7 daily practices to change your life

It doesn’t matter the area of your life, if you strip things back to basics you will find that life just becomes easier. When I was thinking about writing this article, I thought about skincare and how going back to basics always works. I thought about diet and healthy eating; keeping things simple gets results. Exercise and keeping it simple means you can sustain a regime that works. Clothing is another example I thought of and the notion of, essentials. Keeping things simple, stripping back to basics and working on essentials gets results. When we over complicate things, start adding in too much our lives become chaotic. The mind, therefore, is no different and I started to think about the basic practices I apply to my daily life that makes a difference…

What I have learnt over the years on my own journey of self development is that consistency in any area of your life is the key to success. That and being persistent. So doing the same thing but doing it regularly. That isn’t to say that you can’t or shouldn’t change something if it isn’t working, but to truly get results you have to keep practising.

Creating healthy habits don’t just apply to diet and exercise, they apply to the mind too. Ultimately, everything comes from mind because it dominates our being and drives our body, so to speak. Cultivating a healthy mind is, therefore, paramount if we are to live a happy and peaceful life.

Here are my basic, essential and simple 7 daily practices that if practiced consistently, every day, will change your life. They are in no particular order and so it isn’t that you have to do them in the order in which they appear. I do have times of day when I prefer to do some practices and have outlined those and why that is below, but truly find what works for you and remember, they are intended to be basic and so keep it simple.

1. Yoga

Although at first this may be perceived as just an exercise, yoga goes way above and beyond any conventional form of exercise. Indeed, the physical practice does have its benefits, truly it is a spiritual practice; a moving meditation and a daily practice or discipline if you like, where you are unifying your mind, body and spirit with universal consciousness. Even if your intention is just around the physical, you will benefit on all other levels regardless.

For me, yoga is a self discipline and one that sets the tone for the day. It cleanses and detoxes the body from the inside out and leaves my body feeling lighter, stronger and energised. My mind is calmer and overall I feel balanced. The physical practice of yoga (hatha) is traditionally the foundation for meditation (raja) and so naturally once I have practised yoga I move into my daily meditation practice.

It doesn’t matter really what time of day you practice yoga. I practice at 5 am simply because that is I have found the most beneficial time. Traditionally yoga is practiced in this way and really does set you up for the day. If your schedule doesn’t allow it, then practice at a time that suits you. It took me years to be able to get up at 5 am and just roll out of bed onto my yoga mat. There are days when I don’t want to do that and days when my body feels like lead, but this is the practice. Getting to the mat regardless of how I feel and taking myself, warts and all as the saying goes, to the mat. Yoga is a practice of self development and a great teacher.

Yoga has become so intrinsically woven into my life that if I have days where I rest from practice it is my body that calls for me to return. I am a better person when I practice yoga. My body feels better and my mind is clearer. Yoga is breath and breath is after all life. Yoga is life.

2. Meditation

By the absence of grasping one is set free. – Buddha

If we can surrender to the present moment we will experience freedom. Meditation allows that space where we can be ourselves, surrender to the present moment and let go of our attachments. In that space we are free and over time the practice spills into our lives in such a way that things just aren’t the same again. Meditation is the foundation to live each day mindfully. It is like turbo boosting your ability to be mindful throughout the day.

It can take time to learn to meditate but simply if you can breathe in and out you can meditate. Once again, we often overthink it so much that it becomes impossible. Truly all we are doing is allowing ourselves to just sit and just be. Focusing on the in breath and focusing on the out breath.

Meditation is the focused awareness of something so that we become at one with it. Truly this becomes consciousness itself but in the beginning it is a case of just sitting and focusing on ones breath. Noticing the thoughts that come and go, sounds and other ‘distractions’ around us and returning focus to the breath. The practice itself is the constant returning to the breath. There is no need to force thoughts away or be carried off with them. We are simply a silent watcher, focusing on our breath and noticing what comes and what goes. Witnessing the arising and falling of whatever comes into consciousness in each moment.

3. Mindfulness

There is no difference between meditation and mindfulness. The two terms are used interchangeably. It is often easy to differentiate them by thinking of meditation as a sitting practice and mindfulness as a daily practice; being mindful of each moment as it happens.

