“It’s never too late to be who you might have been.”– George Eliot
The future beckons. We brush away the dust and detritus of the old year and walk towards a hopeful new chapter. We stepped across the threshold with hope in our heart and the resolution and resolutions for a better year and a better us. In that spirit, I present this How to start changing your life In 6 ways article.
It’s so easy to be cynical or jaded about new year resolutions. But I think this is the perfect time to reflect and re-energise. This is a waymarker on the journey of our life; The new year is a reminder that we may, at any point, start again. Here, we step forward outwards towards a bright future of hope. We are once again reminded that what we are not who we have been. It’s an ideal time to reflect on what has been and where our path for self improvement may lay.
I’ve been trying hard to change myself and my life. Last year I took control of my life. I took risks. I am trying my hardest to change myself and my life. All change must come from within. Happiness must come from within. The journey is long and difficult. I’ve only just started. I don’t have all the answers but I have found many helpful things in my journey. Signposts along the way.
Ultimately there is no single one truth. If somebody tells you otherwise they are either trying to sell you something or they have an agender because they would like you to believe as they do. This is your life and your adventure. We are all different. It’s my hope that at least some of these help you or at the very least inspire you to find the things that fit and work for you. Just have fun, keep trying and never give up.
So without further ado, here are my suggestions on how to start changing your life In 6 Ways.
HAPPINESS & HEALTH
“If you are quiet enough, you will hear the flow of the universe. You will feel its rhythm. Go with this flow. Happiness lies ahead. Meditation is key.”– Buddha
I start my morning in meditation. The scientific benefits of meditation practice are many. They include being happier, more focused, calmer, less self-critical, and also have proven to help with anxiety and depression. These are just a few of the many benefits of meditation.
Our lives have become busy, our minds have become busy, but we are not richer for it. The experience of real life is outside the bubble of these distractions. Just allowing yourself to be free and uncoupled, to allow thoughts to freely flow, to do absolutely nothing, is a pleasure so many have lost.
The world intrudes on our serenity. In fact, “doing nothing”, is vitally important to our wellbeing. It used to be a grand tradition for creatives and academics to take long walks just so they could free their mind. When was the last time you allowed yourself to simply just “be.”
I would highly recommend you give meditation a try if you haven’t. It’s easy to do and can be done with just 10 minutes of your time. I personally use and recommend an APP ( see later in the article for my recommendation ) but there are many books, videos, audiobooks, and youtube videos dedicated to it. Give it a try, I think you’ll be surprised. Just be patient. It’s not a magical solution. It’s a skill that you need to take time to practice. With this single thing, you can begin changing your life for the better.
Mindfulness is really an extension of meditation and is another really powerful way of changing your life. What is mindfulness? It’s the art of being fully present in the moments. It’s being able to slow down and appreciate without judgment. Our minds are almost always on autopilot. We wander through the distracting maze of daily life on automatic.
Stop. Breath. Be.
Mindfulness can help you appreciate the beauty of things all around you. Simple and beautiful moments are all around us. All moments are mayfly brief and in our distracted unkinking state we miss them. Life is really wonderful, even the simple moments, in fact, often it’s those every day simple moments that are the very best.
Stop. Breath. Appreciate. Mindfulness has been proven to reduce stress, anxiety, and has a whole host of other positive effects.
The third and last in my health and happiness recommendations is physical exercise. You don’t have to jog for miles or hit the gym. The benefits of exercise on both physical and mental well being are well documented and you only need to do a small amount.
For example, studies have shown that just 12 minutes of exercise is enough to change biomarkers in your bloodstream: slow down ageing, improve immune system response, decrease your risk of heart, kidney, and liver disease and help prevent cancers. You’ll live longer, feel better, have more energy.
Exercising promotes a calmer and happier self. Physical activity releases dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These chemicals improve your sleep and well feeling of well being.
Meditation, Mindfulness, and exercise, with just these 3 things you could fundamentally begin changing your life for the better. I think it’s well worth giving them a try, what do you have to lose? You only need a little time. Just a few minutes a day could impact your life positively in numerous ways.
