Five simple habits to develop to improve your life

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    Improving the quality of your life is something many people aspire to, particularly at the start of a new year, or new season.

    This involves taking intentional actions and developing positive habits. In this post, we will explore five habits I feel contribute to a more peaceful, less frantic life!

    Mindful money

    image of small piggy bank

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    For quite a lot of my life, I didn’t think about ‘managing’ my money – and it slipped through my fingers. When I was pregnant, I really started to prepare for life with the baby – practically in terms of equipment and so on, but also by preparing my finances. My husband and I were in debt, together with a mortgage and we chose to pay off our debts by remortgaging the house. We did have a fair bit of equity so at the time it wasn’t an issue. From that day forward, I have rarely been in debt other than a mortgage (and I am working hard to pay that off!). It feels good to be in control of my money rather than my money being in control of me. My income and expenditure is tracked using You Need A Budget (YNAB), and it’s great to see money building up in my budget categories. I also recently discovered the FIRE movement (Financial Independence, Retire Early), and have taken my first steps to becoming financially independent by selling my home for the last 8 years and buying a cheaper one – in doing so, I realised some of the equity and reduced my mortgage amount and term. My aim is to be mortgage free by the age of 60. Being mindful about your money is as simple as tracking your income and expenditure, and being aware of your ‘money pitfalls’ – where do you spend money unnecessarily or frivolously (looking at you, Amazon 😊 )?

    You could start by keeping track of your spending over the next month or so – either in a spreadsheet or using a notebook. Try and identify where you aren’t spending money mindfully, and where big expenses (such as car insurance) seem to hit you unawares – hint; you could be saving an amount every month towards an annual expense! At the end of the month, categorise your spending and check whether there are any areas where you could cut back without affecting your quality of life. Remember to check your bank statements too. Planning in time to regularly check in on your spending habits (I mean every couple of weeks or so) will pay off over the long term as you refine your spending habits. This can then lead to you creating financial goals, and investing for wealth and long term growth.


    sign that says 'love to learn' pointing at a man

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    All my life I have loved learning – even when I didn’t love school! Having a curious mind keeps the fires burning, and keeps you open to new ideas, meeting new people, and doing new things. It has spurred me on to enter jobs in different careers, at times in my life when ‘people’ might think that having a new career wasn’t attainable – but by fostering a love of learning I was able to move into a new job and hit the ground running. I was able to quickly pick up the technicalities of a new role, and by being open to learning new things I was soon learning how things worked.  Looking forward to being financially independent, and in a position to retire ‘early’, for me, means more time to learn and grow – to do the things I have never had the time to do – to travel and experience new cultures and meet new people. Not to stagnate in my chair watching daytime TV!

    There are so many opportunities to learn – and the internet is a great enabler of this. Through the Covid lockdown, many institutions made courses available that were free of charge (MIT, LinkedIn, Google Digital Garage  and there are many platforms which are relatively inexpensive that have short courses and training sessions – Skillshare, Udemy,  for starters. I’m also a great fan of podcasts, and reading. Both of these are great ways to learn. I use Spotify for my podcasts – and they’ve now added audio books to the platform too! It’s a brilliant way to learn while you’re doing something else, like driving, travelling or maybe gardening or housework.

    You could use these new skills to improve your career, or to start a side hustle. Or you could just learn for the love of it – and it will improve your cognitive abilities too.

    Clean your space

    a cleaning sponge on a soapy surface

    Photo by Pille R. Priske on Unsplash

    Having a clean and tidy environment has always been important to me – except when I was a grotty teenager. My mum, bless her, never had being clean and tidy high on her list of priorities, and maybe I grew up with a slight obsession for cleaning as a result of that? Who knows.  My cleaning style has changed over the years – originally I did a massive cleaning session once a week, usually on a Saturday or Sunday, effectively taking out a large portion of my weekend. Having a baby hugely impacted on my ability to have a clean and tidy home; even though I was home I felt like the place always looked like a bomb had hit it – and my husband did not do his fair share of the housework. I remember my sister telling me it didn’t matter whether I had a clean home as long as the baby was happy – and that is true. However it’s also true for me that cleanliness and tidiness are important for my mental health. If my space gets messy and dirty, I start to feel out of control, and things will quickly start to slip elsewhere too (keeping on top of daily admin, my diary, and even paid work).

