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…

What must you do before you have a good level of self worth?

Ask yourself this and, ‘what must I be or do in my life before I value myself?’

If, ‘I am not good enough’, is your most dominant self limiting belief, then you will (most likely unconsciously) create a whole myriad of things you must be and do before you can have a good level of self worth. So when you look to answer these questions honestly, the most likely answer to them will be nothing.

If you are truly honest with yourself, you will see quite clearly that there is nothing you could ever do in terms of external achievements that would impact on your level of self worth to a degree where it is sustainable. You could continue on through the rest of your life convincing yourself that before you can value yourself and have a good level of self worth you must first; buy a house, secure the job of your dreams, live in a warmer country, find a husband or wife, have thousands in the bank, have published a book, be thinner, have better skin (or whatever other body part you think you’d feel better if it changed) and so the list goes on. However, if what you have achieved in your life to this point hasn’t affected the level of self worth you hold for yourself, nothing you ever achieve will affect it. This might seem obvious, but until it sinks in what I am saying won’t have enough of an effect for you to do something meaningful about it. At certain points in your life, when you achieve something, you may get that feeling of elation that ‘this is it!’, this is what you have been waiting for, but you will soon realise it isn’t and continue on with your search for what is missing and needing to just reach another point.

In the end you realise that half of your adult life has disappeared in ‘some day isle’ (a phrase a good friend of mine uses) and that you spend half your time living in the future. You aren’t where your feet are planted, i.e. in the here and now where truly your life is and where it matters most. If you think about it, this is right where your future is created.

The nature of the problem to feeling less than or not good enough is there is something missing. This is why you live your life constantly looking at what you have done wrong or what you could do better – you are focusing on the lack and the scarcity – the what is missing from your life that makes you not good or enough or less than. If you could fill that space, that void with a better job, more money (something from the list above or whatever you feel is missing) your life will be complete. You will be more than enough and feel good. This is self sabotage and a cruel trick of the mind.

The solution is always to be found within the problem – in this case it is simple; to what is missing – there is nothing missing, it is already there within you – your false perception of what is real deludes you into thinking there is something missing. I cannot comment on what your life experience has been to create these false limiting beliefs about yourself, but usually it is the case they were created in childhood. It isn’t even the case that there needed to be great torrents of abuse – truly most parents do the best they can. However, it does not take much for children to grow up believing they are not good enough. Depending on the degree to which they take that on board, will shape the way they then live their lives. This happens through constantly reaffirming the belief by repetitive patterns of behaviour, until it is so conditioned within their being, that by adulthood it simply becomes a normal way of life. Not good enough and the feeling of being less than is so intrinsic to character that it weaves its way through every single avenue of one’s life making it nigh on impossible to spot.

Through meditation and mindfulness it is possible to raise your level of self awareness to such a degree that you can unravel the behaviour and change it. Starting with identifying the beliefs you hold about yourself, others and the world at large. Being mindful enables you to see how your beliefs shape your thoughts that in turn guide your behaviour and ultimately drive your actions.

If you can replace the limiting beliefs you can transform your life. It will not happen overnight. These beliefs have been within you for many years. The further along your life path you are, the trickier it becomes, but it is possible and often times I have found that it is not gargantuan leaps you need to take to make a difference, just small steps that over time become the difference.

If you are reading this, you are already seeking some sort of change. Start by noticing what you think about yourself, what are the habitual patterns of thought that run through your mind are. If you can’t figure these out, that’s ok. Honestly, these beliefs are so ingrained that it can be difficult to know what they are. Another effective way of figuring them out is to look at the end result i.e. what you experience in your life. What are the common themes that run through your relationships, your career, your lifestyle habits, your finances? Really look closely and be honest with yourself. Meditate upon them and seek the answers. They will come.

