20 Daily Practices That Changed My Life - This American Girl

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January is a time when many of us begin to re-evaluate our lives. Whether it’s the symbolic power of a new beginning or simply all of the talk of “resolutions” that inspires us, the start of a new year is a worthwhile time to ask “what kind of life do I really want?”


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I can recall many times I made lists of resolutions in December only to forget them by February.


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“Stop biting your fingernails.”

“Learn to relax.”

“Find a career that you love.“


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It wasn’t until I made a huge transition, booking a one-way ticket to Costa Rica two Januaries ago, that my life really began to change. In the process many of these minute details: quitting biting my fingernails, learning how to relax, and finding a greater purpose in my work, began to fall into place.




But living in the jungle, traveling in Costa Rica, or ultimately deciding to live out of a backpack, did not magically cause me to change. Real change happens from the inside out, not the outside in.


Ha Long Bay


In fact what travel has taught me more than anything is that wherever I go, there I am. When I’m in a world where the only constant is me, it becomes spectacularly obvious where, internally, I struggle or thrive.


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Today, at the start of the New Year, I am all the way across the world from the country where my new life, my travel life, began. My journey these few months in Southeast Asia has been very different from my time in the land of pura vida. I have found it considerably more challenging to feel relaxed, connected, centered, grounded, and grateful. In many ways I see myself slipping from the person I worked so hard to become.


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That terrifies me.


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However, I remember that no matter the change in my environment or my behavior, I am first, foremost, and always me. I am here now, able to change absolutely anything that I want to become any person I want. And the best thing about any practice is that no matter how far you drift from your path, you can always pick yourself up and start again.


Ha Long Bay


So today I am looking back at some of the practices that I have implemented over the last two years that have changed my perspective, my experiences, and consequently my life, to inspire me, and maybe inspire you, to get back on track to living a life filled with purpose, joy, gratitude, and contentment.


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Ask Yourself What You Want


This sounds simple, but many times we get so caught up in our routines, our responsibilities, and our relationships that we don’t stop to ask “UHHH, IS THIS WHAT I EVEN WANT??!”


What DO you want? If you struggle to answer this question, try asking yourself “what would I do if I could not fail?” Be prepared for your answer to this question to change often. Know that that’s ok.


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Believe That it is Possible

We are what holds us back from actualizing our dreams. Believe that what you want is possible. Believe that it can happen. Believe that you can do it.


I remember the first time I saw a yoga teacher push his legs up into crow position. For yoga novices, this is a posture where the yogi crouches down, rests his knees into his armpits, shifts his weight forward into his hands, then floats his his feet off the ground.


If you’ve never done it before, it looks impossible.


Yet today I am able to do crow with relatively little effort. A posture I once laughed at my teacher for even suggesting. How did I get here? I first had to believe that I could do it to give myself the courage to try.


I use this as a metaphor for my life; a reminder that I am capable of achieving things tomorrow that today might appear impossible.


First I have to believe that I can.


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Live Your Life on Purpose


Decide what you want and then focus your actions to support it. By doing everything, eating, speaking, breathing, behaving, with purpose, your actions become sacred rituals that yield intentional results.


Eat something because it’s what you actually want to eat to nourish and please your palate and your body. Say something because it needs to be expressed and to be heard. Breathe in a way that supports your thoughts, feelings, and movements. Behave in a way that makes you feel proud of who you are.


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Set Intentions


It’s easy to drift from your purpose with the distractions of your mind and the distractions of the world. Try beginning each morning with one clear intention: concentration, generosity, gratitude, peace, joy, energy, clarity, balance, or anything you want to harness in your life.


Throughout the day remind yourself of this intention and bring yourself back to it often. The more you remember your intention the more effortless living it becomes.


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Think Positive


People say this all of the time, but how do you actually put it into practice?


A little over a year ago I was sitting on my favorite beach, Punta Uva, in Costa Rica. I was reading A Thousand Splendid Suns and wow did that book ever remind me of what I have to be grateful for. I began to make a list of all of the positive things in my life.


