Like many of us, I was born with a mix of forces in my soul. Some of these forces are dark. If left unchecked, unchallenged and un-channelled, they can ruin even the greatest of days. For a long time, I used extreme behaviours (exercise, intoxication, promiscuity) to quell or mask these forces. Right now, I aim for the middle path.
If I don’t do any of the things listed below, I am more likely to become frustrated or unbalanced at some point in the day. The activities I describe below are a daily minimum, they are the essentials I get done before I do anything else. They make me feel like myself, or a version of my self I’d like to be.
The development of this regime has taken a lifetime. Like many things, this routine is driven by necessity. As such, components have been added, removed, re-ordered or simply faded out of use as my needs have changed. It’s a trial-and-error process.
Try something for two weeks. If it works, keep it. If it doesn’t, chuck it out and try something else.
At this time of year, when our usual priorities take a backseat to family time, I have found my personal maintenance regime more important than ever.
- Wake up. Get up. Don’t snooze. Stay off your phone
This may seem trivial to some but I cannot stress the importance of getting out of bed as soon as you wake up. Lying there procrastinating or worrying about the day ahead doesn’t help anyone. Snoozing can interfere with your circadian rhythm (body clock, basically) and the production of mood-regulating hormones, leaving you sluggish and lethargic. If you need more sleep, go to bed earlier, or wake up later. You’ll feel better.
The phone thing is something I’ve let slip a little recently. Don’t do it. Just get up and walk to the shower. It’s important you start the day pro-actively – by setting the tone yourself – not reactively. An unsavoury message or surprising email can really throw you off. Not a good way to start the day. Just as important: the morning is time for you to gather your thoughts, assess your priorities and mark your intention for the day. Receiving information from other people interrupts this process. You don’t need it.
2. Shower. Hot then cold (for now)
Self explanatory really, but for me the feeling of water on my skin feels good. It’s a prerequisite of facing the world. Back in my teaching days, on the odd occasion when I would visit Seshlehem on a school night, I would deliberately wake up an hour earlier just to make sure I could have a shower (and do my other essentials). Better that than get an extra hour’s sleep but feel grotty and off the pace.
For a long time I took cold showers to develop mental toughness. Now, I like to go warm for a few minutes and finish on cold. The scientific benefits of cold showers are well documented. This is also a productivity-gurus / lifehackers favourite. It’s become nearly as cliché as ‘getting comfortable being uncomfortable’. Still, my distaste for vacuous advice aside, it wakes me up and makes me feel lovely.
Ok, another one that’s been done to death now, but since so many people are still NOT meditating, I think it’s important I mention it. I meditate for between 8 and 15 minutes every morning. The precise number is chosen on the day. Intuition calls, I set the alarm and off I go.
There seem to be a lot of misconceptions surrounding meditation. The basic idea is focussing your mind on one thing, usually the breath. You just sit there and focus on the feeling of air going into your nostrils, or in your belly (always breath into the belly). Your mind will inevitably wander off onto something like your ex girlfriend (guilty), the day ahead (yep) or a book you read years ago (*nod*). Sometimes it will even be something useful. That’s cool. The idea is to simply be aware of your thoughts. As soon as you notice your mind going off somewhere, just gently bring it back to the breath. Do this for 10 minutes. Everyday. If you are one of those people who has useful thoughts while meditating, I found it helpful to have a notepad in front of me. Jot the thought down, then let it go.
Again – the scientific benefits of this are very well documented.
If you want to learn more, the first place to start would be Jon Kabat-Zinn, the Godfather of mindfulness research. He was responsible for marrying Eastern practices (meditation etc) with Western scientific techniques. He even has a course called the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Course (MBSR). The results have been incredible. He also has lots of free guided meditations on Youtube.
Important note: Don’t expect too much.
Most people give up meditation because they expect to float off on some magic cloud, or their mind to be instantly still. Your mind has been busy all your life. You have fragmented it each day with Instagram stories, instant messaging and multi-tasking. It won’t settle instantly, and that’s cool. Be patient.
I write everyday.
I have a spreadsheet I fill in tracking important variables, such as sleep, mood and stuff to do with food. When I’m training hard, I also track soreness and how much I train/ what I am doing. This is useful for spotting trends in your existence.
For example, whenever I have sex, or have more social time (up to a point), my productivity and happiness go up. Who’d have thought it.
I also write in an A4 pad. The exact format has changed a lot over the last couple of years, but today I write:
- The values I am focussing on right now (anxiety-fightback, writing/shipping, and learning)
- Things I am grateful for
- What I’ve got to do in the day
I often jot down some thoughts, too.
This is invaluable for focus and prioritisation.
At the moment, I clearly mark the tasks that are essential/ non-negotiable for the day vs those which are desired/ optional.
I spend a minimum of 30 minutes each morning reading. At the moment I am reading a collected volume on Freud and Steven Covey’s best-seller ‘7 Habits of highly effective people’. I often rotate 2-4 books at a time as I get bored of individual authors quite quickly. Reading is an activity that builds for the long-term. It is an investment in your own growth and sustainability. Covey would call this a PC activity- it improves productive capacity. I recommend reading something that you find interesting and seeing where it takes you. Often one book leads three more. Like a decapitated hydra.
I also find reading has quite a calming effect.
In addition to reading, I sometimes undertake active learning, too. Recently I started a drawing course to overcome a childhood weakness. I’ve put it on hold to focus on some other projects but still I would advocate doing this if you have the time. I used Udemy.
Ooo baby. My sweet sister. I’m using this phrase a lot now but I simply cannot overstate the importance of exercise. Clinical studies have shown it to be at least as effective as drugs to combat mild- moderate depression and other mood disorders. Humans were meant to move. We are built for it. Of course you feel better when you do. If you don’t use it (your body), you will lose it, so get out there and shake your tailfeather before it’s too late.
The type of exercise doesn’t matter so much. I’ve got some anxiety/PTSD/OCD issues which are specifically triggered by exercise – due to some lingering trauma from a past incident I discuss in this article. As such, I don’t do very intense exercise
anymore yet. If I could, I am confident my life would be improved to a gargantuan degree. (Ooo naughty big word – sorry huns).
Intense exercise just gives my consciousness this rich, creamy, floaty feeling. Ooo baby. I’m actually salivating as I type. My sweet sister, we will meet again, in the pain cave.
Even without intense exercise, I get plenty of benefit.
I go for a
long walk (45ish mins) every morning round my local park. I bloody love it. I listen to the birds and really try to pay attention to nature. The Japanese call it ‘forest bathing’. Again, this has been scientifically proven to improve wellbeing.
I love to watch the squirrels. They are such graceful creatures. No matter how I’m feeling, I watch them jump from branch to branch without fear or hesitation and remember a time when I too was that powerful. Seeing them makes me remember the joy of movement and reminds me that sometimes the brain gets in the way of the body. Moving is fun. Moving well is fun-ner.
Of course, not everyone’s schedule allows for the luxuries I have right now. I hear ya. But you know what, you can change your schedule.
I left an extremely secure, very well paid, very prestigious job at Hogwarts so I could live the life I wanted.
We all face restrictions – some more than others. I’m thinking of people with dependents here. That said, we can all make small changes daily to improve the quality of our existence.
It is your duty to look after yourself, because if you don’t, you sure as hell ain’t gonna be as good at looking after anyone else.
Lots of love,