We are in the middle of a pandemic right now and I think it is safe to say that most of us have more time on our hands but based on the conversations I have had with people, a lot of us aren’t happier because of it.
Granted there are a lot of things we can’t change right now, and making big changes, even if we can, may seem daunting, so I have compiled a list of my top 10 small changes that I know you can make right now that can drastically change your life for the better. Sound good??
1. Stay Active
2. Practice Gratitude
3. Tidy Up
4. Start Your Day with Protein and Water
5. Just Breathe
6. Spend Time in Nature
7. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
8. Make a Decision, Stick to It
9. Learn to Unapologetically Say No
10. Be Present
1. STAY ACTIVE.
I think this first one is obvious. Staying active, isn’t just about exercise. It’s about moving and we know that movement is medicine. Just moving your body can help you not only feel better physically, but also emotionally. And to top it off, it actually fertilizes your brain so it gets bigger!
LIFE CHANGING TIP #1: Make movement a non negotiable in your life. Commit to some form of healthy movement, that you enjoy, every day for at least 30 minutes.
2. BE GRATEFUL.
According to Harvard Health, positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
LIFE CHANGING TIP #2: Dedicate a specific time each day to practice gratitude.If you meditate, use the last minute of it to send out your good vibe to the people and things you are grateful for. Or keep a journal beside your bed and write out three things each night before bed that you are grateful for. Or, my favourite, tell someone directly that you are grateful for them and let them know why.
3. TIDY UP.
I feel like I have these first two down pat but this third one needs work for me! I know I breathe a sigh of relief every time I tidy up . My spirit lifts and I feel more productive and more creative when my environment is clean and uncluttered..and yet, it isn’t a top priority for me. There are a ton of studies that have verified what I already know; there is a direct link between the stress hormone cortisol and clutter – or, as UCLA’s Center for Everyday Lives and Families calls it, “a high density of household objects.”
While there seems to be something of a gender split at play here (with women much more psychologically averse to clutter), the basic takeaway applies to everyone. Messy spaces mean more cleaning to be done in the future. And as the mess continues to grow, so does the mental weight of knowing that it’s there. Like so many things in life, the resulting stress has a way of building upon itself, becoming a vicious cycle.
LIFE CHANGING TIP #3: Start each day by making your bed and taking 15 minutes to tidy up your environment before you move on with your day.
4. START YOUR DAY WITH PROTEIN AND WATER.
There are so many reasons this is a good idea. One of the biggest indicators of lethargy or low energy is that you are dehydrated. And if you are getting the 8 hours of sleep that is recommended that is a long time to go without water…meaning chances are you are dehydrated when you wake up. Drink one or two glasses of water as soon as you wake up and your energy will improve as will your brain function. It is, of course, a daylong process, but starting with a glass of water right away is a step in the right direction.
The other tip I threw in here is to consume protein for breakfast, 20 – 30 grams if you can. And by breakfast, I simply mean the first meal of the day. This doesn’t have to be immediately when you get up. A concentrated source of protein to break your fast will help satiate you and keep your blood sugar balanced for hours. Setting you off on the right foot so you reduce cravings and have consistent energy throughout the day!
Why so much protein? Studies have shown that that is the amount needed to stimulate MPS, or muscle protein synthesis. As we get older, our bodys ability to gain muscle decreases so we need all the help we can get!
LIFE CHANGING TIP #4: Start each day with a large glass of water and 20-30 grams of protein at breakfast.
5. JUST BREATHE.
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale again. We do this all day, every day but when was the last time you were aware of your breathing or took a deep breath? Probably not as often as you should. Deep breathing is one of the easiest and natural tools to combat issues like stress and anxiety, reduce pain, high blood pressure and even aide in digestion. A surprise bonus? Deep breathing has been shown to actually improve your immune response. Something all of us can use right now.
Feeling stressed? Sit tall or lie on your back and breath slowly in and even slower out. As you inhale, let your belly inflate so your diaphragm is used and then move the breath up into the rib cage. This stimulates a nerve called the vagus nerve that helps move you from “fight or flight” to” rest and digest” or relaxation mode.
Unlike other stress relieving tools, it doesn’t take long for the effects to be felt. Start with 10 deep breaths and chances are you will feel the benefits immediately.
LIFE CHANGING TIP #5: Feeling stressed? Take 5 minutes and practice my favourite breath, the 2x breath. Simply, inhale for a count of 3, 4 or 5 seconds and exhale for double that amount of time.
6. SPEND TIME IN NATURE.
It is official, spending time outside is good for you. Studies have shown that people living closer to nature have reduced blood pressure, heart rate and stress. And one of the really interesting things that has been found is that exposure to green space significantly reduces people’s levels of salivary cortisol — a physiological marker of stress. I mean, we knew it right? Being outside makes us feel better but there is scientific evidence that it actually makes you better!
In Japan, they practice something called ‘forest bathing’ where they simply spend time in the forest and studies have shown that this reduces peoples risk of cancer and other diseases. Their research suggests that phytoncides — organic compounds with antibacterial properties — released by trees could explain the health-boosting properties.
