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Make your bed, thank your bed. (1/2)

This is the first post (of hopefully many) from the series I've wanted to start for the last few years that I've been studying the subject of happiness. I called it "Practices for Happiness" and it will be a collection of some little (and bigger) things each of us can do to feel better and cultivate our happiness on a daily basis. It's also things that I personally do, or have done, so I haven't only done the research on them, I can also speak from experience.


Make your bed, thank your bed.


Let's tackle the first part of this sentence in this post. Here's the second.


MAKE YOUR BED.

Yes, it's as simple as that, but you have to make it a habit and you have to do it AS SOON AS you get out of your bed in the morning. Otherwise the chances of you doing it decrease tremendously.


WHY DO IT?

First, let's talk about why it's good for your if you do it.

Tons of happy and widely successful people swear by it, and there's also a good amount of research to back it up. You can read about it anywhere from the books on habits (e.g. "The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg), books on happiness (e.g. any of the books by Gretchen Rubin), to research on highly successful people, (e.g. "Tools of Titans" by Tim Ferriss). There is even a book called "Make Your Bed" by William H. McRaven. The amount of information and resources out there is truly vast, but it all really boils down to a few simple points.


Set yourself up for a productive day.

Making your bed in the morning sets you up for a more productive day. By accomplishing something that in our mind constitutes a task (as opposed to simply getting out of bed which usually doesn't) we already feel like I've achieved something. I know it may sound silly, but as much as we often like to deny it, our minds thrive on simple things. And if we already have that habit in place, we do it completely effortlessly too.

Even if we don't take time to actually stop and marvel at our first accomplishment of the day, just knowing that we did it is usually enough of a pat on the back for your minds to positively affect a huge chunk of the rest of our day. We then tend to be more productive and effective with what we think as real or actually meaningful tasks on our to-do list. But our basic brain doesn't do much differentiating between the weight of tasks, it thrives on getting those boxes checked. So if you make your bed, even if you don't feel like you've checked any other boxes today, at least you've checked this one. And making it a habit makes it a kind of a magical box, meaning that it will not appear on your mental to-do list until it's actually checked. It's almost like cheating, but who cares- it works, so take it.


Outer order inner calm.

The second point is particularly important for those of us who don't use our bedrooms only at nights. If you come to your bedroom to relax or take a nap throughout the day, if your closet is in your bedroom, if your bedroom doubles as your home office or if you're a student with your desk, your computer and your whole world in your bedroom, then I'm talking to you here.

The way our surroundings look and feel has a tremendous effect on how we feel and how our mind works (or doesn't). Have you ever found yourself organizing your desk when suffering from a bit of a brain fog? I'm not talking about procrastination here. We really do function better when our space is tidy, and whether you think you agree with it or not, your body knows it to be true. It doesn't mean that it has to be minimalistically empty and crisp clean all the time. It means that it should be tidy, neat. Your kind of tidy.

And before you claim that you love your artistic mess, check in with yourself next time you can't focus. Are your things actually in order, (even if it's your kind of order)? Chances are they are not and if you organize them you will feel better.

Your bed is no exception here. You may have your own way of making it, that's completely okay, but do make sure you make it. An unmade bed in a room in which you're trying to work or relax is both distracting and dangerously seductive. It can make you feel more sleepy than you actually are. If you can't focus you might get the idea to take a nap if all you can see in front of you is an unmade bed. It's like you never got up, it's calling you back in. On top of that, if you do take a nap you might end up sleeping much longer than you initially planned.

So making you sleepy is one thing, but it also prevents you from concentrating on your work. And this happens even if you can't actually see the bed, even if it's behind your back as you sit at your desk. Even if you think you can focus with an unmade bed in the room, I bet you that you will be able to focus better once it's made.

Furthermore, probably worst of all, remember how I said making your bed is a magical task that only appears on the to-do list once you accomplish it? Well, this is an exception. If you don't do it, but you happen to see it unmade throughout the day, it often magically appears on the to-do list (even if you're not a list-maker) and stares you in the face saying "well, yet another thing you should have done, but you didn't". And this is no mater how conscious this voice in your head is. It happens even if you're one of those who say they really don't mind. You may not realize it, but your mind minds, trust me. So why do this to yourself?

Even if you don't feel better all of a sudden, why not tackle it to get rid of at least one thing that will surely make you feel worse?


Better sleep.

This one ties in a bit with the previous one. Even if you leave your bedroom in the morning and only come back to it at night, it's just not nice to come back to an unmade bed. I know you know it. And yet again, even if you say you don't mind it, you only think you don't.

One of the reasons most people love staying at hotels is that they love having their bed made by room service every day, so they can always feel like they sleep in a new, freshly made bed each night. It's more welcoming this way, it's fresher, it's not filled with the stagnant energy of the previous night. A bed that's been made doesn't feel like someone has just been in it. It feels ready for YOU and ready to accommodate YOUR body thought the night.