Once you have figured out the most dominant limiting beliefs – we all have so many, but usually there are just one or two that literally infiltrate most of your life – work on them. I guarantee if you can start to replace the limiting belief with a new one that does serve you, your life will start to change. I am not good enough becomes I am enough, I have enough and I am more than capable of …..(fill in the gap). It all starts with a belief. If nothing else at the starting point, believe in yourself enough to want to change. Start here, right now where your feet are planted and believe in the power you have within you to change. Take each moment of each day and affirm that to yourself until you identify the beliefs and do the same to change those. When you begin to form new beliefs these in turn spark different thoughts. When you start to take actions that are aligned with your new beliefs and thoughts you put energy into motion and you manifest a different outcome than the one you are living. You consciously create a new life, a better life and all those things you believed you needed to achieve to be good enough will already be in front of you. You will realise you are enough and you have enough. In the here and now. I am good enough comes from within and when you truly believe that it will emanate from you into every aspect of your life. What is within will always be without.

“To know you have enough is to be rich beyond measure.” – Lao Tzu

[There is a paradox to me in this photo, finding peace and serenity sitting on the top of a Range Rover. It sums this post up to me in so many ways. This photo was taken by the ocean close to Reyes Point, California, where my sister and I were convinced of climbing down a cliff with my brother!]

The Wim Hof Method

I have heard of Wim Hof before. However, I hadn’t realised there was any specific method or that it involved more than cold showers. I found it fascinating at the time of hearing about it, that this guy could immerse himself in extreme cold, ice water to be exact, for long periods of time and be free of the usual effects. Like many things you read or hear about, you move on and don’t think about it again unless it comes up and you recall having heard about it!

Wim Hof did come up again, recently, when my brother said he’d started doing something that has literally changed his life. He then passed on a link to a Tom Bilyeu (Impact Theory) interview with Wim Hof and a few instructional videos and told me to take a look because he thinks it is definitely something for me.

We can’t take everything on board someone suggests for us and integrate it into our lives. However, there are always opportunities presenting themselves and those times when something just resonates with you and sticks around. This was one of those times.

I watched the video and was in absolute amazement at what was being said. For someone who already has a daily yoga and meditation practice, integrating the breathing techniques is an easy thing to do. As for the showers, it is just changing the temperature at the end of my usual shower. How these two simple techniques can make such a difference is quite unbelievable. I am only three days in and already noticing differences…

I won’t go through the techniques step by step because my suggestion at the end of this post is going to be to watch the interview and decide for yourself if it is something you wish to do. However, I will say, that for such a small amount of time, with the potential for massive changes and benefits, surely it is worth a go?

The biggest impact for me, just 3 days in, has been the effects of the cold shower. Wim says in his videos that the cold is your teacher. I didn’t really understand what he meant until the realisation struck me yesterday and again this morning.

I am fair weathered. No fan of cold weather at all. I live in a cold country, but much prefer California sunshine and warmer weather. Yoga practice is always better in hot weather and generally I feel better in warmer weather.

It wasn’t, therefore, appealing to me to turn the shower to cold and especially because we are in sub zero temperatures outside at the moment; hovering around -5!

The first day I did as instructed and showered and washed in usual hot water. I then turned the dial to cold…sharp intake of breath, literally the shock taking my breath away so that I could barely stand it. I remembered Wim saying to focus on the breath, which helped. I could take the cold water on my front but could hardly stand turning around so that it cascaded down my back. I didn’t stay in it for longer than 30 seconds. Certainly nowhere near the recommended 2 minutes to reap the benefits.

The feeling when I got out of the shower, however, was surprising. It was like something had switched on within me. Meditation and mindfulness bring focus, but there was such a sharpness to my awareness that it was noticeable. I felt empowered and strong – was it in my mind? Maybe, but I could feel it coursing through my entire being as I dried myself off with the towel. I felt like every movement was purposeful and I was so present that I could only focus with such clarity on what I was doing. Nothing amazing, just drying myself off in the bathroom, but the brilliance I experienced in the few moments after getting out of the shower were a direct result of my body being subjected to the cold.

