I used to be under the misconception that if I wanted to change my life to be healthy and happier I had to completely reform it.
If I wanted to lose weight I could never have a slice of cake and had to go to the gym religiously. If I wanted to be happier at work I had to find a new job. I’ve since realised a) I was not the only one and b) I was wrong!
This is quite simply not true. If anyone is telling you this, they’re lying (or most likely trying to sell you something). From my own experience, the easiest, quickest and most effective way to make yourself happier and healthier is to make some small changes.
Small changes stick.
Now my one exception to this is mindset - if you’re a completely “woe is me” type, you’ll need to change that or continue to be miserable for ever more.
So what are some of the changes you can make? Read on dear friends…
Change your Energy
One of the most common complaints nowadays is feeling tired. It’s the most common thought on waking up. Start tracking the number of times people say “tired” when you ask how they are. It’s tiring just thinking about it.
Yet we all carry on on our hamster wheels, whingeing about being tired without doing anything about it.
And whilst getting more sleep is of course going to help with this, it’s not the only thing. If you’ve just had a baby/got a puppy/work at a law firm, more sleep may simply not be an option.
So here’s some other things to tweak for energy:
> Breathing. This might not be the most obvious choice, but out of everything we could be deprived of, what would kill us first? (Oxygen). So it makes sense that boosting your intake of oxygen is going to have a big impact on body function and your energy levels. (Fun fact: we generally only use about 30% of our lungs when we breathe). Simply taking long, deep breaths from your belly (not shrugging your shoulders) for a few minutes each day, or whenever you feel tired. If you’d like some more jazzy techniques, watch this.
> Food. Food gives you energy. Calories give you energy. Not eating enough or not eating the right foods can actually take energy away from you as your body tries to digest these foods. I could go on for hours on this subject (luckily I have a few friends who let me bore them so you don’t have to hear it) but in a nutshell - eat for your body. Eat whole foods, eat more greens, cut down on processed foods and sugar. You know the score. Even improving one meal or swapping one snack a day will start to boost your energy.
> Exercise. Exercise boosts your energy. Now, if you’re completely wrecked and force yourself to do a hard core workout, you may just shut down your body and become ill. Please don’t do that. Moderate exercise is great and can be incorporated into day to day life - take the stairs, walk where you can, go for a swim, take up a new hobby, play with your dog/child, do some housework. Exercise doesn’t have to be 90 minutes of Crossfit (thank the baby Jesus!).
> Excitement. Add some more excitement to your days. Slumps in energy can be caused by mental factors as much as physical. Think of a child’s (or my) energy on Christmas Eve compared to the last day of school holidays. Give yourself things to look forward to. Do more of what you love. It will energise you. I get more energy from riding in the mornings than I do having two hours more sleep. Yes, really.
Improve what you already have
You (hopefully) have some great things in your life already. Your relationships, family, home, pets, hobbies, etc. etc. You probably have some mediocre things in your life too - relationships, family, home etc. etc...
So if there are good things already, why not make them great? It’s going to be much easier than starting from scratch. Unless it’s a toxic person, in which case dump them immediately and read “Remove toxicity” below.
Think of some little ways to improve what you already have - plan date nights, make more effort with your family, buy some new cushions for your sofa. Over time, it’s these little things that make something great, not some massive radical change. That radical change may transform the thing you like into something you actually end up resenting.
A lot of people get stuck thinking the only way to improve work is to change jobs. This is not true. If you’re any good, your boss would much rather adapt your job role than lose you altogether. Maybe don’t threaten to leave, just in case you are no good, but think of a way you can open up the discussion. Work out what you enjoy in your role and start the discussion on how you can do more of that. Tweak until you get where you want to be. I managed to radically reform first my location, then my legal area, then my hours doing this approach!
The chances are that you have a nearly fully functioning body and mind, so do more with them. Get out and try some fun things. Exercise your mind as well as your body - there are so many amazing books, podcasts, articles and videos out there. Turns out learning is fun when it’s something you’re passionate about (and it’s not companies law, as I found out).
If something is not working for you in your life, get rid of it. That applies across the board - unwanted clothes, unwanted job responsibilities, unwanted chores, alcohol/smoking/drugs, unwanted people.
We often hold onto things or people out of a sense of obligation, or so as not to “waste” something. Well isn’t a top hanging in your wardrobe never to be worn again more wasteful than donating it to charity?
Have the courage to let go of things. Open up space for new, better things.
I used to carry on friendships that were actively making me miserable and/or stressed out of a sense of obligation. I’d feel bad if I stopped spending so much time with someone and didn’t recognise the hugely negative impact this was having on me. Sometimes in life we have to a be bit selfish. Take the last haribo, ditch the negative friend. If it takes three bottles of wine to make an evening with someone bearable, why are you bothering?
Now I get it, you can’t ditch the in-laws (or replace other family member/friends other half as appropriate). But you can change the toxicity they bring into your life. Limit your exposure and make the situations where you can’t avoid them fun in some other way. Imagine them dressed as monkeys, play dysfunctional family bingo, do whatever it takes you to make a toxic situation enjoyable.
You know you should limit your toxic habits - alcohol, smoking, drugs, McDonald's. I’m not going to preach on this other than to say every chicken nugget less is a step in the right direction. Five pints is better than six. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
I'm doing it, so you can too
I’ve been changing my life (voluntarily) for a bit over a year now and I will continue changing it until quite literally the day I die, I’m sure. And the changes that have worked the best are the small changes I’ve made consistently, which are consistent because they are small. A lot of these tweaks have been in relation to what I already have/do/love.
So don’t reinvent the wheel, just prod a few spokes in the right directions.