All of this makes your going-to-bed experience a more pleasant one, even if you don't consciously notice those things. And we all know that a good day starts with a good night's sleep the night before. There are a lot of factors that can impact your sleep, a lot of them you have no control over, but some of them are totally up to us. (I will definitely get more into this topic soon). One thing we can definitely influence is our mood, and one simple thing we can do to improve it is giving ourselves the pleasure of coming to a made bed each night. This little act of self-love really goes a long way.


HOW DO I DO IT?

If you already habitually make your bed each morning, good for you, you can stop reading here, but if you're someone who claims they have no time for it or can't possibly stick to it in the long run, this is for you.

So how do you do it? The answer is quite simple:


Make it a habit.

We are too busy and too stimulated every single second of every single day to waste our energy on deciding whether or not to spend less than a minute making your bed in the morning. It's not worth it, trust me, I've tried it. It's actually very counterproductive to allow yourself this seemingly luxurious choice of whether or not to make your bed in the morning. It's energy draining from the moment you open your eyes. Do yourself a favor and make it a habit. If you do so, it will become automatic and will cost you zero decision-making energy. It will also get done each day.


There are many cool tricks you can use to help with new habit formation, but two of them are particularly helpful here. The first one is pairing.

Pair it up.

It's easier to learn and maintain a new habit when we pair it with some other thing we already do.

I'm going to assume that you already get out of your bed each morning, whether it's the second you wake up or whether it's after you did some reading or meditation, at some point you (hopefully) do get out. Chances are you probably do it by getting a hold of your duvet and lifting it off of you so you could place your feet on the floor beside your bed. Here's your chance of pairing. You can make this one conscious decision (that you will stick to) that instead of throwing your blanket back on the bed you'll grab it with the other hand, lift it up and place it neatly over your bed. This is the simplest version.

The more advanced one is to just make a decision to NOT walk away from the bed as soon as you get up, but instead turn around and make it. Right away. It has to be right away, otherwise you will miss your chance and although you might later come back to it once or twice, in the long run the probability of you maintaining this habit is very slim.


This is how I do it: I get out of bed and I stretch my arms and I turn around immediately. I face my bed and make it without a single thought. I didn't used to do it this way. But many years ago I decided I wanted to start, so for a couple of weeks I would make myself do it. Up, of the bed, turn around, make the bed. Kind of like a dance. I consciously forced myself to do it for a couple of weeks until it stuck and became an automated action- a habit. The only time I ever catch myself thinking about it is if I'm ever thrown out of this little routine by a sudden phone call or something like that that would cause me to jump out of bed and rush to do something super urgent right away and not get back to bed. But in general I make sure to make my mornings as rush-free as possible nowadays, so such things happen very rarely. So 99.99% of the time, I get out of the bed, turn around and spend about 30 seconds making it.

I gently punch my two bed pillows a few times to refresh them after the night and place them neatly at the head of the bed. I lift (and with that I air out and straighten) my duvet/blanket and then I place it as evenly as possible on the top of the bed and the pillows. I don't even bother with folding the sides or anything like that. I also have a bedspread blanket I cover the bed with. That's that. No throw pillows, as nice as they are. No unnecessary accessories. Not because I don't like them. It's because I couldn't be bothered to actually decorate my bed with them every morning. I have more important things to spend my morning time on. I do the bare minimum that I myself am satisfied with. Which brings me to my second tip.

Make it as simple as possible.

Unless you're REALLY into it, don't make it an elaborate thing.

Working as (among other things) an interior designer for many years now, I know that some people can go a little overboard with the amount of pillows, throws and other bed accessories. Sure it may look nice in a picture (though too much is never good), but to be completely honest with you, whenever I see such elaborate bed decor I always question it. How realistic is it to actually maintain it on a daily basis? If you really love it and you're really committed to spending your precious time on doing it each morning, go for it, but if you don't mind a simpler form, perhaps just 2 throw pillows instead of eleven will do? Or perhaps you're fine with just a throw over the bed?

So ask yourself, "what is the bare minimum of bed decor that I need to feel okay about it?". And remember, a simply made bed is a million times better than a beautiful and elaborate bed decor that's always on the floor because you can't be bothered to make your bed "the right way" each morning.

Throw "the right way" out of the window and pick a way that works for you. Works- meaning that it pleases (or doesn't displease) your eye and is something you can realistically manage each morning, preferably under one minute. And if it means that you'll need to invest in a bedspread or a fitted sheet with an elastic (so it doesn't get all wrinkled and messy each night) I say it's worth your money.


Track it, until it sticks.

This one is a bonus tip, but it's definitely not for everyone.

It takes about 21 days to form a new habit, and between 60 to 90 days to make it permanent. So if it's hard at the beginning, I recommend tracking it. Stick a post-it by your bed reminding you to do it or set a reminder on your phone to go on with your alarm. Use the above described pairing and simplification techniques according to what works best for you. If you're more of an A-type, you might want to introduce an actual checkbox in your calendar, so you can enjoy the satisfaction of ticking it each day- some of you will laugh, but some of you will know exactly what I mean.



However you end up doing it, I hope you'll be able to stick to it, for the sake of your own good mood, productivity and overall well-being. I know you can do it! And once you get a hang of it, I invite you to also add in the second part: thank your bed.

Good luck!





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