We live most of our lives unconsciously. This is not to mean we are KO’d on the floor, but it does mean we spend most of our time on autopilot. It is our past, conditioned responses that drive how we think and act. This is our ego. We spend most of our time either ruminating over past or dreaming about the future. We rarely spend time in the only time there actually is, and that is now. Be in the now. Be present, fully, in each moment. When you are present to each moment as it is happening you undergo an awakening. You are free from ego. You experience life with a much deeper connection and from a much richer perspective.

This way of being, of living mindfully, takes time. We are not used to being conscious, of being in the present moment. When you spend time in the here and now you are experiencing consciousness as it happens. You are the creator of your own life. You are experiencing each moment and making decisions based on the now, ultimately consciously creating your own life.

To do this, be present as much and as fully as you can throughout the day and your waking life. Bring your attention to the present moment. Experience each moment as it happens.What can you hear, what can you smell, see, touch, taste? When you open yourself up to the present moment you feel alive and your senses revel in what they are being flooded with. The more you become present, the more you will experience and your life becomes fuller and richer from it.

You will begin to notice your thoughts and behaviours and over time change these. You will begin to feel compassion and empathy towards others. You will notice when your emotions shift and you experience anger or other negative emotions. Again, over time being mindful enables you to start to choose how you interact and respond to those around you. Truly there is tremendous power in the now. This is where you always want to aim to be.

4. Gratitude

Gratitude is not something we say with a, thank you. It is something we feel. Gratitude is a daily practice that on its own will change your life. When you are grateful for all that you have now, you are opening yourself up to receiving more. When you spend your life complaining about what you have, or don’t have, what is missing and what you need more of, you create more of the same. When you truly feel grateful for all that you have now, you invite more into your life naturally. The more gratitude you can practice, the more you will have to be grateful for.

This again is a practice you need to do daily. I sometimes write my list of gratitudes down and sometimes I play it through my mind. Either way I am feeling grateful. For all that I have and throughout my day as I experience each moment.

Even when we experience something seemingly negative or ‘bad’ we can practise gratitude. There are always lessons in everything sent our way. Find the gratitude in every experience, good and bad. Be grateful for everything that comes through your life, whatever it is. In this way you will find over time you become less rocked by the good and bad, simply accepting the ‘isness’ of everything. When you have this acceptance of what is and being grateful for that you will begin to experience more joy in your life too.

5. Loving Kindness

In Buddhism loving kindness is the expression of the true nature of Buddha and called ‘metta’. I was first introduced to the idea of practising loving kindness by Chade Meng Tan who is a brilliant thought leader and author of the book, Joy on Demand. He used to be a software engineer and motivator at Google.

Practising loving kindness literally takes seconds and I would encourage you to do this as often as possible. Sometimes at night before I go to bed I practice loving kindness for longer but really it just needs you to bring your attention to the present moment and think about someone to send loving kindness to. In his book, Meng relayed the story of a woman who took his course at Google and who agreed to take part in his loving kindness exercise. He asked everyone to simply wish someone well every hour. It could be anyone and in the case of this woman she simply noticed whoever was passing her at the time and wished them well. She said that at the end of the day it was the best day she had experienced for 7 years!

Often times the best way of getting out of our own head and moving away from your own problems is to wish someone else well. Transferring our attention onto someone else is a sure fire way to make us feel better. I absolutely guarantee that if you practice loving kindness every day for a month you will notice a massive difference in your life. Try it.

6. Contribution/Service

Oprah Winfrey says that service + significance = success. We are born to serve. We are here to help our fellow humans with whatever talents, gifts and skills have had bestowed upon us. You may not know your purpose, but whatever you do, every day, ask yourself, what you can do to serve today? What can you do to contribute to others today? Truly the meaning of a happy and fulfilled life is to serve others and as with loving kindness, serving and helping others makes us feel better.

Contributing to something greater than yourself is your purpose, whatever that might be. Asking this each day will open up opportunities every day for you to serve and help others. Ways that you can contribute for the good of humanity. These might not be gargantuan things, but unless you are open to them you won’t see them. If you are being mindful throughout your day you will notice far more than you did before. In this way, ask this question and be present enough to notice what comes up.