MAKING THE MOST OF TIME
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”– Steve Jobs
What is time blocking? Time blocking is using a calendar to organise your day (or even week) into blocks of time devoted to various tasks. The system is used by Bill Gates and Elon Musk, along with many other highly productive people.
Why does time blocking work? It forces you to really think about what you need to accomplish and realistically how much time you have to do so. It forces you to focus and commit. It helps us to avoid falling foul of Parkinson’s Law:
You can use a traditional calendar for time blocking or you can use Google Calendar as I do. There might be apps out there to do it but I haven’t found any that I like. It’s very simple to use Google calendar. You can still use Google Calendar to time block if you have a Phone or a Mac too.
I’ve never been focused. I’m spontaneous and capricious. I bounce around from thing to thing never settling on anything for long before some other shiny thing gets my attention. Unfortunately, I am also really good at wasting vast oceans of time and really bad at motivating myself.
Before I discovered time blocking my days would get wasted. I would have so many amazing plans for what I wanted to get done with my days but end up doing little or worse doing nothing. Time blocking isn’t for everybody but maybe try it if you feel you’re not getting anywhere or feeling unproductive. It works for me and maybe it will work for you too.
THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE
What is the Pomodoro technique? It’s a time management system invented by Francesco Cirillo to improve productivity, avoid distractions, and avoid burnout. You can read a nice article written by a journalist that tried it out,
There is a wonderful app you’ll find later in this post if you are interested in trying it! I integrate Pomodoro technique into time blocking by making my blocks 25 minutes or multiples of.
Pomodoro and time blocking helped revolutionised my days but recently I realised that even though I was getting “stuff done” I was still getting nowhere. I looked back at the months gone by and realised that I’ve achieved so little. So much of what I wanted to do lay undone. And when I looked to the future I saw no clearly defined plan for the road ahead. That’s when I had the epiphany – I needed goals to work towards.
Just as my days needed structure, my life did too. I needed to challenge myself. I need to motivate and push against my boundaries and comfort zones. I have notions of where I want to be in my life but I need a plan on how to get there.
Imagine you want a holiday in Bali. Would you expect to simply teleport? There has to be a plan of how you’ll get there from start to finish: saving, research, hotels, transport, taxis, money exchange, visas, and so on. If you have a dream then you need a plan on how you’ll going to achieve it.
This is what I had been missing.
After much research I discovered SMART GOALS. What is the definition of SMART goals?
- Specific: : Must be clearly defined
- Measurable : Must be measurable
- Achievable : Must be something you can realistically achieve
- Relevant : Must have a clear tangible reward or purpose
- Time bound : Must have an end date
Scientific studies have shown that simply writing down a goal you are 42 percent more likely to be successful. Additionally, SMART goals force you to ask yourself questions and formulate clear and realistic goals. Setting a deadline creates a sense of urgency and holds yourself to account.
Once you have your smart goal you then break it down into chunks. Your goal is the destination but how will you get here? You’ll need a plan.
An Example SMART goal.
I want to lose 3KG in 3 months time. This is a good example of a SMART goal. It’s specific. Just saying I want to be slimmer or healthier wouldn’t be a smart goal because it’s not specific or measurable. 3kg in 3 months is measurable, realistic, relevant and it’s time based.
You then break it down into sub goals.
- Begin exercising each morning starting at 5 minutes
- Increase exercising each week by 2.5 minutes a week.
- Take the stairs every day instead of the escalator.
- No sweets, candies or desserts.
- Cut out sugar in tea and coffee.
- Cut out meat Mon, Wed, and Thu
- Eat at least 2 soup meals each week
I’ve only just started using SMART goals myself but it’s already proving to be a game changer. I have 4 goals at any time in addition a To-Do list.
- Day Goal – What do I want to achieve today?
- Short Term Goal – What do I want to achieve this week?
- Medium Term Goal – What do I want to achieve in a 3 month period?
- Long Term Goal – What do I want to achieve this year ( or longer time period)
I like to set mini goals in my Pomodoro segments and time blocks. For example each Pomodoro segment I will ask myself, what is it that I want to get done in these 25 minutes?
Time Blocking, Pomodoro, and SMART goals have literally changed my life. It’s not going to work for everybody but you should definitely give them a try if you think there’s a chance that you need something like this.
THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT!
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.” – Lao Tzu
How to start changing your life In 6 ways has covered mental & physical well being along with making the most of your moments with time management. Changing your life isn’t easy but technology can help. So now I present some apps that may prove very useful on your self improvement journey. All the apps are all free but have additional features that come with a premium subscription. I personally use them all.
Headspace is the App that I use for meditation. I learned how to meditate with this app and continue to use it. Headspace was founded by Andy Puddicombe who left the UK seeking enlightenment in Asia. He ended up becoming a fully ordained Buddhist monk at a Tibetian monastery in India.
He founded the Headspace to Demystify meditation and mindfulness and I think he does it wonderfully. His calm and measured tone guides you through the various meditations. I like how his training and passion for meditation bring weight and authentic heart to this app. Download Headspace for Android and IOS devices.
There is another very popular meditation and mindfulness app called Calm. I tried them both (along with many others) and definitely prefer the Headspace app grounded in Buddist philosophy and technique from somebody that actually practices it himself. This is my preference, but do try both! You may enjoy one more than the other. Download Calm for Android and Calm for IOS.
We are our habits and our habits are us. Everything we are today is a result of the formation of habits. That’s good news because it means that we can change it. How powerful is that revelation? Everything you hold true about yourself isn’t set in stone. You can be anything you want. It’s not easy but you can do it.
One of the best ways to stick to habits is to gamify the process. Turning it into a game creates positive feedback loops inside your brain as you get rewarded for your actions. One of the best ones for this is Habitica.
Habitica is a “life RPG”
You can go on quests, gain treasure, and even join a party. You can visit the Habita website and use it there or it’s available on IOS and Android devices. Habitca syncs between the web and app version which I find very handy. Both of them are free to use but there is a paid sub available too.
Staying productive and focused on what I am doing isn’t easy for me. I use the Pomodoro technique to help me concentrate. There are loads of APPS around or you could even use a mechanical timer (preferably tomato shaped!) to keep track of your Pomodoros but I like an APP called Forest. Grow trees and plant them in the real world!
When you start your 25 minutes Pomodoro, you plant a tree. If you touch your phone and navigate away from the app during this time your tree will wither and die. Each time you complete a Pomodoro without getting distracted your tree will join other trees in a forest of trees.
You earn coins in the app which can be spent on planting real actual live trees! Nearly 1 million real trees have been planted! This will give you another incentive to stay focused and earn coins to buy a real tree.
We all know that getting enough sleep is vital for a healthy mind and body. Sleep Town is another great APP by the makers of Forest App. The idea is similar. You try to build a town by going to bed on time and waking on time. Should you touch your phone during the hours you are supposed to be sleeping the building will get wrecked!
Getting into a regular wake up and sleep cycle is highly beneficial. Try to stick to the same time every day -even on a weekend. It’s tempting to have an extra hour or two but all this does is mess up your body clock. Studies have also shown you can never get back lost sleep. By using this app you take away the temptation to start surfing your phone in the night (GUILTY) and set your body clock to help with the creation of a good sleep habit.
Finding this app took me a MILLION YEARS. OK, maybe not a million years but a long time. It seemed like a million years, give or take a few millennia. This is the (almost) perfect app for organising your SMART goals. You can create different goals and then create sub tasks for each of them. You can create labels for easy filtering and each goal can be time bound with an end date. I do wish you could assign due dates for each of the sub tasks but it’s a minor thing really. Unfortunately, Tasks is Android only and can be downloaded from the Playstore here.
PATIENCE AND THE JOURNEY
“Change is slow and gradual. It requires hard work, a bit of luck, a fair amount of self-sacrifice, and a lot of patience.”– Robert Greene
I want to finish my How to start changing your life In 6 ways suggestions with a few words of encouragement and lastly some extremely helpful self help videos.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO START AGAIN
Don’t worry about just starting again from scratch. You have an idea about what you want to do, where you want to go, how you want to get there and it all goes to crap. Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid to fail. It’s inevitable. You will fail at some point. You will. You’ll learn and grow. It’s all just a part of the journey. It’s all a part of the adventure.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF
This was probably one of the biggest and difficult of all the lessons I’ve had to learn. Honestly, I still need practice. There are days where I’m feeling low and berate myself or question my sanity. Still, these moments are rare and I am much much much better. I’ve come a long way. The battle is only with yourself. Only judge yourself and never compare yourself to others.
