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It’s easy to find yourself wrapped up in an endless to-do list. It takes hard work to reach your goals, and we have a tendency to use comparison as our barometer for acceptable effort.

A big part of our culture is the pursuit of the American dream: the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved. And it’s pretty great, this idea that with enough hard work you can achieve literally anything you set out to do.

But this can also be daunting. It quickly becomes overwhelmingly stressful, wondering if you are working hard enough, fast enough and with enough efficiency to reach your dreams. There is a drive to work harder than your neighbor, achieve more than your co-worker, acquire more than your friends. And while a little competition is healthy, finding balance between living for success and successfully living can be difficult.

Stress is taking an astonishing toll on our nation. The American Institute of Stress (let’s all agree the idea of such an entity may be a major red flag) has many lists showing how stress negatively impacts every single system in our body. And that’s just the scientific and quantifiable information. Stress can strain our relationships, unravel our sense of self-worth and actually hold us back from the American Dream we are so driven to attain.

I have a chronic habit of biting off more than I can chew — or rather, biting off more than I should chew. My mother has mentioned I have a noticeable fear of consistency and holding still. I think this trait often drives me towards success, but in talking with her I did notice myself using a lot of “once” and “until” language.

“No sweetheart I can’t play that game with you until I get these dishes done”. Or “I’ll relax once the weekend gets here.” But when the weekend does come it has its own set of “once” and “until” opportunities. I’ve often found myself saying, “I don’t think I’ve actually had a break in months.”

And this poses a very challenging question: “Am I happy living like this?” While the big picture is undeniably going pretty well these days, the day to day, detail to detail moments were missing out on "happy." So, I shifted my intention from “this week” or “this month” or “this year,” to simply “today.”

That doesn’t mean I gave up all my long term goals. Those are all still on track, and I’m still just as busy as I have ever been, but I actually added three simple daily non-negotiable tasks to my to-do list:

1. Find a moment of peace

2. Create a moment of joy

3. Choose a moment of kindness.

I’ll be shocked if one of your first reactions to this isn’t, “I’m not sure I’ll have the time.” I promise you do, though each day it might look a little different.

Start today by making a list of what might work for you. Everyone is different. For me, a moment of peace might be making it to yoga class or meditating, or getting up 15 minutes early to enjoy my coffee before the rest of the house wakes up. There have been days that my moment of peace was simply turning off the radio and sitting in my car with my eyes closed for 30 seconds of silence before I rush into my son’s taekwondo practice. It’s all the time I have that day, and it still helps.

I can create my moment of joy with a cup of coffee and a cookie in the afternoon, a hot bath with my best salts and oils, laughing with friends or a date with my husband. Some days it’s simply choosing to play a short card game with my kiddo instead of turning on the TV.

Lastly, choose a moment of kindness. I think this one is the easiest to do, and also the easiest to forget. Maybe it’s volunteering for a charity, or bringing a co-worker coffee on your way to the office (you’ll notice coffee is a big deal in my world). Maybe it’s just really listening to someone’s response when you ask them how they're doing, or making eye contact with the grocery store clerk when you thank them. Maybe it’s just remembering to thank them. Regardless, one moment of simple kindness could make all the difference in someone’s day, and I promise it will make all the difference in yours.

Some days are easier than others. On a crazy day I can knock out all 3 tasks in less than a minute, and on a slower day I really settle in to the decadence of my daily moments. But in shifting my intention to the daily, I spend a lot less time wishing my life away, and a lot more time enjoying it. And I hope you can too.

Every single moment is like a word in your life’s story. Choose yours with intention, and make each one mean something. Because amazing things start to happen when "until" and "once" become "today" and "now."

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Ashley Steen, a licensed massage therapist, works at Oasis Health Spa.

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