Systematically Make Your Days Better by Creating a “Quality of Life” Benchmark

Image of a man joyously releasing birds into a sun-filled sky

We're moving into the next phase of the coronavirus crisis. We're getting a glimmer of the long haul. To help you flourish through tough times, I recommend you take proactive action to ensure that you have sufficient pleasure in your life. You need positive experiences on a regular basis, no matter what the situation. If you experience only deprivation, you will lose the motivation to do what needs to be done.

Years ago, I developed a tactic that helped me with this, a daily benchmark to rate your "Quality of Life" that day, which I used for 10+ years.

Simply, a "Quality of Life" benchmark is a list of 10-15 actions that you might perform on any given day, which contribute to your experiencing it as a good day. Each day you count how many you did. Over time, you learn the number you need to consistently be satisfied with how the day went.

I recommend you adopt this practice if you want to consciously enjoy your everyday existence more.

It's easy. Just come up with a list of 10-15 clearcut actions that have given you pleasure or satisfaction in the past. Choose the number you think you need to do each day to be satisfied with the day. Print up a form for keeping track in a given week. At night (or the next morning) check off all the actions you took that day and count how many there are. Did you make your goal? If you did, do you agree it was a good day? Adapt the list and the number goal until it predicts a good day.

For example, my most recent "quality of life" list is:

  • 50-50 Awareness maintained
  • Finished something important
  • 6-8 pomodoros of deep work
  • Managed financial activity
  • Got on top of things
  • Alexander Self-Lesson
  • Exercised twice
  • 12-2-2 & Meat & Plants
  • Desk by 8:30
  • House & Office made nice
  • Pretty including makeup
  • Self-Empathy/found the motivation by love
  • Bonding conversation
  • Read/listened to nonfiction
  • In-the-moment adventure: flute/sing/fun. If not, why not?

As an empirical observation, when I did 10 of these 15 items in a given day, I felt highly satisfied. If I got an 8 or a 9, I felt the day was okay, not great. If it was less, there was some trouble. Occasionally I surprised myself by getting a 10 or 11, and realized, yes, that was a satisfying day.

There are a few crucial things to note about the items on this list.

a) They are clearcut. It is easy for me to tell whether I did one of them or not. As written, they may appear obscure to you, but I know exactly what they mean, and what does and doesn't count.

b) They are my items, not generic items. They include references to my goals and processes — such as deep work and Alexander Technique.

c) They have evolved over time. Some things become less important, or some things become so taken for granted, they don't need to be on the list. Once you take something for granted, you may not get pleasure from it.

For example, "8 hours of sleep" used to be an item. Then after a few years, I got back to my normal sleep requirement of 7 hours, so I changed it to 7. However, this was so important to me, that I rarely missed it. So I added in "and shower" to make it more challenging, because I was in the middle of shifting my showering schedule back to first thing in the morning, from midday, so showering needed extra attention. Then at a certain point, both of these became such no-brainers for me that I took the item off the list. Incidentally, I changed back to 8 hours of sleep last year, to help me increase the amount of intellectual work I could do in a day.

The particular items on the list evolved out of two other practices I learned from others: "Three Good Things" and "Five Bright Spots."

You may be familiar with "Three Good Things." It is a practice where every day, you notice three good things that happened, and write them down. There is a writeup on it on the Thinking Directions blog here.

"Three Good Things" helps you notice the concretes in your life that give you pleasure and satisfaction. Through doing these kinds of lists, I realized a lot of things about myself. I am more sociable than I thought — I get pleasure from a good conversation. I learned how much I appreciate a freshly picked-up apartment. And other things. Reflecting on the day and seeing what made you smile — no matter how tough the day was — is a great way to remember that values are what's important.

"Five Bright Spots" is a little different. This is a practice I used in 2007 when I had Epstein Barr, a fatigue disease that stopped me from working for 9 months. Since all my top values are tied up in my work, not being able to work was very depressing. I couldn't work, I couldn't even set any mid-term goals. My therapist suggested the "Five Bright Spots" practice. I came up with five very simple things I could do each day, that would brighten my day, just to keep my sense of values and goals alive. Here's the list:

  • 5-minute Qigong exercise
  • Call Mom
  • Alexander Self-Lesson
  • Sing one song
  • Do 3 good things exercise

I could do almost nothing, but day in, day out, for nine months, I made a point of taking these five simple actions, and that commitment helped get me through a difficult time as I got my stamina back. With that, I learned the value of simple pleasures in making a bleak day brighter.

Having gotten in the habit of keeping track of things, I started adding to the list until it grew to 15. But eventually I realized it was too challenging to do 15 things every day. I needed more flexibility. And that's how the "Quality of Life" benchmark got started.

If you're interested in the "Quality of Life" benchmark, I recommend you start with "three good things" and make that a daily practice, and then evolve it into a "Quality of Life" benchmark when you feel you know what should go on the list.

This practice makes you more aware of little things you can do to brighten your day, and also different ways you can have a "good" day. Sometimes a satisfying day involves productive work. Other times it involves enjoyment of other people and getting chores done. It always helps you find a way to enjoy your days. When it gets toward the end of a day, if it hasn't been a good day, you can often do one or two items on the list, and Tah Dah, a mediocre day ends on an up note.

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