Whether we stress about how to afford our kids’ college, are anxious about aging, or are afraid we’ll look dumpy at our high school reunion; we can save ourselves a lot of worry about the future by taking little steps today. Even if you don’t typically procrastinate, many of us check off our to-do list of daily tasks, but avoid issues that worry us most because we can’t quite face them yet. And when we don’t face them, the stress gets a little bigger every day.
Most life changes happen one minute at a time. Sudden, life changing events do happen which can forever alter our future. But most changes happen while we’re not paying much attention, especially when we are busy dealing with the stress of our daily routine. We may gain a pound here and there, or put a few too many lunches on a credit card. We may say we’ll start saving for retirement someday…when we have more money or time.
Then one day we look in the mirror, or at our bank statement and wonder what the heck happened. We feel doubly stressed because the future has hit us, and we find ourselves unprepared.
Time is on your side. Trying to make up for lost time can feel impossible. But little changes made early don’t take much effort at all. Instead, you can release your stress and anxiety, and let time do the heavy work for you. None of these are new ideas. We just may not always realize how beneficial little changes are.
1) The 100 calorie trick. If a few pounds have crept up on you, but you hate the idea of dieting, consider simply letting go of 100 calories a day. This could be half a latte or soda, one less tablespoon of salad dressing or pat of butter, or just a little less of something you can’t live without.
The math never lies. 3500 calories of food intake equals a pound of body fat, no matter what it is you eat. So 100 less calories a day will be close to a pound lost in a month, that you would hardly notice missing from your mouth. The change is slow, but you could lose over 10 pounds in a year, and save yourself the stress over how you’ll look for any number of special occasions.
2) Lift weights to save your bones, and keep you strong. The threat of bone loss is a worry for a lot of women, but beyond taking calcium they may have few ideas how to prevent it. Happily, research has shown that lifting even small weights builds bone mass, and may be our best protection against osteoporosis in our future.
If your schedule is too hectic to fit in going to the gym, you can do a lot at home with leg weights and barbells. Check out the excellent book, Strong Women Strong Bones, by Miriam Nelson and Sarah Wernick, Ph.D, for easy exercises and information. Daily activities like carrying groceries or kids will be far easier as you get a little stronger every day.
3) Pay a little more on everything you owe. If you have a mortgage, car payment, or credit card debt, chances are you can’t pay a chunk of money toward lessening your debt load. But chances are you can pay a little extra every month. Especially on high interest credit cards, this can save you a lot of interest charges, and remove the stress of owing so much. Your mortgage may also allow you to pay extra money to your principal whenever you want. Over the life of a 30 loan, the money you save could be significant.
4) Automatic savings. It can be hard to commit to saving for retirement or college tuition when it seems so far away. But that is exactly when you can gain the most from small amounts you put aside. There are plenty of calculations that show the younger you are when you start saving, the less actual money you have to save, and the more money you will accumulate over time.
If you are lucky enough to have a 401K or other plan where your employer matches a portion of your contribution, then extra money is there for you to take for free. If your budget is tight, you could still probably contribute a small amount without missing it much. You can always increase your savings later, and your nest egg will already be established and beginning to grow.
5) Create a habit of meditation. We tend to think of meditation as a way to deal with the stress we face now. But the more we practice, the better we get, and the more our practice makes us resistant to stress. Whatever the future holds for us, we will be more resilient and emotionally strong from the benefits meditation brings.
Overall, taking little steps now helps us drop a lot of our worries about the future; because we can take comfort that we are doing what we can to be prepared. We can look forward to a future where we are leaner, stronger, wealthier and more serene.
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