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8 tiny ways in which I’mm improving my life

One of the attractions of heading off somewhere wild now and again is the way in which it helps you to focus on your priorities back in the “real” world, as well as on what is, and is not, important to you.
We all have our own personal goals; that special thing we would love to accomplish, if only we could find the time and energy to just get started. To begin moving towards those goals it is helpful to make statements of intent to ourselves; to convince ourselves that we are serious.

I have come to believe that micro-adventures can jump-start the soul and achieve many of the same things as a long, exotic expedition. In a similar vein I have now begun doing a small series of very simple activities which I believe act as stimuli towards me making the most of my day, and also, therefore, my days.
A few of them are aimed to directly make my life better. Others are just statements of intent to get me in the right frame of mind to get on and do whatever it is that I want to do.
I don’t expect you to take them all on board. You may think some of them are pretty ridiculous and definitely not for you. That’s absolutely fine: I won’t be offended! But try not to think of the thing itself, rather the thought process behind it.

First the list, then the explanations:

Press ups

1. Time. If you get up a mere 10 minutes earlier each day, and go to bed 10 minutes later you will have created for yourself 5 extra days per year. That’s almost one extra year, gratis, in a lifetime. How much would you give for 5 extra days each year? You don’t need to pay: this is time for free. Time to be used. Free time!

2. Turn off your TV. Give this a try: do not turn on your TV for a day. Come home from work and use those evening hours to do something different, something creative. Once you’ve mastered a day without TV, try a week…

3. Have a shower. Sound advice indeed! But take a cold shower every day. It will save the planet, save you cash, and it feels great too! It sounds unpleasant, and the first step is pretty daunting. But once you’re in you realise it’s not so bad. And you feel so good once you have finished. Apart from being a great metaphor for much of what I try to do in life, a cold shower also sets you up well for the day. If you can endure something bad just moments after leaving your warm, cozy bed then the rest of the day will be a breeze in comparison! I’mve been doing this for a month or two now and reckon I have mastered it. I’mve now moved to showering outside under the hosepipe as my way of ramping up the challenge a bit, but I can appreciate that that may make me sound like a bit of a weirdo! Whether that will last into the winter remains to be seen…

4. Take a photograph every day for a year. I began doing this as my New Year’s Resolution for 2009. I started it to improve my photography skills. But I have come to value the challenge for the daily dollop of self-discipline it requires and because it forces me, however dull my day, to look around for something positive or interesting or beautiful. There is always something.

5. Run. Go for a run before breakfast. If you hate running go for a walk, or a bike ride. I find this a bit like the cold shower: when I wake up I don’t want to get out of my nice bed and go running. But I never ever regret it once I’mve done it. It doesn’t need to be long, just long enough to stir the blood, blow away the cobwebs, freshen you up, and remind you that you are alive and need to get on with life! If you don’t have time then just get off the Tube or bus one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way to work.

6. Read. Use the time you’ve saved by getting up 10 minutes earlier and by turning off your TV to read more. Most of us want to read more books. But by setting myself a quantifiable target (to read one book of fiction and one book of non-fiction every month) I have become more focused about getting stuck into all those books I want to read. Need some ideas of books to read? Try the 100 Greatest Adventure Books of all time for starters. Or one of my books!

7. Press ups. Another metaphor for my lessons from the road (think big, start small): if you do two press ups today, then three tomorrow (and so on), then eventually you’ll be able to do 100 consecutive press-ups… Sound interesting? Read my blog post on the programme here.

8. Pause. When I boil the kettle I used to do what most normal people do: see how many press ups I could do before the kettle clicked. (Waiting for toast to pop I would do sit ups, and I can do ten chin ups on my kitchen bar in the time the espresso machine takes to make a cup of coffee.)
But now I have a different tactic. Now when I am waiting for the kettle I take a seat, close my eyes, sit very still and just pause. I spend so much of my time rushing around that, to my surprise, I have come to really value these brief pinpricks of calm in my day. I try to empty my mind, but of course it continues racing on. Yet in the couple of minutes of quiet I feel my mind really starting to settle and to sift through the maelstrom for the good ideas, the important thoughts for the day.

So, they are eight tiny things I have begun doing to try to help me focus my daily life a little bit.

What do you think of them?

Will you try any of them yourself?

Do you have any better suggestions?

