“What you need is an attitude of gratitude,” my boyfriend said.
I wanted to smack him.
It was 2002, and I was working like a dog to build up my art business, desperately trying to fill in the gaps left when my spousal support ran out. I was burning out quickly, and whenever my boyfriend was over at my apartment, I was pretty vocal that this was not the life I wanted to be living, which inevitably prompted him to chirp a reminder to have “an attitude of gratitude.”
It was infuriating, and no less so because he was right. Or partly right. Practicing gratitude is a powerful way to help stay enthusiastic in life when you’re drowning in work, but it’s not the only one.
A dozen years later, I’m now living a life I truly love, but sometimes I still find myself overcommitted. Here are 13 tips I’ve learned in the past decade-plus that really help me stay enthusiastic in life, even when I’m crazy busy.
1. Act enthusiastic
Back in the early 1900s, there was a major league baseball player named Frank Bettger, who was demoted to the minors (the story goes) because his manager thought he lacked enthusiasm.
Instead of lamenting his bad luck, Bettger took his manager’s note to heart and determined to establish a reputation as one of the most enthusiastic ball players in the league, even if he had to fake it. People began to take notice, and before long Bettger landed a position with a better team, shout-outs in the papers and a dramatic increase in his income, too.
It’s worth noting that Bettger’s playing hadn’t improved; it was simply the power of his enthusiasm that led to his change of fortune.
Bettger’s baseball career only lasted a few years, but he went on to become one of the most successful salesmen of his day, and a best-selling self-help author. “Force yourself to act enthusiastic, and you’ll become more enthusiastic,” was his number one rule. He challenged people to try this for just 30 days, because this one change could easily revolutionize your life.
2. Take 15 minutes a day to do something you love
I used to complain regularly that I “never had time” to pursue my passions, until I heard an artist I admired say, “If you can’t put fifteen minutes into doing what you love, you’re making an excuse.”
I’d been nailed. That very day I determined to paint for at least 15 minutes every day for the next month. I was astonished at how my enthusiasm for life soared, just from 15 minutes a day of doing something I loved.
Try this yourself. Make a list of everything you love to do. What’s calling to you right now?
No matter how busy you are, take 15 minutes to do something that gives you joy, and watch your enthusiasm return.
3. Get enough sleep
There’s a prevalent notion in our “go-go-go” culture that sleep is for wimps. “You can sleep when you’re dead,” goes a popular saying.
In fact, chronic sleep loss not only drains energy and enthusiasm, but can contribute to serious health problems. Learning and memory, metabolism and weight, cardiovascular health, and immune function all suffer when you don’t get enough sleep, and so does mood.
Getting enough sleep can be so hard, but making it a priority makes everything in life go so much better!
4. Feed yourself well
The typical American diet is not just terrible for the heart, bones, and belly. Big spikes and drops in blood sugar levels also wreak havoc with the way the brain uses energy. When your body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs, it affects brain chemistry, which impacts mood, memory, and cognitive function.
Shifting to a plant-based, low-glycemic diet actually changes how the brain functions, which can boost your mood, help you deal with stress, and make it easier to stay enthusiastic.
5. Move your body
Face it, we were not designed to sit eight (or more!) hours a day. Our bodies are made for movement. Exercise is not just essential to keep obesity at bay and keep our muscles, hearts and bones healthy; research has shown that it’s a powerful mood booster.
In his book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, Dr. John Sarno shares study after study that demonstrate the power of exercise to improve thought processes, attention, and creativity, and even eliminate depression more effectively than prescription drugs!
When you’re feeling unenthusiastic, you may want to head for the couch, but instead of lying around in the dumps, go do something that will make you sweat. Take a walk, swim, dance, go throw a football around with a friend. Anything that gets your body doing what it was made for (i.e., moving!) will make it easier for you to find your enthusiasm again.
6. Practice self-compassion
Self-compassion is the practice of noticing what you’re feeling, remembering that you’re human (and therefore fallible, just like everyone else on the planet), and treating yourself with the same kindness you’d give to a beloved friend. Unfortunately, few of us have been trained to respond to ourselves in this way. Much more often our response is to beat ourselves up when we stumble, but research has shown (and your own experience may echo) that self-flagellation is counterproductive.
If you practice responding to yourself with self-compassion rather than aggression, you’ll discover it’s a much more pleasant way to live, and when life is better, it’s so much easier to stay enthusiastic.
Meditation (or any kind of mindfulness training) affects the brain in powerfully positive ways. In fact, studies have shown that mindfulness training actually increases grey matter in brain regions involved in learning and memory, emotion regulation, sense of self, and perspective taking — all important for keeping your enthusiasm up!
Even just 10 minutes a day can spur these kinds of positive changes, and because meditation is the practice of continually — and self-compassionately — redirecting your attention (and redirecting your attention, and redirecting your attention … ) when you notice it becoming absorbed in thought, it’s the perfect way to strengthen your self-compassion muscles, too!
8. Flex your “what’s going well” muscle
Human beings seem to be wired to focus on what’s not going well. It’s important to notice this, of course, so we can make adjustments, but it’s equally important to notice what’s going well.
Yes, I wanted to smack my boyfriend whenever he preached “attitude of gratitude” at me, but he was right: the more attention you put on what’s going well in your life right now, the better life goes, and the easier it is to stay enthusiastic. Instead of focusing on all the things you wish were different, write down everything you can think of that you’re grateful for, and make a practice every day of noticing what’s going well.
9. Clear out clutter
It’s hard to be enthusiastic when you’re weighted down with stuff cluttering up your space. You can’t find things (where did that overdue cable bill go?), you’re ashamed to have people over, and it’s hard to even think!
If clutter is a big problem for you, it may feel overwhelming and impossible to start. Just pick one small area where you’ll really notice a change, and you’ll be amazed at the fresh supply of energy and enthusiasm (and motivation to keep at the clutterbusting!) that will be your reward.
10. Spend time with enthusiastic people
Enthusiasm is contagious. Since your time and energy is limited, pay attention to how you feel after spending time with people in your life, and seek out those who fill you up, energize and inspire you.
11. Avoid energy drains
Negativity is also contagious. If you notice certain people or relationships causing you to feel drained, depressed, or badly about yourself, stay away from them!
12. Learn to say no
Notice where your time is going. Write down everything that takes up time in your life, and ask yourself who you are doing it for. Is it nourishing you, or are you acting out of a sense of false guilt or martyrdom? The happiest, most enthusiastic people I know are those who have learned to be ruthless with their time and energy, and to say no to things — and people — who suck them dry.
13. Practice spontaneous acts of kindness (but not sacrifice)
Have you ever noticed how good it feels to say or do something kind for someone else? Performing random, spontaneous acts of kindness — even just a kind word or a genuine smile — has been shown to boost self-image, lead us to perceive others more compassionately, promote a greater sense of connection with others, and feel grateful for our own good fortune. All of these things make us happier, and when we’re happier, it’s easy to be more enthusiastic.
Be careful, however, not to get sucked into acts of kindness out of a sense of obligation. Acts of kindness must be offered spontaneously — not as an act of martyrdom — in order to have a positive effect.
Each of these tips has helped me keep my own enthusiasm up. Let us know if you have any to add!
Featured photo credit: Peter Conlan via unsplash.com