Yet a few minutes later, wandering down the shore I noticed my mind wandering into negative thinking. I then began beating myself up for thinking negatively in the first place. I began listing all of the things that were wrong with me and my life. But a voice inside me spoke up “ahem, excuse me, “mind”, you do not control me.”


In that moment I decided to play a game. Every time I noticed a negative thought creep into my head I gave it a positive spin.


“You’re not as skinny as you were a year ago. What are you doing wrong?”




“You have become so dedicated to your yoga practice. Look at how much stronger you are today than you were one year ago.”


This game became a daily exercise. I noticed that the more I practiced, the more automatic positive thinking became.


Try shifting your self talk to a positive, kind, supportive dialogue. Your thoughts become your actions and your actions become your life.


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Be Selfish


How often do you give others compliments and gestures of kindness? How often do you give that treatment to yourself? You deserve to feel healthy and happy and no one has the power to offer you that except for you.


Do at least one thing every single day that is completely, absorbedly, selfish. Take a long soothing bath. Sit in a chair and read your book. Wake up in the morning and do yoga not to burn calories but to feel good. Cook yourself a beautiful meal and enjoy it alone.


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Be Aware of Your Breath


Your breath is your life. Without it you would cease to survive. It literally moves life energy throughout your body affecting every function of your being. By gaining awareness of your breath and learning to control it, you can control your physical and mental state.


Check in with the movement and pattern of your breath. Allow it to support you. When life feels stressful and you feel out of control, calm your breath. Slow it down. Deepen it. Remember that as long as you keep breathing you keep living. Nothing is ever as serious as it seems.


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Drink Water


Drink clean, pure, fluoride free water. Drink a huge glass first thing in the morning. Drink it throughout the day. Carry a big bottle of water with you wherever you go as a constant reminder to drink, drink, drink.


Ha Long Bay


Feel More, Numb Less


Sometimes feelings are intense. Pleasure, pain, sadness, joy, anger, anxiety, fear, hope, it can all be overwhelming.


In our society we have created so many tools designed to make us feel less. We escape the intensity of sensations with food, with alcohol, with drugs, with television, with the internet, with small talk, with violence, with sex.


Why are we so afraid to just feel?


When I feel an uncomfortable emotion creep in, especially loneliness or boredom, I notice that suddenly I have an urge to eat something or get online. However the same way a throbbing headache is a signal that your body needs something, boredom is a signal that your spirit needs something. Your body is not telling you it needs a pill the same way your spirit is not telling you it needs distraction.


Stop quieting these signals and instead start listening.


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Eat a Salad


This piece of wisdom comes from my dear friend and food blogger Andie Mitchell. Eat a big, satisfying, crunchy, varied, balanced salad every single day and trust me, you will feel amazing.


My favorite salads include a crunchy lettuce like romaine or cabbage mixed with dark nutrient packed greens, something sweet like fruit, corn, or tomatoes, quinoa or beans, a sprinkle of nuts or seeds, and a tangy dressing with lots of fresh herbs.


Koh Rong


Move Your Body


Run. Jump. Dance. Move. Sweat.


Your body is filled with energy channels, let them flow! Somehow we’ve adopted this mentality that movement is about calorie burning and weight loss. It has become a chore and a “should” rather than a “want”.


Moving your body is detoxifying, liberating, energizing, relaxing, and it’s downright fun. Do it because your body wants it. Do it because it feels damn good.


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Start Setting Boundaries


Do you feel taken advantage of, taken for granted, or generally out of control? Chances are you are not setting boundaries in your life and in your relationships. It is your responsibility to define what makes you feel respected and communicate it to others.


If you don’t want to loan your favorite sweater to your friend, respectfully say it. If you are too busy to volunteer at an event, be honest. If something makes you feel uncomfortable, do not do it.