Please do leave a comment.

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  1. On the cold shower part, for those who can’t seem to be able to leaped right into plain cold could do like I do and start off with hot while soaping and then gradually turn the water colder as you rinse off. I have worked my way to where more then half my shower is now cold water.

    You will be amazed actually how vigorated you’ll feel after..

  2. This is awesome, thanks

  3. A few years ago I began integrating morning pages (google Julia Cameron or The Artist’s Way) into my daily routine – first thing when I wake up, and can say that without a doubt they are one of the best things I’ve ever done for both my personal life and career as an entrepreneur.

  4. So what’s your routine – wake, run, shower? wake, shower, run, shower? And where do the press-ups fit in; do you go for one large sweat, cleanse session in the morning, or multiple perspiration, ablution periods throughout the day?

    Have been trying several of these improvements, but struggling because I can’t get into a routine.

  5. Great stuff! To ease the cold shower pain – and to save even more water – turn off the tap while you’re lathering up, and back on just to rinse off πŸ™‚

    Another thing I’ve done recently which really helped is to write a daily schedule, which really helps until these things become habit (then you can do away with it).

    Loving the blog recently – keep it coming!

  6. Fergie Meek Posted

    I think the cold shower idea depends on who you are, what you are doing and. most importantly, where you are πŸ™‚
    Earlier this year we went walking and exploring along the west coast of Scotland. We stayed in a self-catering house where neither of us could figure out how to get warm water out of the shower – so, cold showers. After about 30 seconds I was so cold I had a splitting headache and was shivering so badly I had to get out, then after I warmed a bit I got it again, and… well you get the picture! No more cold showers for me, ever πŸ™‚

    Good luck at your talk today Al!!

  7. Great! Love the hosepipe idea, I’m rigging mine this afternoon. Cold showering is also great prep for wild swimming and really good for your muscles after a long run.

  8. Al,

    I got kicked off the internet halfway through your article (still in Sweden and there’s a 10 minute limit in the library) but it was so good I logged straight back on again to finish it.

    I’m a big fan of the cold shower but am not so dedicated as to do it daily. I will try that tiny improvement starting tomorrow morning. Thank you!


  9. Time – use that extra time in the evening and morning to reflect on what went well during the day (and repeat it) and also what didn’t go well and why (and do not repeat it …or amend what you do at least)

    Food – consider if you are eating what you need …or is it just what you want. You might end up eating what you want anyway but at least it will be a considered decision. Worst case – you save some money and possibly improve your health.

    Fuel – (gas, electricity or otherwise) before using, if you had to generate or produce it yourself (rather than simply pay for it) …would you. Is there a choice e.g. use the lift or use the stairs. Incidental training opportunities are everywhere !!!!

    Al – hope the Do Lecture went well …wish I had been there !

    Cheers fir noo

  10. ps – tried the cold shower today …it created another 5 minutes of time !?!?

  11. I’m looking forward to a follow up post on the al fresco showering if you chicken out after the first cold snap I’ll put a fiver on it lasting till mid december max??

  12. Lots of focusing on the cold shower! I prefer to read more and take photgraphs, saw a beautiful reflection of chimneys in the water this morning that I hadn’t even noticed until I went to take a shot of the guls.

    A simple act of kindness is one of the greatest free things we can do. Smile at someone (without scaring them) or compliment them on their jumper, skirt, shoes belt!

    I enjoyed this post and will read some more , you are thankfully un-new age-y. Cheers

  13. Al,

    Must say, i think you are totally correct. Being out in the wilds really makes you think through your life much more carefully than when you’re at home.

    I stumbled across this article flicking through your flickr (as usual). I had come to many of the same conclusions as you. You probably need to add something about baking your own bread!

    My only problem is that i spend no time watching TV and far too much time browsing the internet…sigh!

  14. – listen to a different genre of radio station: it will open your eyes to new music

    – I love swimming 50 lengths before work.

    – Stretch more!

  15. Iain Wiliiams Posted

    some really good suggestions. Not sure the cold shower is for me though!

    I’m not into all this activity stuff. But in my office I do this –

    – when I go home at night I write a post-it note of the 3 things I need to do first of all in the morning. It helps me flow from being “in the zone” in the evening and to keep it going the next day.

