8 Things to do every day to improve your life
Improving your life is an incremental process. As much as it seems preferable to make sweeping changes to better your situation, it’s often much more appropriate (and not to mention achievable) to make changes little by little. This is where the phrase “work smarter, not harder” finds its origins, and all it really means is to find small ways to make your approach to work and life just a touch more efficient.
We only need to look to schooling to understand why small, regular changes are often the most effective. If you set out to learn French and spend five hours a day working through an online course, the chances are that after a week you’ll have given up and will only retain a few novel words or phrases that stick with you. Contrast that approach with spending fifteen minutes practicing French each day for a year and you’ll find yourself able to read, write and speak the basics without having to make a huge time commitment. The same goes for reading more too, as by skimming through a page a night you’ll find yourself slowly expanding your pile of completed books as you grow your knowledge and understanding of the world. Small, well-kept habits are the secret to lasting change, most importantly because they’re sustainable. Tackling a challenge with all guns blazing could see you burn out or lose interest, whilst chipping away until you reach your target could lead to a better success rate over time. Slow and steady wins the race, and just like stocks and shares, investments in yourself should be made over the long term.
One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is that to effect lasting change in your life, you must start small and repeat tiny habits on a daily basis. There are various times in my life where I’ve made a conscious effort to build healthier habits, and on far too many occasions I’ve made the mistake of asking too much of myself. Remember that we only have access to a limited pool of willpower, and sapping too much at once leaves us at risk of giving up. The same goes for saving money, if you go from spending the majority of your income as quickly as it comes in, to trying to put 90% of what you have left after rent and bills into a separate account. This objective is simply unrealistic, and the distance between where you start and where you want to be is so significant that you will fail most of the time. Not only that, but with each failure, it makes it harder to get back up and succeed the next day, and so your strategy is doomed from the very start. What you need are small wins and the continual motivator of visible progress—both of which help to create new routines that you can stick to. If I can go to the gym three times a week—that is a win—I know I will make progress on my fitness goals. There is no point even thinking about suddenly losing the 10 lbs. of fat and turning it straight to lean muscle though that is the eventual goal.To that end, and with holistic life improvement in mind, I want to recount eight small but valuable things that you can do every day to help yourself progress in life.
1. Sleep (the right amount)
Thinking is exhausting, working is exhausting, and planning is most definitely exhausting. Humans need sleep to survive, and without it, our grasp on reality can quickly slip away as we become more and more tired. Sleep is an unavoidable necessity if you want to focus, stay alert, and keep your mind on the tasks that you face.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, adults between 18 and 60 years of age should get at least seven hours of sleep each night, and whilst the jury is still out on how much is enough, the ultimate goal should be to feel well-rested and both mentally and physically replenished.
Just like sleep, exercising regularly is a non-negotiable if you want to lead a long and healthy life. Science shows that exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression and negative mood, while simultaneously improving low self-esteem and cognitive function. The value of exercise lies not just in maintaining your physical health but also improving your mental state, leaving you with greater levels of alertness and declining stress levels. In all, getting and staying fit supports your other goals by keeping you in touch with your body, and of course, you want to be physically able to enjoy the spoils of your efforts as you grow to be wealthy and successful.
- Eat well
The correlation between what you eat and how you feel is more direct than you might expect. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds support healthy brain function whilst lean meats and fish will keep you energetic. All of these factor into how happy you are, along with your general alertness levels which are critical for chasing down your goals. Just like sleeping and exercising, eating well should be a hard and fast rule that you stick to as much as possible.
- Learn something new
Given the discussion we’ve had about perpetual learning, it goes without saying that you should take time to learn each day. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to set out to find a factoid that gets stored away in your memory bank, but just by making the conscious decision to watch something informative or thought-provoking rather than a humdrum comedy serial could set you up with an advantage whilst still allowing you to enjoy leisure time.
- Spend time alone with your thoughts
In the internet age, people are scared to spend time doing nothing. If they aren’t working, they’re socializing, and if they aren’t socializing, they’re absorbing the latest show on Netflix. If you’re serious about improving your life, you need to understand yourself and that means taking the time to cultivate positive thoughts. Try spending the first and last five minutes of each day just laying still and breathing slowly. Let the thoughts that come flow through your head and acknowledge them. You’ll be surprised by quite how quickly you become more present and less reactive throughout the rest of your day.
