Spring is here, the sun is out and days are getting longer. There is something special about this time of year. Most cultures mark this time as the beginning of new things – we have Easter (Christian-influenced cultures), Nowruz (new year, Persian), Passover (Jewish), Holi (festival of colour, Hindu), Qingming (Tomb-sweeping, China), the spring equinox (usually March 20th when day and night are of equal length) and of course the new fiscal year (!). So rather than using Jan 1st as the time to make resolutions for the year ahead, I think spring is a much better time to begin afresh. The trick is to pick small changes that have outsized impacts on your life, and here would be mine:
- Single-task. This means pick a task and stick at it until completion. Multi-tasking is a myth– all we do is rapidly switch between single tasks rather than doing tasks in parallel. The process of switching is a massive drain on our brain, which leads to sugar cravings and slower cognitive ability. It also takes over 20mins to re-focus on a given task when you have switched to it. You’ll have a massive productivity boost if you single-task.
- Make lists and prioritise. Our brain can only hold around 4 things in its head at a time, so get stuff out of your head on to paper or your phone (I use the Evernotes app). Once you have assortment of tasks, list them and prioritise what is important. You can go a step further and optimise the process by using David Allen’s Getting Things Done technique.
- Call, not email/chat. This is a tough one for me, I have a strong bias to text/send chats to people rather than calling them or speaking to them in person. But speaking to someone even on the phone brings a rapport and chemistry with the person that texts cannot match. It also allows a more spontaneous and open-ended conversation, which could lead to all sorts of new discoveries. In a world where personal relationships are becoming more and more superficial, this simple step could seriously enhance your life.
- Daily cold showers. Many of us need a coffee in the morning to wake us up, but there’s a much better way to do that – end your nice warm shower with a cold shower! I last about 10 seconds before I need to jump out, but that’s enough to invigorate me for the day ahead. It also has the advantage of “shocking” your body, which makes it stronger and more resilient.
- One push-up a day. Exercise is great, but if no matter how good your routine is, if you stop it for a period of time, the positive effects disappear alarmingly quickly. An addition to your routine, then, is to do a series of exercises that you will do every day no matter where you are. Mine consists of one forward bend, one push up, a brief plank, one cobra pose and one downward dog. The reason for picking only one rep of each is that psychologically there will be no resistance to doing it. In reality, I end up doing more than one rep. Also, as you are only using your body (no gym), you can do it in any location. I do it as soon as I roll out of bed. I’ve been doing it every day for two years now!
- No sugared drinks (or juices). We all want to lose weight, but the biggest mistake people make is to waste time on exercises rather than modifying one’s diet. By far, the most effective way to lose weight is to reduce one’s calorific intake, especially of refined carbs. I am partial to sweetened drinks whether soft drinks or fruit juice. But both a can of coke and a glass of orange juice have roughly the same calorie count of 140 kcals each. Two glasses of OJ are therefore equivalent to a McDonalds cheeseburger! Oh, if you think switching to diet coke and artificial sweeteners will help, think again – the evidence is that it could make things worse. You could end up getting a sweet tooth, mess up your gut bacteria and end up putting on as much weight as having the real sugary stuff.
- Sleep early on weekdays, wake-up late on weekends. Imagine finding a medicine that could make you smarter, slimmer, healthier and live longer. Well, we have such a thing, it’s called sleep! If you get the right amount you could enjoy all of those things. The trouble is most people are sleep deprived. So during the work week, go to bed an hour earlier than normal and on weekends, wake up whenever your body tells you to (so you make up any sleep deficit). Thinking that sacrificing your sleep for an early morning run will make you healthier is all wrong!
- 3 min meditation every day. It feels like we have hit peak mindfulness, but it’s not a fad, versions of meditation have existed in most cultures for thousands of years. The benefits are numerous, including less anxiety and stress. Moreover, we don’t have to buy in to the belief systems of the traditions that have mastered meditation (like Buddhismor Sufism), so we can extract the meditation technique and use it just as effectively. As for my preferred style, I use a very simple version regularly. I do a short one on my subway ride into work, where I close my eyes and just focus on my breath. If I notice I am caught up in my thoughts, I don’t judge that I failed, I simply return to focusing on my breath. Simple and very effective.