LIFE CHANGING TIP #6: Try to spend at least a few minutes each day in nature. Even better, take your shoes off and enjoy it barefoot if you can!
7. STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS.
Simply put, ‘comparison is the thief of joy’. If we compare ourselves to others, we may be left with feelings of inferiority or superiority-and neither creates an emotionally healthy human being! Just know, you are enough. Your life is enough. You are neither better nor worse than someone else, you are just beautifully different!
LIFE CHANGING TIP #7: As soon as you find yourself comparing what you have to someone else, stop yourself and immediately think of 3 things you are grateful for.
8. MAKE A DECISION, STICK TO IT.
Do you lack motivation? Have you ever thought it may not be motivation you need but instead an ability to simply make a decision and stick to it? Decision fatigue is a real thing and it affects us in negative ways, especially when it comes to our health and wellness.
The fact it, it’s easier to hold onto your principles 100% of the time than to hold onto them 98% of the time. If you are only 98% committed then that means you haven’t made a decision. This means you don’t know how you are going to react in the future. And in the heat of the moment if you are trying to make a decision (do I work out or don’t I? Do I eat that cookie or don’t I?), the situation usually wins, or in your mind, you lose willpower.
It’s far easier to make a decision that you know is good for you and just stick to it.
Check out this article by Benjamin Hardy, PhD. In it he explains how making a decision and sticking to it actually makes your life a heck of a lot easier and this in turn can lead to better health and happiness.
LIFE CHANGING TIP #8: Write out your goals and the action steps you need to take in order to get there. Decide right there and then to commit to those actions 100%.
9. LEARN TO UNAPOLOGETICALLY SAY NO.
How many of you out there cringe when you read this one? It’s like no is a four letter word for some us. We say it under our breath, we feel bad, we make ourselves believe it is a bad things to say. But it isn’t.
This concept comes from Steven Covey and his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and if it makes you feel better, it isn’t about saying no at all. It’s about saying yes to yourself. I am with all of you that feel that saying no is hard but when you realize you are always saying no to something it shifts that thought process.
Am I saying no to staying late at work or am I saying yes to getting my workout in before I go home?
Am I saying no to the second helping or am I saying yes to feeling great in my clothes?
It’s easy to say no when you have a bigger yes burning inside. And never apologize for wanting great things for yourself. If they love and care for you they will want it for you as well.
LIFE CHANGING TIP #9: Set a goal, but then write down WHY it is important that you reach that goal. If your why is strong enough, it’s easy to say no to things that may derail you.
10. BE PRESENT.
This has come up as a theme for me over the years. The fact that I need to be more present. But this pandemic solidified it for me. It was one of those situations where sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can start to rise again…
I mean, i didn’t exactly hit ‘rock bottom’ but at the beginning of this pandemic, when my kids and I were locked down together you would have thought it would have been too much together time but what I found was it wasn’t enough.
In sheer numbers we hadn’t had this much time together in years but if you were counting quality time then it didn’t add up to much.
I was spending so much time panicking and worrying and trying to control things that weren’t in my control or distracting myself with mundane things I may as well have not been there at all. And then it hit me…there were lots of things that were out of my control but being present and available to those I loved and cared for was in my control. And so I shifted.
I decided that rather than focusing all my attention on future fears or trying to avoid thinking about them I decided to put all of my energy into the present moment and cultivate the lost art of paying attention.
I really believe that the best gift we can give – is the gift of our full attention. Being present for someone else.
Why is this the greatest gift? Because your attention is your time and we all know now, more than ever, that our time is finite.
And what a precious gift to give someone, something you have a limited amount of.
In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh: “When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?”
How often do you catch yourself being only ‘half-present’ – distracted or thinking of other things while in a conversation? If you say a lot then you are in good company. Most of the time our minds are wandering, and we are either planning for the future or rehashing the past. In fact, a Harvard study found that, on average, our minds wander nearly 50 percent of the time. They take that even further to say that a wandering mind is not a happy mind and that it is the wandering that makes us unhappy, not the situation we are in.
So if you want to be happier and if you want to show someone you care about them start to pay attention to that wandering mind and bring it back to the present moment and the person you are with…even if that person is you.
Being present and paying attention is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone. Including yourself. Just curious, when was the last time you took time to sit with yourself and listen to your thoughts? This means, no distractions, no cell phones, no Netflix…
We all have the opportunity to cultivate the lost art of paying attention by being fully present.
And not unlike a new exercise, being fully present is hard work. I still struggle with this every day. But I know it is work that is worth the effort.
The opportunity is there for all of us to strengthen our relationships, and in a time where distancing is the way, to feel more connected to each other and as a result happier and healthier.
So what do you say? Are you willing to give the gift of your time away to someone you care about?
There is no perfect way to live this life but if you are committed to living it you may as well make it as happy as you can right?? So what one change can you make today to start living the life you deserve??