Saturday, March 08, 2008

11 Steps to improving your life in 2008

I'm on a mission to make some big and small changes this year to feel happier overall and more in sync with my physical and mental environment. Thought I would share a few of my ideas. Enjoy!

1. Recycle (More): After being the last two people on earth to see An Inconvenient Truth, Carrie and I finally made the commitment to do a better job recycling. We had been using the excuse that we lived in a rental, or didn't have the money to or time to get a SOCRA recycling bin. Embarrassing, I know! After sucking it up and getting out big brown bin we've dramatically cut down on our garbage. During the first week we cut our bags of garbage in half, from 4 to 2. It's almost become a game to see how little garbage we can leave on the curb Friday morning. We both know we have a long way to go to reduce our ecological footprint (we're currently working on reducing and totally cutting out red meat from out diet, buying more locally grown produce, and stopping the use of plastic bags) but this is an exciting first step.

2. Get an MIT or Yale Education Free: You can finally get that Yale, MIT, or even University of Tokyo education you've always wanted without spending a cent. All it takes is an Internet connected computer and a little experience with downloading programs and unzipping files. A growing number of universities are posting entire courses online including lectures, notes, reading lists and homework assignments all on the web. For the most part professors won't grade digital students work--so you can't get credit. MIT has the largest catalogue of classes listed at I'm thinking about checking out "Philosophy of Love in the Western World". Yale just launched video taped versions of seven of it's most popular courses including astronomy, poetry, and philosophy found at For a full listing of free online courses at numerous colleges and universities in the US and overseas check out The Open Coursework Consortium.

3: Swing by your local library: While I'm a person who loves books and loves to buy books, I equally love my little public library. There is something nostalgic and calming about the Ferndale Public Library. The employees appear to be retired school teachers and they still use paper check out cards with a rubber stamp return date. Even if your public library is small most do intra-library loans and have cool education programs for children and adults. In the Detroit area there is a really cool program sponsored my Macy's called Detroit Adventure Pass. It allows library patrons to "check out" free passes to dozens of Detroit area museums for 4 or 2 people.

4. Listen Better: Most of us an easily identify a time we felt "not listened to" leaving us feeling frustrated, worthless, and devalued. Attentiveness and understanding, which differentiate just hearing versus listening can be hard to cultivate. It all my interactions lately I'm really working on limiting distractions and focusing on what the speaker is saying. I'm also trying, while listening to clear my head of assumptions limiting objectivity and my ability to be fully present.

At a conference last year I was in a workshop on personal development that included small group activity. In groups of three we shared personal goals and obstacles. The other two group members could nod and say "uh-huh" but offer no other commentary. At the end of the exchange we were all told to look each other in the eyes and say "Thank you" for sharing. At first it was terribly awkward. I wanted to ask, "How did that feel? Why did you make that decision..even offer encouragement when one group member shared some of his failures. After a few minutes of fully listening my mind got quiet and I was left fully present When it came my turn to share and my group members said thank you I fully understood the power of listening to provide a model for how we hope our words are received.

5. Dance: As my body heals from surgery and I spend a bit more (deserved, but vain) time in front of the mirror---I find myself dancing more and more. I've always enjoyed movement and dance but have always felt so restricted due to binding. This year I am going to get silly on the dance floor more often.

I also can't wait to take some more NIA classes. If you haven't heard of NIA you should check it out. NIA's philosophy is “Through Movement We Find Health,” meaning belief in the power of self-discovery through movement. In practicing Nia you fall in love with being and moving in your body – you experience the power of Self-Healing. "Nia empowers people to make their own movement choices by offering a flexible structure they can personally modify to suit individual needs. The blueprint of Nia is practical, experiential, and focuses on internal guidance to change and develop awareness." (From Pure Joy!!!

6. Stop Drinking Bottled Water: Downing that last gulp of of a fancy brand of H2O as well as remembering to toss it in the recycling bin used to make me feel pretty good about myself. Not anymore! I've been reading more and more. For one, the containers are often manufactured faraway, shipped overseas, trucked to your local store and stored in a fridge. Obviously turning on the tap and filling a glass has a lot less of an impact. Not to mention bottled water is very similar to tap water and it a status symbol. I swear, no more Evian, unless it's an emergency!

7. Be a Tourist in Your Own Town: This is a concept Carrie taught me, and is an initiative many locals cities are trying out as well. Lansing Michigan offers a Be a Tourist in Your Own Town Day encouraging locals to check out..well local stuff. Check out local attractions you take for granted, look for discount tickets, write reviews, have a city swap day with a close friend nearby and arrange tours/outing for each other.

8. Take Responsibility of Your Finances: As I worked on this list, this is the last one I wrote. Not surprising since I always seem to procrastinate when it comes to managing my finances. I'll be the first to admit that I am pretty passive when it comes to managing money. I frequently find myself asking "Where did that paycheck go?" or "Oh..they sent me a shut off notice...better pay up." I pledge in 2008 to be much more proactive rather than reactive with money. For me that means taking responsibility for poor spending choices and my fear of mismanagement and planning for the future. I'm not in major debt (aside from student loans) but I'm also not saving much either. I know that if we want to buy a house within the next year and a half I've got to get my (financial) ass in shape!

9. Connect: I've always had a difficult time making and keeping friends. I chalk it up to being shy, having high standards, a dash of social anxiety, and way too many insecurities. Put very simply, this year I would like to take more risks with my social life. Send that email I've been wanting to write someone, accept a friend's invitation to go out after work sometime, call first/reach out to someone. I pledge to have more fun Sunday brunches, get togethers, and adventures with people I care about!

10. Blog: Although this blog was begun as a way to document my transition, I find it more and more difficult to compartmentalize my experiences as a trans person. I think is a good and healthy development. In 2008 I plan to blog a lot more. I will continue to write about my experiences as a trans man but I also hope to begin to write more about my experiences as a white man, a fat man, a totally socially awkward man, a partner of a person with a disability, a bottom, a reader, a hopeless romantic, a gossip get the picture. :)

11: Don't be Afraid to Invest in Yourself: Because my insurance doesn't cover any vision expenses and I'm an unfortunate kluzt I recently found myself at a discount eye glasses store getting an exam and new frames. As the assistant totalled up my order, I felt a sudden pang of anxiety and guilt. "Is this how I should be spending my money? "Is it too much?" and ultimately, "Am I worth it?" A sad downward spiral, which quickly ended with the realization--what could be more valuable than improving my vision and thus quality of life. Release yourself from the guilt of making well thought out purchases to improve your life, health, or well-being. While it's important to limit our consumption, a new pair of walking shoes, a better mattress, or new glasses are sometimes necessary expenses improving our mind, body, and spirit, thus helping us do the work of the world.

What are you planning on doing this year? Fill me in on your best ideas for improving your life in 2008!

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