I’ve never been the type of person to have one static daily routine.
I feel like I’m always testing and tweaking, adding and subtracting things to my routines in order to find new ways to keep myself feeling energized, focused and, well, VIBRANT.
Over the past few years, this has led me to all sorts of interesting experiments trying to optimize my day. I’ve tried things like meditation, morning reading, waking up earlier, waking up later, taking more breaks, the pomodoro technique, mid-day walks, ending my workday at a specific time… the list goes on.
Each tiny change did feel like it had an effect on the way my day unfolded, but none so much as the changes I’ve made recently. Over the past four weeks, I feel like I’ve finally arrived at a recipe for what leads me to a consistently good day.
And it actually starts with the realization that it has very little to do with the specific systems or tasks I integrate into my day.
Instead, I’ve discovered that the quality of my day is directly related to how many of my core values I put into motion.
In other words, it matters less WHAT routines I engage in, and it matters more WHY I engage in them. It’s less about the systems, and more about the values those systems represent.
Let me explain...
I know I’ve mentioned this more than a few times the past few weeks, but I’ve started a daily gratitude practice using The Five Minute Journal. It only take a few minutes a day and it’s incredibly powerful. It gives me an opportunity to bring more awareness to all the goodness in my life and to connect with my intuition before I start my day.
One of the most interesting discoveries from this new practice of mine comes from the final question at the bottom of every page, one that I answer each night before I go to bed:
"How could I have made today even better?"
This simple question has been a sort of revelation for two reasons: 1) it gives me a daily opportunity to evaluate what I would like more of and what I would like less of in my daily life and 2) I began to realize there was a noticeable pattern that emerged from the days when I honestly couldn’t think of a single thing I would have changed.
Those were the best days, and after more and more of those days started popping up, I was able to ask myself: What things did I do differently on these days to separate them from the I-could-have-made-it-better days?
That’s where I started to see a pattern emerging. It wasn’t a list of specific things I did on each of my best days, but I did realize that there were things I did that fit within a specific list of VALUES -- values that (unsurprisingly) line up quite well with my core values.
13 of them, to be exact. And, let me just say, I know 13 may sound like a lot to you. But it’s not about trying to “cram” each of these values into an already overbooked daily schedule.
It’s about identifying what core elements contribute to you feeling like your best, brightest self, and then finding tiny ways to live out those core elements inside your existing habits.
Like I mentioned, maybe for you it’s about adding one positive action that aligns with your core values and subtracting one habit that detracts from your core values.
Either way, I think the actions we take day in and day out matter. I often talk a lot about big conceptual topics here in these letters, but every now and again I like to break things down into their most practical, tactical pieces so that you feel inspired with ideas you can use TODAY to start living a more vibrant life.
All that said, here is MY personal list of the 13 ingredients that make a vibrant day. I encourage you to write down your own list and maybe experiment with a few of the ways I listed below to LIVE OUT your values and put them into action on a regular basis. Enjoy!
Psst. At the end of this article, download your own free color-it-yourself daily checklist!
1. Gratitude - Did I practice (out loud or on paper) what I’m grateful for?
For me, it all starts with gratitude. Gratitude allows me to bring awareness to the things that already bring me joy and satisfaction in my life, which starts my day off on a happy and peaceful note (rather than a very reactive, stressful feeling which is often how I feel when I start my day with email or social media.)
Ideas for folding gratitude into your day: Taking 5 minutes in the morning to write down what you’re grateful for; using The Five-Minute journal; swapping gratitude texts with a friend; reciting your gratitude before dinner with your family; writing down 3 awesome things in your life before you go to bed at night.
2. Stillness - Did I take at least five minutes to be still with myself and my feelings?
I’m finding more and more that stillness or presence is a crucial element for getting in touch with my intuition and feeling connected to my core. When I take that time out to get into alignment before moving forward, it sets me up to have MY most vibrant day, rather than just reacting to all the shoulds that tend to pop up.
