly, it wasn’t so bad. (PS I was stupid, because a regular bikini wax is almost half the price of a Brazilian and not getting waxed at all is free).
But seriously, try to stop shaving your legs, armpits and bikini areas. I know it’s scary. It feels uncomfortable to go outside in shorts with all your leg hair just lazing about. It’s possibly even more uncomfortable to go out with hairy armpits. But let me tell you a story.
One day I was on a date with this guy I liked (it was Morgan). We were cuddled up on my couch reading love stories to each other from a book I’d just bought. I was wearing shorts and I remember thinking “Oh no, I haven’t shaved my legs! In weeks!” And then I thought, “Whatever. If he thinks I'm gross, we're not meant to be.” And guess what? Morgan became my boyfriend and a few months later he told me that he remembered that day. And his thought was not “Ew she’s gross.” His thought was “This girl is so chill.” SO CHILL! (I'm sure I'm paraphrasing, but no matter!) Not only did he not view my leg hair as a negative, he viewed it as a POSITIVE. Can you believe it? And there I was for years and years worrying about how much hair to wax off my vagina. But he didn’t care about my vagina hair or my leg hair or my armpit hair. In fact, we both currently agree that now whenever I shave my armpit hair it looks really weird. Because aesthetics have a lot to do with just what you're used to. You might be thinking, but Sarah! If I have hairy legs and armpits, people are going to constantly comment on it! Maybe they will. But in the 6 months to a year that I've stopped shaving, I've had exactly zero people say anything to me about it. So, Ladies, don't let body hair be another reason to shame, doubt, or hate yourself!
And one of the best things about letting my body hair grow for awhile and getting used to it is that I now know what I like my body hair to look like, and don't really care about other people's opinions. I know that I like having armpit hair, but not too much or too long. So I shave about once every two or three months. And I like having leg hair, but sometimes I also like to have no leg hair, so I wax it off and wait a few months for it to grow back until I don’t want it anymore. And as for my hair down there? Well, there are some things a girl’s gotta keep secret! (But really, you can probs guess).
I’m not going to talk about makeup because it’s the same thing. You’re beautiful without it. No one cares about you or loves you because of your makeup, I promise. And yet, makeup is fun and it’s pretty and I like it as much as the next person, but the point is to not be dependent on it, so if that means to stop wearing it for a month or two or a year until you don't feel ugly without it, then do it.
Ok so what about bras? Eek! Not wearing a bra, especially if your boobs are fairly big, is really scary. Free hanging boobs are a rarity, and they honestly look kind of weird, but only because we’re not used to them! But really, not wearing a bra can feel a little too exposed. Sometimes I’m afraid that men will stare at me or say something rude and inappropriate. Are these real fears? I have no idea! Sometimes, probably, and this is one I still have to practice. I like to go out without a bra for short periods of time and then run home to safety. I’m trying to go out braless for longer periods of time and more often, but it takes getting used to. I don’t know why this is exactly. Something that can help is what I call a “reverse training bra.” This is a bra that doesn’t have an underwire or padding, so it still keeps the breasts contained while giving them a little bit more of a natural shape and feel. I never wear regular bras anymore, and in the recent past when I’ve tried them on, I think they feel weird and make my boobs look comically big.
For more info on this topic, check out my friend Bridget’s video. She goes into a lot more detail as to why giving up wearing a bra can be so liberating and even healthy.
5. Try Improvisational Comedy!
Ok you caught me, I saved the best for last. In my opinion, Improv comedy might be the single best and definitely the most fun self-help tool I’ve ever had the pleasure of trying. Here’s the thing about spiritually focused workshops and classes and books. They’re so great! But they can also be very limiting. You can easily get in your head when you read or do too much mental activity having to do with personal growth and spirituality. You run the risk of spiritual bypass, which is when you have so much spiritual lingo, concepts, etc in your brain that you can talk the talk but stop being able to walk the walk. Improv is great for at least 100 reasons, but here are 5:
1. Every time you go into an improv scene, you have the opportunity to learn something about yourself. When I first started doing improv I learned as much or more about myself and healed more issues than I had in three years of therapy. Every time I had to do a scene I was faced with my own personal demons. “I’m gonna mess this up,” “I don’t want to make the wrong choice,” and “that person is stupid” are just a few of limiting judgments and thoughts my mind would inevitably start spouting. I realized I was thinking about improv and also the real world as this place where stuff was already created and existing and that I had to figure out how to fit in as a cog that wouldn't mess things up and keep them going perfectly. But that’s not how anything works! When you’re in an improv scene, nothing exists until you make it exist, so everyone is creating it together. You’re creating as much with your words as with your silence as with your action. And it’s the same for the real world. I guarantee you there is nothing that could have made me learn that faster than improv.
2. You have to listen. Listening is something that is taught in many spiritual and personal growth practices. It’s one of the first things I was taught while earning a Masters in Spiritual Psychology from The University of Santa Monica. But when you do improv, you really have to listen. Or it doesn’t work. You have to listen so carefully that you don’t miss anything (you are creating your world after all, and listening might be your only way to know what’s been created!). You have to listen so carefully that you remember what you heard, and you have to listen so carefully that you can have an honest emotional reaction, which brings me to my third reason improv is so amazing.
3. You have to react honestly. This is one of the hardest things that I’ve had to learn. A lot of times, I don’t even know what my honest reaction looks like, I’m so slow to have one. So many of us are conditioned to be nice, to be respectful, to follow social norms of behavior and conversation. But improv works best when you react honestly, when you say the first thing that comes into your brain, when you let yourself get emotional, and when you blow things out of proportion. We can't always be throwing tantrums in work meetings or telling everyone we love them so maybe this doesn’t fully translate to real life, but I think we’d all be much better off saying what’s honestly on our mind, or at least acknowledging it to ourselves, than cutting ourselves off short, which we often do before our true reaction even registers.
4. You have to stop judging. When I studied Spiritual Psychology, we talked about judgments every five minutes. Letting go of them, forgiving ourselves for having them. When you do improv, you have to learn not to judge or it doesn't work. Remember, in an improv scene, anything goes. The second you start judging your own or your partner’s choices, you halt everything. The show can’t go on if you squash it by thinking or saying someone's choice is stupid or wrong. And so it is with life.
5. It’s fun and lighthearted. This is the thing that I find most missing from self-help books and seminars. Everything always tends to get so serious. I’ve worked SO hard to stop judging. I’ve worked SO hard to heal uncomfortable, sad, and even traumatizing things from my past. I’ve worked SO hard to try and love myself. And in the end, maybe it worked, maybe it didn’t, but I’m probably caught in what one of my Spiritual teachers, Michael Hayes, calls “The Great Path Of Becoming.” What is the great path of becoming? It’s basically when you get addicted to healing your shit. You’re always on the path to become better, more spiritual, more whatever, and you forget that you already are good and spiritual and whatever.
One of my best friends in college used to yell “Have as much fun as possible!” whenever we were doing pretty much anything. And that’s stuck with me as possibly the best advice I’ve ever gotten. Improv is fun and scary, which I feel is the best combination for growing, because the fun element makes you go back again and again to conquer your fears. And it forces you to actually do things that will push you to face yourself instead of just talking about yourself. You’ll also notice as you do and watch improv, that these issues that have felt so heavy will come up in a scene or a show and you’ll get to laugh about it, because life is ridiculous and silly and not very serious. And we all know that laughter is the best medicine. Besides maybe chocolate or a bunch of likes on a Facebook post.