In these days of turmoil and strife, there are things we can stop doing to make life better for ourselves and those around us. You will find a dozen items (plus a bonus) conveniently detailed in the list below.
Stop making your family miserable by insisting that they be more like other happy families.
Stop asking people to do you a favor when that favor involves requesting them to apply their professional expertise for free. Unless these people insist that they would like to help, do not ask: your attorney friend for detailed advice about how to siphon more money out of your ex who just got a raise; your contractor friend to rehang the back door; your editor friend to read your 7,943-page manuscript “just for fun” when she “has a minute.” Don’t tell your veterinarian pal about your dog’s drool or your dentist friend about your own drool unless you make an office appointment first.
Stop thinking that texting “Sorry — I’m running late!” compensates for, or mitigates, the rudeness of making another person wait for you.
Stop making your kids’ doctors and dentist appointments if they’re over age 23. Stop paying their essential bills (dinners out and grocery runs are fabulous gifts but should not be staples). Stop doing their laundry and paying their car insurance. Give your kids the advice and emotional support. They need it, but let them assemble the resources. As long as they’re prepared — because you have helped to prepare them — to accept that their first jobs will probably be boring, tedious and will not permit them to explore the limitless possibilities of their rich imaginative life within the first three months, they will be able to start making their own way in the world.
Stop practicing the worst of all gerunds when it comes to your emotional life: stop deflecting, projecting, repressing, evading and denying.
Don’t leave your clothes on the floor, your unfinished food on the counter or your dirty dishes in the sink. Nobody, not even the later version of you, thinks, “What a swell idea! Filth!” If you hate cleaning up after yourself, just imagine how other people feel about it.
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Don’t overdo the nonchalance. Be chalant. Allow yourself to be impressed, cheered, surprised and thrilled by the achievements, ideas, good news and delights of others. (Unless they are very good friends, however, you don’t have to be equally delighted by the achievements of their pets, children or favorite reality television stars; I can give you a written pass for that.)
If you stop being viciously judgmental about other people, a wonderful thing will happen: you’ll gradually stop thinking they’re harshly judging you. Remind yourself that it doesn’t matter how many people are doing better or worse than you are: Life is not graded on a curve.
Stop using the word “phony” unless you are Holden Caulfield from J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye.” This is especially true if you are a leader of the free world and employing the word in a tweet.
Stop trying to dazzle the newly grieving with your complex theories about mortality, the role of death in our culture and best practices when it comes to keeping funerals eco-friendly. Make them food and don’t ask for the dish back. Bring them flowers and don’t explain why you chose the particular arrangement. This is not about you. This is about the person who has suffered a loss. As my friend Barbara Cooley says, “Stop thinking you’re the most important person in the room.”
Stop being pious about what you don’t eat, what fabrics you don’t wear, what you don’t drink, what you don’t watch or read. Minerals don’t eat, wear, drink, watch or read any of those things either but that doesn’t mean rocks are virtuous.
Stop trying to be tough all the time and remember that every now and then you need to crack up before you break through. “Cracking up” is slang for both losing your grip on reality and laughing uproariously. Are you surprised?
Bonus: Everybody needs to stop telling everybody else what they can’t do.