Seven Things That Improved my Life in 2017 (minus the climbing chalk)
I was a mess a year ago. My relationship failed, I had to move house three times, and my bank account was frozen by the German Tax Office for reasons I won’t get into. They say it takes a crisis before anything changes: this was my crisis. My first response was to try to ostrich it all away: head in the sand, hands pressed firmly to ears, mouth forming the words “la la la la la”. But then after the umpteenth night of pilsner, shots and Döner-kebab, I looked myself in the cloudy mirror and said: “I want more for myself”. Here are some of the ways I dragged myself kicking and schreien out of Hedonia and into what might be at least a modest simulacrum of big-A Adulthood:
1. Ironically Pro-Capitalist Life Philosophy I’ve lived in Berlin’s anti-marketology atmosphere for so long I hardly noticed how much it was poisoning my motivation circuits. But when your basic life attitude amounts to waiting for the Revolution while not having a single friend who can plan anything bigger than a mediocre dinner party, you’re no better than a Testament-slapping Fundamentalist who’s staked everything on J.C.’s comeback. You realize at some point how much easier it would be to pretend — even if ironically — that the point of existence is to improve your skills and become more marketable. I was projecting so much anger on other, more successful comedians with more positive life philosophies, I didn’t realize it was crushing my insides into a tiny ball of puke. “I wish I loved the way the world worked right now” I began telling myself, and then I actually started to. Hey, fake it ’til you make it.
2. Eight Hours of Sleep Aside a more growth-oriented life philosophy, the “keystone habit” upon which all my other improved routines hang is my decision to prioritize sleep. After years of tearing unfulfilled task lists in half while nursing another Jägermeister headache every morning, I realized my primary failing in life is an utter lack of willpower. How do you get more willpower? Enter Kelly McDonigal's The Willpower Instinct. I’ll save you the 50-minute Google video: sleep and meditation. If you don’t sleep 8 hours, you’re cranky, moody, and can’t stick to anything for long. Once you realize how good you feel after 8 hourzzzz, you start coming up with ways to fix what's getting in the way of it, ways like...
3. Drinking Way Less At what point did the whiskey industry take over our brainstem and declare every waking moment to be a Tom Waits song? I swear people drink way more than they used to, at least judging by the world’s seeming wall-to-wall liquor ads. And Berlin makes the rail to liver failure ever greasier: there’s no official bar closing time, the corner shops stay open 23 hours a day (still can’t figure out what they do that one other hour), and you can drink in public wherever you want. Whenever I have more than two, I can only sleep for 5 hours, then I wake up early to spend an entire day watching whatever streaming show my jerk friends are pimping to me that week. Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel like 8 billion years of evolution didn’t happen so I could have one-sided conversations with Harvey Specter and Todd Chavez. (Btw, the latest German research on the negative health effects of alcohol is horrifying.) 4. Sticking to a Morning Routine I set my phone for 9 every morning, and when it rings, I walk across my room to turn it off, check out Instagram for a couple minutes until my desire to go to bed subsides, then put on my favorite black hoodie and start my day. First thing I do is tidy my room for five minutes: I’m notoriously messy, and 5 minutes of order is better than no minutes of order. Then I wash my face, put on a white noise app, meditate for ten minutes (see below), then write 10 things in my notebook I’m grateful for, 3 things I could improve, and 3 things that would make that day great. Then I make some decaf coffee with butter in it (long story), whip out my lappie and type comedy/blog shit for an hour. Things get fuzzier from there, but it starts strong…
5. Meditating 10 Minutes/Day Nothing fancy, just focusing on a word or phrase I find somewhat inspiring (today it was the Buddhist-y “I am working for all beings”), and whenever another thought intrudes, I return to my breath and that phrase. This isn’t to align my chakras or anything foo-foo, I just read in McDonigal that meditation strengthens your impulse control. If you’ve ever been awake in Berlin on a Friday night, you know this is a rare skill.
6. Planning My Day I know it’s not PC to big-up Jordan Peterson, but if you’re running headfirst into a rut called Wreck, maybe a bit of cheap-o Youtube cognitive therapy is in order. Basically I just set a time plan for my day in G-cal, and try to stick to it as best as possible. This requires some forethought, and realism, which is why I have this vague “travel time” thing before and after a lot of activities:
7. Not-Boring Strength Training
I was always a jogger, but returned from every jog tired, with nothing to show physically for the effort. Then I got Instagram, and a beer gut, and realized my metabolism was slowing to a middle-aged man pace. Turns out lots of cardio doesn’t burn fat, muscle training does. (If you’re afraid you’ll bulk up unattractively, take a gander at my mini-biceps and see you’ll need not worry). And if you’re muscle training, why not combine it with tree climbing, and a café and 90s hiphop. That’s why I hang out on measles-looking boulder walls three times a week: you get a latté and an EMPD B-side and get to feel like you’re winning a game of Lord of the Flies. I heard the guy from Rammstein even does it.
Paul Salamone is a stand-up comedian, writer and designer living in Berlin, Germany. Subscribe to his Newsletter for major announcements including new videos, big gigs, tours, and merch!