Most people think of the big moments in life when defining personal happiness. Getting the promotion, fitting into a smaller swimsuit, finding that special someone. While these are certainly important, I believe it is the quality of your daily life that influences happiness the most.
What would the perfect ordinary day look like? The right balance of challenge and achievement, relaxation and rest? Variety and routine? Even if it is impossible to maintain a perfect balance in the real world, upgrading your day would have a huge impact on your daily happiness.
A few years ago I really began the process of upgrading my ordinary days. Although I initially engaged in this process to help achieve goals, I’ve found that it is an end unto itself. Improving your ordinary days to make you more productive, challenged while increasing the amount of enjoyment and relaxation you feel is an incredibly valuable skill to have.
Find Low-Value Activities
Humans are creatures of habit. What is done enough becomes reinforced until you do it automatically. If you aren’t careful about the habits you develop you may unintentionally pick up negative ones. This couldn’t be more true of the quality of your day.
The first step to improving your daily life is to look at the habits that are bringing you down. Look around for activities that offer very little value for the time and energy they consume.
Do you really need to check your e-mail twenty times a day? Is that television program really entertaining? Do some of your friends suck me into negativity and pessimism? Be critical with how you are spending your time and energy. If you want to upgrade your day you are going to have to take a hard look at these factors.
Once you’ve identified lower value activities, consider replacing them with higher value ones. I wrote an entire series about how you can condition and replace habits in your life. Each small change you make can have dramatic long-term effects on your overall happiness.
Add High-Value Activities
Sometimes you will see all your daily activities as fairly mediocre, with no real obvious choices for what to upgrade. Perhaps your television watching isn’t necessary but it does give you some enjoyment. Maybe you are wasting a little time here and there, but it isn’t really that important, is it?
The best way to improve the quality of your days is to simply add higher value activities to them. By simply adding on extra activities, you will automatically squeeze out the activities that weren’t providing enough value. Simply deciding to start the habit of going to the gym every day and making this your top priority, will eventually shove aside tasks of lower value or squeeze any wasted time out of your day.
This can be a little difficult to do initially. Whenever you try to add or remove activities, this disrupts your body’s natural homeostasis. It will want to go back to the previous habits. But by committing yourself for a short time you can reestablish that balance while adding new value to your day.
Initially when you begin this process of upgrading your daily life, it will be easy to find ways to improve it. You will find areas where you waste time or energy on activities where the waste is obvious. Once you are already fairly productive and your daily life already yields a lot of value, it becomes less clear.
When this happens it is time to start making more speculative investments into your day. Some of these may turn out to be complete flops, yielding little value, others may turn out to be incredibly good additions to your daily life.
I found that the point where it becomes unclear what you need to change and remove comes fairly quickly. When you avoid making upgrades to your day you are forced to live with low value activities for a long time before deciding to change them. When you finally get the power to easily make those changes, it quickly becomes difficult to know what to do to improve.
During this time you need to start investing your resources outside your comfort zone to see what will happen. I decided to attend a Toastmasters meeting on a whim and now it is one of my best weekly habits. I recently joined a Latin dance class on a whim and although I’ve only been to one session it also looks very promising.
One area I neglected to cover in my habitual mastery series was the issue of defining what constitutes a valuable activity. Early in my habit creation I figured that this was self-evident. Exercise was clearly better than no exercise, television was a waste, etc. But when I came to university and my focus shifted from extreme productivity to more exploration, many of the habits I once valued become costly.
There are different aspects of value you need to consider when upgrading your day. Productivity, exploration, health, finances, relationships, joy, discipline, there are many different ways you can gain value. If you don’t decide what value you are looking to improve and define what that value is, you’ll find it very difficult to make improvements.
Your goals or personal directions should dictate a lot of what you see as valuable. If relationships and enjoying life are your primary concerns right now, then that will reflect in the type of value you try to add. If financial success and physical health are crucial, that will change what you value.
There will be habits that even under a broad definition of value will be good. Exercising regularly, spending time to socialize with others or working to earn a living are generally valuable activities. Similarly, some habits have little worth under most value systems, I doubt many would argue that smoking is a good use of time and money. But beyond a certain point, what you choose to engage in depends on how you define value and what your focus is.
It is important to strike a balance. Although achieving an uber-productive state towards your work or health is definitely possible (trust me, I know), I don’t think it is ideal. Neither is too much relaxation and meaningless activities.
The perfect ordinary day should be balanced across all areas, focusing on what your current goals are. Slowly sculpting and perfecting your regular days, mixing variety with routine, productivity with enjoyment and enhancing the value of each task not only makes achieving your goals far easier but it really helps you get more out of your life.
I’d like to leave the comments section open for anyone that has ever taken a step to upgrade his or her day. What did you do? Did it work as well as you hoped? If we get enough comments I’d like to give a follow-up post on this subject.