Ideas for folding stillness into your day: Starting a meditation practice; sitting with your morning coffee AWAY from a screen; finding a favorite spot outside to sit and take in the day; spending five minutes in stillness at your desk to get centered before your workday.
3. Intention - Did I set a goal or purpose for my day?
As someone who values flexibility immensely, I used to think that days where my schedule was wide open and my to-do list was nebulous might be my personal idea of heaven. Turns out, not so much. In my recent experiment, I found that days when I didn’t write down a focus or intention for what I wanted to accomplish that day (even if what I wanted to accomplish meant watching 3 hours of Gilmore Girls on Netflix, thanks Sundays!) I ended up feeling like the day passed me by. Days where I did set a purpose or intention gave me a loose-but-guiding structure which helped me feel focused.
Ideas for folding intention into your day: Using a planner to write down your to-dos, taking five minutes to block out time on your calendar to work on certain tasks; writing down one big task you want to complete for the day or one desired feeling that you want to work toward as a huge post-it on your desk.
4. Productivity - Did I accomplish at least one thing I set out to do?
Intention is awesome, but the even more satisfying part of setting the intention is actually following through with it. If I’m able to focus long enough to complete just one of the tasks on my intention list for my work, I feel pretty darn good about myself. If I lose focus and I let myself get distracted, I find that I don’t feel nearly as peaceful at the end of the day. Keep in mind though, “productivity” is less about feeling guilty if I don’t get everything done on my list and more about feeling good about taking one step closer to whatever my goal of the moment is.
Ideas for folding productivity into your day: Prioritizing your to-do list so you have one most important thing that you want to tackle; breaking down your goals into small and practical steps; giving yourself a small reward for getting your top priority task done each day.
5. Creativity - Did I make something purely for the joy of making it?
Expressing myself and using my creativity is simply what lights me up. Lucky for me I’ve built a business around using my creativity so I’m making things all the time. However, I’ve learned that I need to carve out even just the tiniest bit of time to make something NOT for any business purpose -- just for myself.
Ideas for folding creativity into your day: Spending a few minutes in a sketchbook; taking a break in between tasks to doodle in your planner; spending 15 minutes after the kiddos go to sleep to work on a new hobby; creating experimental art with new tools and apps on the iPad (this is me lately!)
6. Nourishment - Did I feed and hydrate my body with what it needs to feel energized?
I don’t know about you, but all it takes is one migraine headache and what started as a good day can go off the rails REALLY fast. And that’s exactly what happens to me if I don’t drink enough water -- I get a splitting headache and feel like calling the day quits right then and there. Similarly, if I go out for an indulgent and heavy lunch, it leaves me feeling lethargic and sluggish and it feels like the rest of my day revolves around debating whether I should take a nap or not.
But, when I drink plenty of water and nourish my body with delicious but healthful food, I seriously feel like I can run the world. I have energy, it’s easier to focus, and on top of all that I feel good about contributing to my overall internal well-being.
Ideas for folding nourishment into your day: Drinking at least six glasses of water (one day I’ll get to 8, but for now 6 feels like a win.); eating well-balanced meals that are energizing; keeping healthy snacks on hand; maybe limiting it to one glass of wine instead of two during the week. ;)
7. Movement - Did I move my body?
If you’ve been following these newsletters long enough, you probably caught wind of the fact that I HATE exercise. I loathe it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize the value it brings to my life in terms of how much energy I have, how strong and confident I feel, and the overall calming effect it has on my anxiety. Lately Jason and I have found a rhythm and we’ve been able to keep up with a consistent schedule of exercising about 3-4 days a week. (Truly, you have no idea what a WIN this is in my book.) But, even on my “off days” I find myself now wanting to take a walk or do some yoga just because I view it as that time when I can get out of my head and into my body.
Ideas for folding movement into your day: Start your morning with a dance party; take a walk around your neighborhood; play tag with the kids; try a new workout class; do five minutes of yoga in your PJs first thing in the morning.