You might not choose to take up everything that comes your way to help others, but there will be opportunities that align with your soul and you just feel moved to do. Service to others will make a massive difference to how you feel and what comes into your life. Take the spotlight off yourself and put it out to the world. Ask yourself, how can I serve or be used to help others today and do it every day…

7. Compassion

Compassion is something I have felt I don’t struggle with towards others, but enormously towards myself. However, over time I realised that you cannot be compassionate truly to others unless you first show compassion to yourself. This daily practice then is as much to you as it is to be practised outwards to others.

Compassion is showing kindness to others. If it is not a daily practice for you now, try incorporating it into your day. To be giving to others is a form of compassion and so coupled with your daily desire to serve and contribute to others will naturally cultivate your compassion practice.

With all of these practices it is about including them in your day in a way that isn’t contrived. Although there is an element of faking it until you make it when it comes to believing in yourself, especially when you start out and are new to self development practices, you can’t fake true kindness or compassion. You can’t fake helping someone or being giving of your time to someone, otherwise it is not true giving.

As with any practice, the more you do something, the better you become at doing it. Over time these practices will become your natural habits – how joyful to have such positive habits! Be patient and simply practice…

Joy

I have written about joy before….experiencing it on demand (as the great Chade Meng Tan talks about). Truly though, if you give it a little thought to it, aside from Christmas when joy seems to be scattered everywhere (joy to the world and all that), when do you experience joy?

It isn’t a word I am familiar with. I haven’t experienced a lot of joy in my life and haven’t come to know it well, until recently. It has always been fleeting and has required much thought and focus, which really, if you think about it, totally negates joy.

To me, joy is happiness multiplied. It is the feeling of being overwhelmed with love, happiness, elation, positivity and total bliss in the moment.

The Oxford dictionary describes joy as;

the joy of being alive

..which to me, and am sure you will agree, sums it up perfectly.

Recently, I decided my focus is on joy. Noticing it and bringing more of it into my life. Surprising how that attention of awareness brings so much to fruition. The main joy in my days are my two children – who honestly are not the epitome of children. My daughter is 19 and my son is 15, and although I am totally biased, they are the funniest two humans ever. They make me laugh constantly….the forever running stream of accents that range from Russian to Italian to something Polish and in between. My son only ever speaks to our dog in a Polish accent, it is absolutely hilarious. You could not find a comedian that could make this stuff up. They are my greatest critics and the cause of my greatest sorrow. I love every inch of both of them and my life would not be what it is without them. They are joy in it’s full entirety.

I am always in a state of some self development….and this year has been the culmination of many, many years of work on my self worth…and the value I place upon my self, which, if you think about it is probably the cause of most people’s discord – that feeling of not being good enough basically. I have worked hard on this and have to say, I like who I am today. I have bad days, but don’t we all? But I no longer hate or loathe myself and this is alien to me now. However, joy is also quite an alien thing. It comes and goes, but I want more of it.

I’ve talked about affirmations before and especially the power of writing them down, which you can read about here. My affirmation has been for a while about loving and valuing myself and noticing joy. Seriously, these written affirmations never fail to materialise…it is totally magical and you can’t truly believe it until you practice it and do them daily.

Here is my list of joys just this past week:

  • Feeling somewhat annoyed at a business trip having turned into a mega long trip stuck in traffic, only to realise that my destination [seriously didn’t realise it was that far] was in North Wales…I LOVE Wales – such a great feeling to be there
  • I apologise if this seems racist, it totally is not intended that way, but the total picture of it was so funny…I kept seeing signs on the M6 of pedestrians in the road. I thought that was odd, I mean would they not be ran over? So a couple of miles after the signs, I see a car and a traffic officer with two completely white robed muslim men bombing along the hard shoulder and the slow lane trying to retrieve luggage that had flew off….I was laughing so much I nearly crashed the car
  • Woo (my lovely daughter) singing
  • Re-connecting with the third book I want to publish and actually finding a way to publish it (am working on it and it precedes Maldives for the Mind)
  • Looking at photographs (whilst working on aforementioned book) of my kids when they were little
  • Creating some positive quotes with my photographs for social media
  • Baking both days of the weekend
  • Meeting my sister and mum for drinks at the pub
  • Visiting my beautiful Grandma and sitting in the garden with our faces in the sunshine
  • Embarking on my 50 minute National Parks Challenge that turned into an hour and 43 minute, 5 mile walk through mainly wet grass with our dog, Lenny
  • Visiting my brother and chatting with my nephew who fashioned a ‘fix’ for the light pull in the bathroom. It was too short and you couldn’t grasp the cord so he fixed it with a tampon ha ha ha…seriously the kid is just too intelligent
  • Sitting on my garden swing in the sunshine, just for 10 minutes with a cup of tea
  • Ironing my son’s new (6) school shirts and realising this was the last year I would be doing this and remembering all his school years… picturing him as that cute 6 year old (warms my heart…he is now 6ft 2)