SELF HELP VIDEOS
I found the school of life youtube channel such a treasure trove of wonderful self improvement and life advice. These videos are the best I’ve found yet. I do follow a few self improvement channels but this is the one I like the most by a long way.
So what is the school of life?
There are so many helpful life changing videos to choose from but a few of my personal favourites that spring to mind are: The 8 rules of The School of life, a video on stoicism, how to best manage your moods, There is always a Plan B, and finally It’s always a good idea to take it one day at a time.
“You’re braver than you believe and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”– A. A. Milne
As ever, it’s all about the journey and not the destination. I’m heading for somewhere. I don’t know what that place is nor where but with each step, I get a little closer.
I can feel the movement. Day by day I’m heading outwards to beyond and whatever waits for me there. Side trips and highlights along the waysides slide into view then disappear into my metaphorical rearview mirror. There are, on occasion, stops and starts, wonders and horrors, but always, always, I move forward.
I’ve had the idea for this post for a while now. It’s been in my head flitting around like a firefly, occasionally bursting into incandescent light, blinking in and off inspiration. This article was quite difficult to write. Eventually, I realised I had to limit the scope. It was so tempting to talk in detail about my own struggles or try and distil all the things that I have learned. Eventually, I realised those are probably the best left for articles of their own.
What I will say is that there is still so much for me to learn. My progress has been slow. I’ve stumbled and fallen on occasion. I have made mistakes and been frustrated by the lack of progress since leaving my old way of life. I’ve struggled for direction.
This is okay. Life, I think, should be an experiment. Would you expect to try on some new clothing and they fit the first time? Would you expect to try your hand at a new skill then master this in a day? Could you become an expert in a week on any subject? Would you expect to win the lottery with your first pick?
Things take time. Wisdom is drip fed and nourished by the waters of experience. Life should be an adventure. Life should be an experiment. It should be fun. Try new things. Don’t be afraid to fail at them. Be kind to yourself. These words are my touchstone. This is my mantra. Hopefully, they can become yours too.
I hope you found this article helpful in some way – even if the suggestions are not the right fit for you they may at least inspire. This is my set up right now. I am always tweaking and changing it. I am continually experimenting, learning, and growing and changing things accordingly. I’ll try to revisit this article in the future and share new things as I learn them.
I think the number one thing is persistence. Almost nothing can defeat you if you just keep going. Stay the course. Never give up. Good luck my friends.
I’ve failed over and over and over again. And that is why I succeed.”– Michael Jordan
If you did find this How to start changing your life In 6 ways article helpful – even if you found just a single solitary suggestion helpful, I’ll be so happy. If so could you share this article on social media?! I want to help as many as I can. It also helps the site grow.
This is primarily a site about travel and food but occasionally I’ll write about my own journey, something I feel passionate about, or something I hope will help and inspire – as in this case. If you would like to read a travel post then I would like to recommend my recent Seville in September post or for food then I suggest Travel by Taste.
As ever, I would love to know what you think in the comments. Do you have any new years resolutions? Do you have any suggestions of your own? I would love to know.
I think Steven Tyler of Aerosmith said it best when he sang “I don’t want to miss a thing.” Good advice and you should subscribe so you don’t miss a thing from Travels with my Belly!
NOTE: “lost and found” cover image by JanBaby
Why aren’t you a writer Martin? You keep your readers focused on what you write, and you tell it in a clear way. (And I am not a native English speaker)
Your article can help people who have lost their way in this world, full of stimuli like “social??”) media, activities outside work or school, etc… I do find it sad that apps like Habitica exist, turning your life into a game, … even if it’s for the good. What people should do, and that’s what you say too, is slow down….breath, just be… Long ago, I felt guilty when I didn’t do anything during the day, but after my years in Thailand, I learned, I don’t have to, and it’s such a Western thing to ‘must do’ something. You don’t have to. Without knowing, I was maybe, meditating, although I don’t call it like that. You wrote a great article! Indeed don’t be afraid to fail in life, because all these failures are lessons. (and thus, not failures) Keep up your good writing Martin!