- Challenge yourself
As a natural extension of learning something new, frequently challenging yourself keeps your brain sharp and strengthens your mind. You don’t have to physically challenge yourself either, as it could be the case that your learning leads you to challenge your own beliefs. In such instances, the chances are that you’ll either change your mind about something or pursue your existing belief with greater understanding and conviction. It’s often said that the comfort zone is where dreams go to die, and only by continually pushing yourself (even just a little bit) are you keeping your dreams alive and staying on course to succeed.
- Spend time with loved ones
There is obvious value in spending time with our nearest and dearest. For many people, friends and family form part of the core elements that make life worth living, but passing time with loved ones also has a much less known financial impact. Evidence suggests that social relationships promote happiness (of course they do), and the happier and more satisfied we are, the better we perform in other areas of life. Interestingly, researchers for the same paper have shown that an increase in quality and number of social interactions is worth an estimated $131,232 per year in terms of life satisfaction, while actual changes in income buy comparatively little happiness. Maybe money alone really can’t buy happiness.
- Practice self-affirmation
All too often we resign ourselves to failure without good reason. “I’ll never get promoted,” “I won’t ever pay off my mortgage.” and “I’ll never succeed at investing” are all beliefs that I’ve genuinely held in the past. Negative thoughts like these are natural, but they aren’t always correct. If you think negatively about yourself and your prospects, you're likely to see a decline in your confidence, mood and outlook. In turn, and as a direct result of our own beliefs, these eventualities become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Tell yourself that you can’t do something and you’ve already lost, but tell yourself that you can and you’ve got a fighting chance.
To avoid this, we need to do exactly the opposite and incline ourselves towards positive thinking and success. By making regular, positive statements you can challenge yourself and overcome those negative thoughts that act as a form of self-sabotage. When you next set a short-term goal—maybe to hit a milestone at work or to save a certain amount of money—tell yourself that you can and will do it. Through positive mental repetition we can reprogram our thinking patterns, and over time start to see things differently.
With these small changes in place, you’ll be well on your way to forging a better, happier and healthier life for yourself without spending much longer than an hour per day bringing about that change.
8 Things to do every week to improve your life
To change your environment (and, by extension, your outlook) you need to make concerted efforts to not only build positive micro factors that affect your life, but also look to change the macro factors that form the bigger picture.
To consistently move forward in life, those small everyday efforts need to come together to form a broader theme of change, and so there are some things that you should also aim to do every week.
1. Review your goals
How often do you take stock of your goals? For many people, it’s once a year and that day happens to coincide with setting New Year’s resolutions. The problem with these is that they are set without conviction or belief and instead viewed as a token element of the holiday season. Of course, people mean well when they set them, but even if you stick to them for a whole year, they might not even be relevant to you just a few months after setting them.
It’s an indisputable fact that to consistently achieve your goals you need to think about them. If you don’t, you won’t be taking action to make them happen and instead, they’ll just be wishes. You’ll recall that I mentioned before just how important visible progress is, and that same principle applies to your goals. Take time each week to track where you are, what you’ve done, and what you need to do. It’ll focus your efforts, and also ensure that you actually want what you’re striving for.
- Get your thoughts onto paper
Positive affirmations work very well when you’re trying to improve your mental state and outlook on life, but the constant repetition of thoughts can leave your brain crowded and muddled. It’s not the case that you have to spend swathes of time preparing a thought journal (although you may wish to) but just jotting down your thoughts on a regular basis can help you to understand your own mental state and leave you with a more conscious appreciation of the factors that are affecting the way you feel.
Writing also helps with planning, and visualizing the things that you want is an important element of manifesting them into your life. Any prose on the Law of Attraction will cover this, and even though it seems simple, bringing your thoughts onto paper and into the world is an incredibly effective mindfulness tool.
There are lots to be said about the benefits of networking, but perhaps one of the most important is the fact that doing so exposes you to thoughts, cultures and opinions that are different from your own. The phrase “it’s not what you know, but who you know” is all too accurate in the business world, and the more you put your name out there, the more opportunities that could come your way.
Even if you're not interested in forming a professional network, meeting and spending time with other people is a major part of critical thinking. If you’re never exposed to other schools of thought, you’ll never be pushed to understand your own in that much detail. That counts not just for the basic facts of an opinion, but why you hold it on a personal level. Understanding our beliefs can be just as important as holding them, and unless you’re challenged there’s every chance you won’t bother to dig any deeper.
- Go distraction-free
There are times when I find myself not really doing anything. I’m sure it’s the case for you, too. When I say that I’m not doing anything, I’m really trying to do a million and one things at once, such as typing an email whilst reading a book, watching my children and listening to a podcast.
The problem with modern life is that it’s complicated. Even when we’re supposedly focused on our work, we’re never more than a meter away from a new browser tab, our cell phone, the TV, or some other form of distraction. Try taking some time to just do one thing at a time. It might be that you want to make some progress with that book you’re reading, so do it somewhere out of earshot of the television, radio and any other intrusive media (cell phones included). Mindfulness is key.
- Keep up with the news cycles
Another aspect of modern life that isn’t helpful is our constant exposure to global news. It’s fantastic that we can all be aware of what’s going on politically, socially, and scientifically, but the news is dominated by negative events that bring sorrow with them. Because this is what ‘sells.’ Editors are not accountable for the mental health impact of what they deliver, nor is it in their interest to balance these stories. Of course, we should each be aware of what’s happening in the world, but it is easy to spend unproductive hours caught up in the emotionally draining details. Rather what is more important are the major trends and big picture—which is deliberately confused by the detail and speculation that usually accompanies early reporting.Use news summary services rather than using the mainstream media outlets, and look for more detailed in-depth articles that are looking at the big picture.
- Treat yourself
Leisure is important, and it’s often a driving factor in the quest for financial freedom. People feel that they’re stuck in the rat race and that’s why they work towards a happier future where they have the time and resources to spend on things they actually enjoy doing.
When it comes to success, moving forward is as much as about the journey as it is the destination. If we stop living until we reach our goals, we risk never living at all, and the more we sacrifice, the more miserable we become. Treat yourself, have fun, take time off. You need it, and we all deserve it.
- Find a mentor
The importance of good mentors cannot be overstated, but when I say find a mentor weekly, I don’t mean that you should try to create a full-on guidance-based relationship every seven days. Some of the most valuable resources anybody can have are the people around them. There’s simply too much knowledge in the world for anybody to know all of it, and even supercomputers don’t yet have enough memory storage space to download an entire history of human comprehension, information, and understanding.
If you can’t know everything (and you really can’t), take time each week to learn from somebody else. Maybe your significant other can show you how to make a delicious meal, or your friend can introduce you to a problem or issue that’s common in their neighborhood but not in yours. This extends the notion of always learning, and being receptive to the knowledge carried by others will never be a bad thing.
- Be a mentor
‘Paying it back’ is a well-established principle, but passing on information and wisdom to others is how people can grow. Guiding or tutoring other people not only passes on what you know to others, but also creates another opportunity for your knowledge, understanding and views to be challenged. Seek out any opportunity to help and mentor somebody who is hungry to learn, and you may find that their passion inspires you to achieve more yourself. Assuming the responsibilities of a mentor also helps to keep you sharp and prevents your growth from decelerating, as you’ll need to stay up-to-date to be an effective teacher.
When all is said and done, personal development is the key to success. You can follow any tips and tricks about financial stability or earning potential, but without paying attention to the fundamental elements of self-improvement you are missing out on some big wins. There is no way to ‘hack’ yourself to success and in 9*9% of cases, it will take considerable effort to reach your goals. Whilst that might sound frustrating, it all makes sense as part of a bigger picture.
If your goals didn’t take time, effort and hard work to reach, they wouldn’t be goals but achievements. When you reach them, you’ll gain satisfaction in spades and that’s surely worth the wait and the grind. Just like a knife, putting yourself to work to meet and exceed your aspirations can wear you down. Keep learning, develop good habits, and you’ll stay sharp enough to cut through to your destination.
One step at a time will get you to your destination – improve your life incrementallyIn:
- Map out your goals. By this, I don’t simply mean to list what it is you want to achieve, but how you can achieve it. Of course, there is not a linear route to each and every achievement, but by deciding on what you want and taking the first steps, you’ll begin to convert your dreams into reality. Continuously review and revise the course you’ve charted and your progress along with it. You can use the goal planner that is part of my free financial toolkit which you can download. Follow the link at the start or end of this book.
- Start to do things that will improve your life, and weave them into your everyday schedule. As you will now know, small changes over time build into much more significant patterns, and starting small can help your work to snowball into success. Take just one of the daily life-improving activities listed above, along with one of the weekly steps. Start doing them until you feel comfortable, then add another of each. Keep going, and continue to improve your life.
- Commit to learning more. If this book has piqued your interest in investments, embrace that and learn as much as you can. Develop and hone new skills, constantly sharpen the knife and keep yourself current. There is nothing to be lost in learning, as even a tangential skill can be useful. Read more, absorb often, and travel.