8. Laughter/Joy - Did I laugh and feel lightness?
Luckily I have a partner in life that helps out A LOT with this. Sometimes I get so “busy” though that I forget to build in time to have fun. Fun and laughter and joy can sometimes feel like such frivolous things, as though they’re inessential. On the contrary, I think they are SO essential to relieving tension and getting back in touch with our childlike inner selves.
Ideas for folding laughter into your day: Planning a harmless prank on a coworker; playing a game with your kids; doing a silly dance around your living room; watching a hilarious video on YouTube.
9. Delight - Did I do something for myself that felt beneficial to my soul?
We have to fill up our own tanks before we can give to others, and that’s what delight is for me. It’s doing something that might feel a bit self-indulgent so that I can feed that personal, core self. Whatever small delights makes your soul happy, carving out time to integrate more of those into your day can make a big difference.
Ideas for folding delight into your day: Walking the aisles at Anthropologie; drawing a bubble bath; listening to my favorite sing-along album; taking ten minutes out to snuggle with my pup; painting my nails; listening to my favorite funny podcast, making cookies for no reason.
10. Community/Connection - Did I connect with another human in a meaningful way?
Even as an introvert, the days when I spend a few minutes to reach out and connect with another human end up feeling more full and satisfying. For me, community is about so many things: it’s about not feeling alone in the world, like someone else sees and understands me; it’s about cultivating relationships that provide me with emotional support; and it’s just about getting out of my own head and bouncing ideas off another person. Some days that means just giving more attention to Jason and doing something that allows us to connect outside of our autopilot work-from-home routines, or some days that’s sharing a Skype call with a friend.
Ideas for folding community into your day: Calling a family member to say hello; having a meaningful email exchange with one of your blog readers ;); having a pleasant conversation with the kind barista at your favorite coffee shop.
11. Service - Did I help someone?
I love helping people and even if it’s a small gesture, I feel my best when I’m providing value or support or kindness to another person.
Ideas for folding service into your day: Holding the door open for someone at the grocery story; showing a coworker how to use a new tool; volunteering at a local charity; responding to an email inquiry of someone asking for advice.
12. Knowledge - Did I learn something new?
I’m a curious person by nature and there’s something so satisfying to me about learning something new. I love looking for opportunities to stimulate new areas of my brain and challenge myself intellectually.
Ideas for folding knowledge into your day: Listening to an interesting podcast; reading a thought-provoking article or long-form essay; taking an online class; spending a few minutes on a learning app (I’m currently learning Italian on Babbel.com!)
13. Nature - Did I go outside and experience the natural world around me?
Going outside is my simple cure-all for making just about any day better. Feeling present to the beauty that is around me and detaching myself from the screens that I’m constantly surrounded by helps me slow down and feel alive. Whether it’s the sun on my face, fresh air in my lungs or the sounds of birds chirping in the distance, it might sound cliche but it’s soothing to my soul.
Ideas for folding nature into your day: Sipping your morning coffee on your porch; eating lunch outside; taking a lap around the block of your office; having a “walking meeting”; tending to a garden; playing with your kids in the yard.
It may seem like a lot seeing them written out this way, but if my daily journaling has taught me anything, it’s that so many of these were already naturally a part of my instincts. This just gives me a new awareness to act on those instincts. And I love combining them too: I can block off a half hour in the middle of my day, take a walk down to the ocean listening to my favorite podcast, sit on a rock watching the waves for a few minutes and in that half hour alone I’m able to experience movement, nature, delight and stillness.
Now I want you to think about what those elements are for you. What’s YOUR personal recipe for a vibrant day? Is there any missing from my list that you’d add to yours?
This week I challenge you to write down your own “recipe for a vibrant day” list and see if you can integrate a small action in each category into your day for the whole week.
You don’t have to turn your life upside down, but my hope is that just by becoming aware of the tangible actions that bring happiness to your day, you may find a basic formula of values that you can use to boost the number of GREAT days you have.
Want to track your recipe for a vibrant day?
Here's a fun and free color-it-yourself worksheet. Download the version with my 13 categories or write in your own in the blank version. Track each element so you can see what you might need to bring more attention to!