You might think being a better man is all about making things bigger. Bigger arms, bigger bank account, bigger… yeah. But what if we told you that when it comes to creating [insert name here] 2.0 in 2018, it’s the little things that count? Here are 10 seemingly small but surprisingly powerful life hacks that together add up to a better, happier and (probably) more successful you. And not a heavy thing to lift in sight.
Be More Mindful
Mindfulness is a form of meditation in which you focus on external phenomena – usually your breathing. You can (and should) practise it every morning by sitting down in a quiet room for 10 minutes and listening to a guided meditation app like Headspace. But you can be mindful in other areas, too. Eating mindfully, instead of while watching TV, for example, can help you consume less and digest the meal better. Additionally, lifting mindfully, by concentrating on the muscle contraction, can increase your gains (just ask Arnie). You can even be mindful while walking, instead of letting your thoughts race. Especially of other pedestrians.
When historians look back at 2017, it’ll be known as the year the world got woke. The Oxford English Dictionary has even amended its definition to mean “being ‘aware’ or ‘well informed’ in a political or cultural sense”. But in order to make metaphorical shitstorms such as widespread sexual abuse allegations, rigged elections and tax scandal leaks actually effect change, we can’t fall asleep in 2018. If there’s a chorus of people complaining about an unequal or unjust experience, there’s probably some truth to those allegations. Listen, learn, and be part of a movement that makes sure everyone is treated fairly.
At the start of his paper-stacking career, Warren Buffett, the American investor and second richest man in the world (worth around a cool £56bn) read between 600 and 1,000 pages a day (of books, that is, not the Mail Online). He’s since cut back to a more manageable 500, which still takes up around 80 per cent of his working day. Like all of Buffett’s other investments, reading pays dividends in the form of knowledge, inspiration or dinner party conversation fodder. Trade social media for educational and self-help books, or autobiographies of successful people like Buffett; if you’re going places, then buy, buy, buy audiobooks, or download podcasts.
Get Outside More
Remember sunlight? It’s vital for vitamin D, which plays a part in everything from testosterone production and fat loss to cardiovascular health and cancer prevention. The University of Illinois found that office workers who sat next to the windows slept better, exercised more and had a better quality of life than their troll bridge colleagues. If you can’t go outside, bring the outside to you: surrounding yourself with plants has been shown to increase productivity and reduce stress. Even looking at pictures of nature – on your desktop or phone screen – can help. And just a five-minute walk in the nearest park has been proven to make you feel like the grass is greener.
Whether you’re a lifter, a runner or a loafer, you stand to benefit from yoga – on one leg, with your other leg crossed over it, arms outstretched. There are the flexible benefits, obviously. But yoga’s mindful focus on breathing can also reduce stress and increase your one-rep max. Yoga can be a challenging strength workout in its own right. The balance work will prevent you spraining your ankle on the trail or the five-a-side pitch – and breaking your hip in years to come. According to the University of Texas, yoga can even stop you getting sick, ramping up your production of lymphocytes – the body’s flu fighters.
Put Your Phone Away
The humble smartphone is a bigger home-wrecker than the Ashley Madison website. Your mobile blocks interpersonal connectivity even when you’re not actively using it to screen out your partner: the message from Essex University is that just having it visible on the table during a meal dials down empathy. It’s time to go off grid. Turn off as many notifications as possible. Instigate a no-phones rule in the evenings, so you can FaceTime with bae IRL. Charge your phone overnight in another room instead of taking it to bed, so the blue light from the screen doesn’t interfere with your sleep. And don’t use it as an alarm clock: that time mindlessly scrolling Instagram in bed could be better used for, say, mindfulness. Or sleeping. Or, you know.
Skipping sleep is only a badge of honour for dozy idiots. The land of Nod is where your mind and body repair themselves. Conversely, a vitamin Z deficiency will severely hamper your memory, immune system and, yes, your gains. Better sleep is so important that Sir David Brailsford, the former performance director of British Cycling, made his athletes take their own pillows when they stayed in hotels. NASA has even studied the optimum nap time for improving alertness (26 minutes). The key to quality shuteye is going to bed and getting up at a consistent time. Yes, even at the weekends. But if you’re doing it right, then you won’t need to lie in anyway.
This concept is from former pro volleyball player Gabby Reece, via Tim Ferriss’ book Tools of Titans (which, if you haven’t already, you should add to your reading list immediately). Next time you’re in a potentially awkward situation with a stranger, where your instinct is to look away or at your phone, make eye contact and smile. When the cashier asks you how you are, give them your full attention for a second, answer them sincerely, and ask them how they are in return. You just might make their day. And if nothing else, at least you won’t be just another rude sod who was looking at their phone the whole time.
MOT Your Mental Health
Occasional glum feelings are part of life, but if negative or anxious thoughts persistently interfere with your day-to-day, it could be time to visit your doctor for a mental MOT. It could be nothing, and at worst you’ve just lost a bit of time listening to others splutter in a waiting room. But, at best it could be the start of you re-calibrating your thought processes. Recognising the signs and being open about your experience can also help you be a better friend to others who might be going through the same. Mental health charity Mind estimates that one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. If it’s not you, it could be someone you know.
Like scaremongering news headlines, dwelling on the negatives in your life, no matter how insignificant or first-world, can blind you to the overwhelmingly positive rest. As an exercise, before you go to bed every night think of three things that you’re grateful for. Not just obvious stuff like family and friends. Make them as specific as possible to that day: the delicious free cup of coffee you got because you smiled at the barista; the beautiful sunset as you walked home mindfully. It sounds like hippy bullshit, but it’s a psychologically legit way of boosting your mood and keeping you motivated. Try it. You’ll be thankful.
Write Stuff Down
Putting stuff down on paper forces you to order the information and create spatial relationships between it, which helps you retain and recall key facts. Brain-dumping also frees up mental and emotional bandwidth: Ohio University found that writing down negative thoughts then physically throwing them away can clear your mind. So don’t stop at writing down your resolutions to make them more real. Create to-do lists. Take notes in meetings, even if you throw them away straight after. Record your workouts to ensure you’re making progress. Keep a food diary, because what gets measured gets managed. And jot down three things that you’re grateful for every evening.
Adopt A Uniform
This can save you a hell of a lot of time, energy and money on failed experiments. Hence why Barack Obama only wears navy or grey suits – it’s one less decision to make. You don’t have to go the full Steve Jobs. Think of a uniform more as go-to building blocks: suit, shirt and tie, or jeans, sweatshirt and T-shirt. Either way, identify the styles that work for you then stock up on multiples in different, versatile colours (navy and grey, but also olive, burgundy, camel and black). That way, you can get dressed in two seconds flat, and in the dark – particularly handy at this time of year. Wearing basically the same thing every day might seem boring. But not as boring as spending half an hour trying to work out what to wear.
Humans are, by definition, social animals (most of us anyway). So it stands to reason that we care a bit what others think of our perceived successes and failures. But, in the age of social media, keeping up with the Joneses has now become keeping up with the Joneses, the Smiths and the world and his wife too. The consequences go far beyond FOMO. Evidence is building that suggests a link between social media use and increasing rates of anxiety, which is already at a record high according to the UK Council for Psychotherapy. Make a conscious effort to separate what matters to you from what you’re willing to let slide. Not enough likes on your Instagram photo? Not sunning yourself in Santorini? It’s probably overrated. Set realistic personal goals and check yourself before getting worked up about the things that you’re stressing about out of habit. Make 2018 the year of IDGAF.