There is so much more….

Notice joy and it is everywhere.

 

[This photograph was taken along the Highway 1 route in California in 2009. My beautiful two children on the campsite we stayed at, just across from the beach.]

Gratitude

The practice of gratitude is, I feel, one of the most important practices you can add [easily] to your day.

Feeling grateful for what you already have not only brings more into your life, but helps you become unstuck and creates a natural flow and restores a smooth rhythm. Being grateful benefits you and those around you.

Rather than focusing on what is missing or what you want or need, focus on what you already have, right now, in this moment, today. From the fresh food in your fridge, to your home [no matter what it currently is] and the clothes you wear, the air you breathe and for all that you have around you. Be grateful for things, people, situations and environment separately. When you are truly grateful your feelings create the energy that puts your gratitude into motion, and it is those feelings associated with your gratitude that create all that comes back around to you.

To explain this further, you could simply say to yourself, ‘I am grateful for my car,’ yet not truly feel grateful. To really practise gratitude, we must feel it. If this is not something you do often it might seem a bit odd, awkward or contrived. That’s perfectly normal and OK. After all it isn’t a habit and it isn’t something we are necessarily accustomed to. The society we live in functions on wanting more. We aren’t used to be happy with what we have. Gratitude will change that. If you think about it, to bring more into your life, you really have to be grateful and happy with what you already have.

The banged up car you have, the few pennies in your bank account or your falling down house. Doesn’t matter. Feel grateful you have a beat up car or a few pennies. It is truly amazing how the practice of gratitude transforms your life. You realise that you don’t actually need all the things you think you do to make you feel happy. Being grateful for what you already have makes you realise you are ok just as you are. That isn’t to say you can’t bring more into your life, with gratitude, that happens naturally and often faster, but be ok with what you have now.

By being grateful for what you have, you begin to see that you have enough and in that realisation it can translate to ‘I am enough‘. The most common self limiting belief is the feeling of, ‘I am not good enough‘, which weaves its way throughout our whole lives and works its way into a constant, ‘not enough‘ which in one word is fundamentally, ‘need‘. When you feel you are not good enough you will find that you don’t have enough and are in a constant state of need. You don’t have enough money,  you need more money. Your life mirrors your underlying feeling of not good enough by delivering poor, small and narrow.

It doesn’t matter what your current situation is. No matter how poor, dire or not enough it may seem, anything, or should I say, everything, is possible and you can turn it around. Your current situation is just a reflection of your thoughts, feelings and actions to this point. That’s ok. Start today and practice gratitude for all you have and then some. Be grateful for every detail of your life, including all those people who impact on what you have; from the person at the grocery store to the postman delivering your mail. From the penny you find on the floor to the bills you pay out.

Talking of which, have you ever noticed how much people complain about paying bills? Why not be grateful for paying the bills that put a roof over your head or food on the table every day. The money that enables you to drive a car and turn on a light switch when you walk into a room. When you practice gratitude for what you receive – and importantly, for paying for that privilege, you will find your experience transforms.

To cultivate a practice of gratitude takes time. Choose a regular time during the day when you can practise gratitude. Sometimes this can work when you are having a shower or I know someone who practises gratitude while she is driving to work. By choosing a regular time each day you are more likely to create a habit. You will notice after a short time that gratitude weaves its way into other parts of your day. After all, like attracts like. The more you are grateful, the more you will have to be grateful for.

‘Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.’ – Oprah Winfrey