    – Every morning when I brush my teeth I look at myself in the mirror and work out the 3 Most Important Tasks that I MUST complete in order for the day to be a success. Helps focus me I find.

  16. I have to admit, I don’t really like reading and can’t get into fiction at all. What I’ve found helps me is reading a chapter and then changing location-outside, inside, going into town or out into the coutryside. Makes me think about what I’ve read too. Just a thought.

  17. Try the 30 day challenge of meditation.. I see you have already started to experiment with pausing etc.. Try taking 30 mins out of your day and practicing a technique, my fav is vipassana.

    Of course, there is a challenge as well if you do happen to try this and like it..

    A 10 day Vipassana course..


    4:00 am Morning wake-up bell
    4:30-6:30 am Meditate in the hall or in your room
    6:30-8:00 am Breakfast break
    8:00-9:00 am Group meditation in the hall
    9:00-11:00 am Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher’s instructions
    11:00-12:00 noon Lunch break
    12noon-1:00 pm Rest and interviews with the teacher
    1:00-2:30 pm Meditate in the hall or in your room
    2:30-3:30 pm Group meditation in the hall
    3:30-5:00 pm Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teacher’s instructions
    5:00-6:00 pm Tea break
    6:00-7:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
    7:00-8:15 pm Teacher’s Discourse in the hall
    8:15-9:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
    9:00-9:30 pm Question time in the hall
    9:30 pm Retire to your own room–Lights out

    I did one last summer.. A very interesting mental battle. One of my favourite and interesting adventures of the mind πŸ™‚

  18. Really enjoyed the talk. You’re a nutter, I see similarities to myself, glad to know I’m not alone πŸ™‚

    Okay, you don’t watch much TV but when you do, see how many press ups you can do in the ad break!

  19. Today I went to work, cried, and came straight home (well after leaving work prepared for my classes, because as a teacher you can rarely be ill enough to really let go, or be instructed to let go of that responsibility).

    I have too many goals at work, 99% of which cannot be removed (see one of your other posts). There are other goals (eg. being a good mum) in my life that are also compulsory. And now I’ve cracked, despite various warning shots.

    In amongst trying to sort clinical mental anxiety over the coming days and weeks, your blog reminds me that life is for living, and that there are small ways to hit my reset button as a living thing on a daily basis.

    This week I shall
    1. TV. I will delete Facebook and twitter apps on all mobile devices, rendering it less attractive as a repeat activity throughout the day. Will login a couple of times a week for the odd worthwhile interaction instead. (This is instead of watching less tv, which as someone who marks books and preps lessons after my kids go to bed most nights, is not really possible!)

    2. Shower. I will turn the heat down on the shower indoors, and rig up the hosepipe for weekends…we often go to a little campsite that has only compost loo sheds and one cold hosepipe behind a wicker fence, and it’s the total lack of luxury that makes us return time after time – let’s bring it home)

    3. Run. Thinking very small to start with. But starting.

    4. Time – brilliant. Cannot conceive going to bed later as a good idea, but I know that 20 minutes earlier in a morning will be great. 2 and a half hours a week!

    5. Photo. Definitely.

    6. Read. Already a ritual. Currently Commander Hadfield is teaching me how to think like an astronaut. Highly recommended as a guide for life.

    7. Press ups. Will do this, star jumps or just SOMETHING.

    8. Pause. Currently I will check Facebook/twitter/email while the kettle boils. See point 1.

    Thankyou, if only for the cathartic opportunity. Hope to be feeling better soon.

    • Alastair Posted

      Catharsis is always a good thing!
      Good luck with getting yourself back on track – start small and take little steps.

  20. santhana Posted

    i am from India
    i belongst to middle family
    i inspired by you
    i want to to become an adventurer. but i felt i have not enough health power to ride a bicycle to around even india
    please give some advice

  21. Lewis Clark Posted

    Just come across this wonderful blog post, and what can I say? I don’t mean to sound smug or sanctimonious (okay, maybe I do a little), but I want to Tel everyone that I’ve been doing most of these things throughout this year, and I am much fitter and generally in a better mood. I get some exercise in before every breakfast (either running, swimming or a long walk), have cut down drastically on TV, read for a couple of hours a day, and use some of the extra time form getting up earlier to think and reflect.

    What’s next? Well, if cold showers are good for muscle recovery, then…



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