The second day, I went for an early morning swim and when I rinsed myself off after coming out of the pool, turned the shower to cold. I couldn’t stand it. I decided to wait until I got home. It was at this point that it occured to me that perhaps the cold was a teacher. Why was I so afraid of a little cold water? Being the, ‘deeper than a puddle’, kind of thinker that I am, I concluded that my fear of cold water was far greater than just the cold water itself. No, it was my fear generally I was facing. It didn’t make total sense to me and still doesn’t, but I know that there is more to come.

When I got to my usual shower, I decided to take a different approach to immersing myself in the cold water. Rather than turning the shower from hot to cold, I decided to do it gradually. I had washed my hair so knew that my immersion was going to be stronger than the previous day, in terms of my head being in the flow of cold water as well. After showering as usual and washing my hair (leaving the conditioner to be rinsed out with the cold water, therefore, having no excuse not to get my head in!), I decreased the temperature slowly. Each time allowing my body to adjust to the cold. Again, because our temperature outside at the moment is sub zero, it didn’t take long before it felt cold, even though there was still a little hot water trickling through. I continued for a few more seconds and then decreased again, until the dial was on cold. There is a point on my shower where the dial is in the total opposite position to what it was. I’d gone completely cold, and let me just tell you, it FELT cold. However, I knew there was just a tiny bit more where the dial goes back on itself and where it can turn no more. I remained where I was, focusing on my breathing and standing under the torrent of cold water. What’s funny (well maybe not) is that naturally when you decrease the temperature of the shower water, the water flow increases. As the water got colder, the amount of water hitting my body grew, which of course just completely drenched me in a forceful flow of very cold water. I rinsed my hair and remained for a good couple of minutes before deciding to turn the dial that one more inch until it could go no more.

Freezing. That describes that last inch. I didn’t allow it to take my breath away, although my breath was on the way in and I just caught it to balance it out again. I stayed for just a few more seconds before switching off.

The effects when I stepped out the shower were the same as the day before, but magnified to such a degree that it was as though my whole body were vibrating. Everything seemed so intensely sharp that I could do nothing but just stop in amazement at the feelings within my body and mind. It reminds me of looking through the viewfinder of my camera – when you first look into it, the numbers on the screen are blurred. There is a little dial on the right hand side that you turn until the numbers in the viewfinder come into crystal clear focus. It’s an adjustment you make to your camera that is personal to you. Coming out of the shower was like that, as if adjusting the dial so that my conscious awareness is so sharp that everything is just beautifully crystal clear. Really nothing was any different, but the cold shower had made my perception, my awareness of what is, radically different.

On the third day, today, I did the same method for reducing the temperature. However, I remained in the final freezing water for a little longer. Something really bothered me yesterday to where I have felt emotionally a little off balance. Practising mindfulness around relationships is enormously helpful in restoring equilibrium, but it takes practice and can be difficult. As soon as I stepped out of the shower it was as though this emotional angst had been waiting for this moment and I felt like it was directly in front of me, and all around me. Facing me. I felt instinctively what to do – to let it go and as cliche as it sounds, it is as though the cold literally washed it away. The unimportance of my angst became so apparent and so clear that it was almost bordering on ridiculous to hang onto it.

All that from a cold shower? I hear you ask. I cannot give you the science, although in the video you get a good explanation of that, I can only convey my experience and say, try it. You can watch the interview by clicking the link below and the visit www.wimhofmethod.com to sign up for the free mini class that introduces the three videos that include instructions to the breathing techniques and cold shower.

Tom Bilyeu interview with Wim Hof

[This image is copyright Wim Hof Method – screenshot from the app on my phone!]