    Having some control over the cleanliness of my space soothes my mind, makes me feel in control and enables me to extend that control to other areas of my life. If you can keep your space clean there are many other benefits too, including improved focus, releasing endorphins and regulated emotions, according to this Forbes Health article.  I am now managing my cleaning and tidying on a daily basis – I used to think that my house would never look clean if I did it daily rather than in one go, but I couldn’t have been more wrong! And it means I never have to spend half a day during my precious weekend doing the housework.

    You could start small with this; one popular way is to ‘shine your sink’ and make sure that last thing at night your kitchen space is tidy so when you get up you are not greeted with a mountain of dirty dishes. Another small habit is making your bed daily – for me this is essential – it’s for future me to appreciate when it comes to bedtime!

    Sleep time

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    I must admit, I am still working on this one.  I am a bit of a night owl, and I can be exhausted all day long but come 9pm and I will suddenly wake up and want to do all sorts of things, with the underlying feeling that sleep is for wimps. Of course I regret this the following day, when I have to drag my ass out of bed at 6am, but somehow that is never top of mind the night before. I have to be quite strong and force myself to go to bed by a certain time, and not to over stimulate my mind so I can’t get to sleep.

    There are many studies which show how important sleep is to us – in many ways not known before, including its effect on our weight for example. I know myself that when I am tired I make very poor food choices; even when I know I am doing it it’s so hard to stop. It’s much harder to concentrate during the day, with that feeling you’re wading through treacle.

    One way to start could be to have an ‘early’ night once or twice a week – being in bed by 9pm. An hour or two before bedtime, put your phone down and don’t look at it again before bed. Make your bedroom a sanctuary; soft lighting, comfortable sheets and blackout blinds! If your mind is too busy to sleep, try writing down anything that comes to mind so it’s on paper and not in your head. Another strategy is to give your mind something to do by counting backwards from 10,000 – although this hasn’t worked for me yet! One thing I have successfully tried is using a meditation app like Headspace – listening to the soothing voice of the narrator during a relaxation session has never failed to send me to sleep.

    Alone time

    A man sitting on a snowy windowsill looking out at sea

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    Blaise Pascal –‘All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.’

    I think I’m an introvert with extrovert tendencies. Whilst I have many friends, and love spending time with them and (most of the time 😉 ) meeting new people, I also need time alone to recharge my batteries. I enjoy my own company, and I am quite happy pottering around my home or shopping on my own.

    I believe it’s important for everyone to spend time on their own, and to get to enjoy their own company – how can other people enjoy your company if you don’t enjoy it yourself?! Being self-sufficient is a skill, and a habit worth cultivating.

    Of course, this needs to be balanced, and for me I need to ensure that I don’t withdraw completely. Even if sometimes it feels like I have to force myself, I will say yes to things that I really feel like saying no to – and I have had some of the best times by doing so. For example, going to Alt on my own in 2020 was a huge, scary experience, but it was one of the best things I have ever done in my life. I gained confidence in myself to travel alone, to meet new people and be able to talk to them – and make new friends. Since then, I have done five solo cruises and had a ‘whale’ of a time (get it? 😉)

    To start to enjoy your alone time, you could take a walk on your own a couple of times a week – saying hello to people you meet along the way. You could start a yoga practice – Yoga by Adrienne is a great resource for beginners and experts alike. Alternatively, a creative hobby is a great way to spend time alone – like painting or knitting. Visiting the cinema on your own is also a great experience – you can choose exactly what you want to see and go when you want to go!

    Developing habits that will improve the quality of your life is something that doesn’t need to take a huge amount of time – the key is to start small and then build. These 5 habits are really important to me – but to be honest I could have mentioned 5 more that I’d like to adopt! What habits do you have that have made a difference to your life? What do you think about the habits I’ve listed?

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