You can never expect other people to behave in accordance with your wants or expectations. However you can absolutely determine what you are willing to receive. Kindly express what is and is not acceptable to you.


It can be scary at first, but really, there ain’t no shame in that game.


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Don’t Take Things Personally


Did you know that nothing is ever personal? Really. Nothing.


What someone says or does that strikes an emotional chord with us is always a reflection of our own insecurities, values, and perceptions. Therefore the way that someone treats you is the mirror image of what they are personally feeling inside.


Knowing that nothing is personal, release the burden of what other people think of you and how they behave. Know that really, it’s not you. It’s them.


In turn, when you find yourself judging or mistreating, look within and ask yourself what your thoughts and your behavior says about you.


Ha Long Bay


Put Things Into Perspective


A few years ago a co-worker was telling me about her divorce. I will spare the details but it sounded like an emotionally devastating experience. At the time I was going through my own never-ending breakup in an on-again-off-again relationship. Seeking guidance, I asked her,


“How did you get through it?”


“I went to the Holocaust museum,” she said.


Sometimes the best way to move on from our problems is to simply put them into perspective. Things are rarely life or death, everything will always be ok, and nothing is ever good or bad unless you think so.


Grand Palace Thailand


Spend Time Alone


Do you ever actually spend time alone. With the internet at our fingertips many of us are never alone. I find that my greatest moments of peace and clarity are those when I allow myself to fully separate from other people and outside distractions. My alone time fuels and energizes me when I return to the social world.


Years ago I hated being alone. Really, I hated it. It was uncomfortable, boring, and lonely. Usually the thing that we want to do the least is the thing that we most need to do.


Take a long walk by yourself without your iPod. Go out to dinner and sit at a table alone. Don’t bring a book or your phone. Sit by yourself in nature and just stare at what surrounds you. Notice what you feel in your body. Notice where your thoughts go. Realize that you are not only capable of maneuvering the world with your own strength, you are cable of maneuvering your thoughts and your feelings.


Find freedom when you realize how good it feels to be alone.


Koh Rong


Lead With Your Heart


When you experience completeness within yourself, alone, don’t forget about the outside world. Don’t forget that love that exists in friendships and relationships, in passing conversations with strangers.


Lower the walls you’ve built to protect yourself. Be honest with people about how you feel. Take a chance on love. Trust people knowing that you might get hurt.


Leading with your heart means being true to yourself. When you are true to yourself, you can live without regret.


Koh Rong


Learn the Words Pura Vida


Why I love Costa Rica can be summed up in two words “pura vida”. This simple phrase embodies the most beautiful philosophy I have ever known. Everything is good, life is beautiful, go with the flow, surrender to what is, let things go, enjoy your life.


You can say pura vida on a sunny day as appropriately as you can in a storm. Pura vida is all about accepting the beauty in the world in every form. Learn these words and live them.


Koh Rong


Seize the Day


Take a step towards what you want when the idea is fresh in your mind and the motivation is strong in your spirit. Live in the now. Tomorrow may never come so do it today.


Do it now.


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Make it a Habit


My experience has shown me that to actually change I must practice consistently. This is why drastic shifts like moving or leaving a relationship seem to affect us in the biggest ways: the aftermath of these actions have results that remain consistent day after day.


For anything to really change you need to do it often enough that it starts becoming a habit or a pattern. Choose something that you really want and do it every. single. day. Practice discipline. Do it until you don’t have to remind yourself to do it anymore.


Then keep doing it. Again. And again. And again.


Koh Rong


Let Everything Go


Perhaps the most transformative practice of all is the act of letting go. In order to change we must first make space to allow growth to happen.


Let go of your expectations. Let go of your past pain. Let go of who you were yesterday and who you think you might be tomorrow. Let go of everything that is not making you a better person right now.


Most importantly

let go of thinking that you need to be perfect by adhering to anything

and that includes

this list.



What practice have you implemented into your life that has helped you to grow?


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