The Crazy Chimp

Hello December 🙂 hope you are all enjoying some peace and calm in the run up to the Christmas holidays. What a perfect time to talk about the crazy chimp…

I am reading a book someone recommended me to called, The Chimp Paradox, by Prof Steve Peters, an English psychiatrist who works in elite sport. I am probably only 10% in, but the premise of the book is that our minds are basically operated by two key drivers. Our human and logical self and then an emotional chimp. That in itself sounds crazy, however, it is a simplistic and brilliant way in helping us to understand and manage the way our minds work. 

It is one of those books that you relate to so much that you find yourself nodding or saying out loud how much you agree with it. So relatable and so relevant to our every day thinking and behaviour.

In my meditation recently I have been reminded of the sense of self and the fact that we all interact and experience through our own perceptions. Through the practice of meditation it can become possible to see yourself separately, so that you are almost getting a birds eye view a situation to see that your own perception is often skewed. When you can detach from a situation in this way on a day to day basis, you become much more able to see the perceptions of others in the same way. It isn’t that one person is necessarily wrong or right over another, it is just their perceptions are different. We each come from our own place of thinking, feeling and experiences.  However, understanding this and considering the theory that Steve Peters outlines in his book about the chimp and the way that ‘it’ operates, means you can begin to interact with others in a totally different way. You begin to think and, therefore, act, more on, ‘what is’, rather than what you ‘think’, is. Two very different things; the latter coming from your own skewed perception of what is, which you learn is controlled by the crazy emotional chimp. 

Meditation breathes space, not just into the moments you are practising, but throughout your day. Allowing for pause where you would ordinarily respond and enabling you to consider how to respond to someone or perceive a particular situation. Your perception becomes based on fact, rather than fiction – which is created by our chimp running the show.

When we are present we are not acting on emotion (which is truly what the chimp controls) and causing a REaction. Being present allows us to respond instead or sometimes just choosing not to respond at all, indeed, there is great power in silence. 

Having the choice is the key. We do have control over our perceptions and the way in which we interact with others and experience our world, once we realise how our minds work and our thoughts and perceptions are formed. It doesn’t matter what our understanding is now, or even if we never reach a point of understanding, simply meditating will unravel an inner understanding all of it’s own…we just have to begin and I quote my sister who said, ‘be where your feet are planted.’ The only place that can be is here and now, in the present moment. 

[I’ve had this image for years…bought for a website project I was doing at the time. It depicts being free…when you walk through the door that meditation opens, freedom awaits you on the other side…]

noticing the transition

If you meditate regularly you’ll most likely sit and practice for a set period of time each day. This might be just a few minutes, half an hour  or maybe more. We see this as our ‘meditation practice’ and a specific time when we sit to do that.

I was reminded recently about the transition from meditation practice and into daily life.

When I talk to other people about practising mindfulness during their day, it’s simply about bringing your awareness to the present moment and noticing. Noticing the sights, sensations and sounds around you as they are happening.

This morning, as I finished meditating, I noticed the transition. The point at which I stopped meditating and opened my eyes. There is a moment, a split second of transition; from sitting in silence to jumping into life and starting my day. I’m up and moving. I make the bed, go into the bathroom, brush my teeth, take a shower and on it goes.

What if there is no transition. What if I don’t ‘finish’ meditating and instead, open my eyes and continue on in my day being mindful – as if performing a moving meditation.

Now I know it is impossible to meditate continually while going about your day, and I am not suggesting this at all, unless of course you are Dynamo…[hmm, now there is a thought]…What I am suggesting though is to take the awareness and mindfulness into the rest of the day as much as possible. Erase the transition.

So as you are brushing your teeth, taking a shower, making coffee, walking the dog, driving the car, interacting with others, working and so on, you are mindful. Mindfulness takes some serious practice at the best of times and often means having a cue or reminder to bring your awareness to the present moment. However, if there is no transition then are you still meditating?

Perhaps it is that simple…I like to think so and am going to try that tomorrow…

[Image was taken in Tomales Bay, California on a hazy, warm October afternoon ….the stillness reminds me of meditation practice and then when you start your day you create simply ripples in the water.]