I love how specific these recommendations are! Time blocking and meditation are favorite techniques of mine too, and I’ll have to check out those apps you mentioned. So far I just use YouTube videos for meditation, but those apps look really interesting.
Thanks for such a thorough article that offers positive recommendations. May we all use these techniques in 2021.
Thank you for your article and helpful tips. It made me realize that I am probably meditating and practicing mindfullness, although unintentionally and in my own (strange) way. Like you, I have also made some major changes, risk involved, to my life in the past few years and luckily it all turned out wonderfully well.
Let’s hope many people will read your article and get inspired.
The “being kind to yourself” is the biggest lesson I’ve been working on too. Mine wasn’t really blatant, so I hadn’t realized what an issue it really was. Now I understand that taming your mind is the hugest part of the battle. Hence meditation, being kind to yourself, setting yourself up for success….
One thing that ties in with the “kindness to self” topic… I’m fairly certain there’s no such thing as failure. I’m still trying to finish working it all out in my own head, but I think there’s more validity to that than one might realize. Think about it. We’ve all made choices yesterday/yesteryear/”yestermonth” that we probably wouldn’t have made “if we knew then what we know now”. But it’s those very choices that have taught us that we want different results in our lives. That’s growth…not failure. And when we think we should’ve known better than to have made those decisions? Really? Cause we made those choices intentionally hoping everything would go sideways? Not usually. More often than not we were sincerely hoping against hope that everything would work out okay…perhaps DESPITE the odds. I could go on for hours and hours on this topic, but…because I care… I’m going to save you allllllllll those pomodoro sections for the other tasks you might be hoping to get done today. :o) But the next time you think something you’ve done may have been a failure…I encourage you to look at it with a different perspective. Perhaps the same way you’d look at it if someone other than you yourself had done it. Pretend it was a friend. I’m betting you wouldn’t think they failed.
So ya, like you said… we’ve gotta keep on trying. We’ll continue to get better and better at listening to what we know is truly right for us. And in the meantime, we’re here for the experiences, so we need to have fun and enjoy the ride!
Great read, Martin, and I have a couple new apps to try now as well…thx!
Amazing tips Martin! I really like how specific they are. I use Calm to meditate and try to do it daily, definitely agree that meditation is the way forward. I feel a noticeable difference if I do it consistently for a month. Also Headspace have a series on meditation on Netflix at the moment which I’m following which is pretty useful if anyone is just getting into meditation. I’m interested in using Forest too – thanks for introducing me to this info. Good luck on your journey, you’ve got some great knowledge on this subject.
Really loved all the advice and the structure of this article Martin. I have been using some of the life tools you mention for many years and i often forget i have them until the tough times. They really are invaluable to our persona growth. Life is a journey and we never stop learning. I have found this time whilst being out of work a time for learning about myself and what i want in my life. I am also very unstructured in my days and wondering what i have actually done (ha ha) so the tips and apps for structuring goals are great advice. Thanks for putting this together. It is a fantastic guide for people for the start of 2021. Lisa.x
Hi Martin, very appreciative of the time and effort you’ve clearly put into this post – it’s brilliant.
The first section – with mindfulness, meditation, and exercise – is something which I seem to manage in peaks and troughs. Every so often, I’ll manage to get a great routing of yoga, meditation, exercise etc. built into my day to day, but I never quite seem to make it stick for the long term. Headspace and Down Dog Yoga are my go-to apps for these – really fantastic resources.
Of course, so much of this comes down to habit-building and avoiding distractions. I’ve already gone through several rounds of building virtual forests, and then sadly killing them off! I’ve just re-downloaded the app after reading this, and will look to persevere again!
Thanks for sharing this – fantastic inspiration.
This is very useful and insightful. I feel like this will serve people well this year. 2020 definitely gave us pause for thought. Siobhan ♡ | Vegan Babe Life
I really appreciate the variety and range of advice and information you’ve shared here — there’s something for everyone to make use. Thanks for sharing!