This will all probably sound a bit hokey at first and a bit too Stuart Smalley at first, but bear with me, as I really do think it's valuable.
The following is an exercise I've been trying to do every morning based on something my friend Frank told me about, combined with a dash of metta meditation. I'm still not consistent with it, so I can't really speak to the long-term benefits of it yet, but it doesn't take very long, and when I do it, it makes me feel better to do it, so, why not?
Basically, every morning, usually after my workout but before I get ready for the day, I stand in front of a mirror, puff my chest out slightly, make sure I have good posture, and go through the following mental exercises:
- What positive impact that I have on the world yesterday? It could be as simple as making someone laugh when they needed it, or giving someone a hug despite not really wanting to - you don't have to be Mother Teresa every day. This is less about "do a good deed every day" and more about consciously recognizing that what you do and say matters, and that you're important to people and to the world around you, even if it sometimes it may not feel that way.
- Am I happy with the person I am right now? If not, why not? Is this something I can change, or am I unnecessarily frustrating myself over the multitude of things in life I can't change? If it's something I can change, what can I do differently? Maybe you're angry at someone, or maybe you slept through your workout and are disappointed in yourself. Again, this isn't about punishing yourself - hopefully most days you simply answer "yes" and move on - but about consciously recognizing your own feelings and, if necessary, forming a rudimentary plan to address them.
- Send well-wishes to yourself, to a close friend, to someone you're frustrated with, and then to everyone. The metta version of this is a little mantra like: May you be happy, May you be healthy, May you be safe, May you live with ease. It doesn't have to be that, and you don't need to linger on it. To quote Dan Harris: "You are not forcing your well-wishes on anyone; you’re just offering them up, just as you would a cool drink."
Honesty is key to this, as obviously the exercise is futile if you don't answer your own questions honestly, or if you offer up positive thoughts without actually believing them. Perhaps most importantly, speak to yourself as though you were speaking to a close friend - we so often fall into the trap of judging ourselves more harshly than we'd judge others.
For example, if your answer to "Why am I not happy with who I am right now?" is "Because I am fat and stupid", then you are being an asshole to yourself. There's nothing wrong with striving to be in better shape physically and mentally - hell, that's why this blog exists - but don't cross the line into insulting yourself because you're not yet entirely the person you want to be. "I am not happy because I missed my workout today, so I will try harder tomorrow" is healthy; "I am a failure because I didn't break my PR " is not.
I really do recommend giving this exercise a try - it shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes out of your day, and you might be surprised at how much better you feel afterwards.
Edited to include this amazing video my friend shared with me: