Five Small, Achievable Steps To Improving Your Wellbeing
Mr Malcolm Gladwell famously suggested that if you dedicated 10,000 hours of practice to any pursuit you would become, if not an expert, then at least highly competent in your chosen field. Research published in the European Journal Of Social Psychology takes a similar approach, positing that it can take up to 254 days for positive changes to become habit.
In other words, if you want to improve yourself, it’s going to take a lot of effort. However, while undoubtedly true in most cases (you wouldn’t want your accountant to wing it, for instance), evidence also suggests that implementing even the smallest changes to your daily routine can have an incremental effect over time.
Dr Louis Newman, a dean at Stanford University, has likened the impact of small changes to adjusting your life course by just a few degrees. It might not quite equal a 360-degree about-turn in your life path, but over time you’ll end up in a different destination altogether. Here are five things you can do to make a start.
Set micro goals
Being physically active for as little as 10 minutes per week significantly increases your odds of being happy, according to a 2018 report in the Journal Of Happiness Studies. Yet transforming your body can be a daunting process. Fitness expert Ms Alex Parren suggests the key to implementing lasting change is to shrink your long-term plans to easily achievable micro goals.
“Having goals in fitness is paramount because you can’t possibly know that you’re making progress without them,” she says. “It can be easy to talk yourself out of working towards a huge goal. Breaking goals down into micro goals will mean you’re more likely to reach them and less likely to give up.”
Instead of aiming for a six-pack, aim to do 10 sit-ups whenever you get a spare moment. By the end of the day, you may have done 50. Instead of trying to overhaul your diet, just make this meal healthy. And so on.
We spend nearly 40 hours at work each week and how we feel about our daily grind can have a huge impact on our happiness. A study in the Journal Of Experimental Social Psychology found that being nicer to others can boost your own happiness. And since we spend so much of our time with colleagues, it makes sense to start with them.
“Being kind to another provides us with a sense of fulfilment, even if that is on a small level,” says Dr Charlotte Armitage, a Harley Street psychologist and psychotherapist. “Where we project kindness, this is usually reciprocated. This results in a feeling of connectedness, which encourages the release of oxytocin and dopamine in the brain. Both of these chemicals help us to feel good.”
You might be working from home, but taking an active interest in your colleagues’ lives during Zoom meetings, or even adjusting your email sign-off to a more enthusiastic display of thanks, should do the trick.
Invest in friends
Sharing is caring, even when it comes to shopping. Research in the Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology suggests that spending money on friends is a brilliant way to boost your own sense of happiness and bolster your relationships.
“Compare the psychological effects of buying yourself (another) coffee versus buying one for a friend, or even for a stranger behind you in line,” says Mr Michael Norton, Harvard professor and co-author of Happy Money. “The coffee you buy for yourself will taste good, but after hundreds or even thousands of coffees in your life, why would one more have much of an impact? In contrast, buying for someone else not only breaks you out of the more-of-the-same rut, but brings a very different kind of reward: a smiling person on whom you know you made a positive impact.”
Reset your nervous system
Typically, men manage less than six and a half hours’ sleep per night, a significant shortfall from the recommended eight hours. You might pooh-pooh the idea that a grown adult requires more than 40 winks, but a survey by Amerisleep found that the happiest people get more than seven hours of shut-eye per night.
Mr Danny Greeves, author of Six Steps To Self-Confidence, suggests a three-minute breathing method known as the quick coherence technique can help promote balance in the nervous system to ensure a better night’s rest.
“Focus your attention on your heart,” he says. “Imagine your breath is flowing in and out of your chest area. Envision a regenerative, renewing feeling, such as appreciation for someone or something in your life. You could do this by revisiting positive feelings you have about someone you love, a pet or a special place. After three to five minutes, get into bed feeling calmer and refreshed.”
The ultimate key to happiness is adjusting how we relate to ourselves. This can take a lifetime of work, but there is a simple daily step you can take to increase your sense of self.
Most of our thoughts and judgements about ourselves are based on negative information, according to Dr Christine Carter of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. To remedy this, she recommends that before you do your pre-bed breathing exercise, you write down three things you did well that day and take a moment to celebrate them, no matter how mundane they might seem.
Over time, this practice will naturally seep into the rest of your day and you’ll begin to notice the positive impact you have on those around you as you go about your day, which will lead to a healthier – and happier – outlook.
Illustration by Mr Andrea Mongia