“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” If it’s good enough for Arist, it’s good enough for us. So what rituals or routines can we take up to improve 2017?
We asked our readers about the one small change that has made the biggest difference to their lives – here are 20 that might just make the year ahead a bit brighter.
1 Cold-water swimming
I suffer with depression and anxiety, and have done for about 10 years. I watched a programme called The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs last autumn. I hated the first episode, but watched the second to see how the woman trying cold-water swimming to help with her depression got on. I was surprised to see it really helped her, so decided to give it a go. After my first swim, I was hooked.
Jennifer Brooks, Gloucestershire
2 A daily lunchtime walk
This is a good way to escape from my desk and switch off from work. It’s also great to explore the local area and discover hidden gems. It wasn’t a hard habit to introduce. When I am busier it’s harder to step outside, but more rewarding. Those few moments away help me refocus when I get back to the office.
3 Stop shouting
I stopped shouting a decade ago, and haven’t raised my voice since. I used to shout at my small children when I was frustrated; it was an instinctive response, but it wasn’t a constructive way of dealing with the situation, and it would take hours to recover from the guilt I felt afterwards. My kids often didn’t understand why I was so upset. So I stopped shouting. It was hard at first (I had to count to 10 to calm down) but now I feel much better and more in control. I speak in a measured way and things get done because I have gained other people’s respect.
Clara, the south-west
4 Baking bread
No more processed rubbish – the bread I make is wholesome and full of flavour. It keeps well, too, much better than the shop-bought stuff. There is no finer moment than knocking back a bowl of dough after its first fermentation. It’s a great way of destressing. Recently I’ve been making no-knead bread which tastes good but doesn’t ease stress quite so well. I’ve also started making my own pizzas, which has been just as fun.
5 Mindfulness meditation
I introduced mindfulness meditation into my life to help cope with a history of high blood pressure and depression. Concentrating on my breathing and telling myself to “live in the now” stopped me panicking. At first, I felt I had to lie down in a quiet room, light candles and practise for 20 minutes. But now I can do it anywhere. Even if you end up doing meditation for three minutes a day it’s worth it. It has helped me improve my relationships and career. Mindfulness slows me down, helps me accept the things I cannot change and appreciate what and who I have in my life. It has made me more grateful.
Elaine Kingett, London
I started doing yoga twice a week to get rid of headaches. It wasn’t difficult to start because I was already exercising, but it took a while to get used to it, because I thought yoga looked a bit boring at first. Now I cannot live without it. It’s the one thing that helps with my headaches, and it has really improved my quality of life.
Amanda, Cape Town
7 Stop bringing work home
I made a conscious decision to ensure my personal life and relationships were my priority away from work, and took work emails off my phone. This has actually made me a lot more efficient at work, especially when planning my time.
Anjum Peerbacos, London
I started unicycling with the rest of my family about 12 years ago, but every week it felt like I was starting all over again, while others progressed. About a year ago I saw a physio about an unrelated pain and he noted that I had poor abdominal muscle tone. I started doing the exercises he gave me and noticed my unicycling was improving. Over the year I have finally learned to mount the unicycle. I also had the confidence to take part in a freestyle routine at the national championships and am now unicycling to work and back once a week. I am still not brilliant, but I am so happy to be able to do this and to see definite improvement.
9 Learn to play a musical instrument
I learned to play the fiddle. I started from scratch (playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star) and can now play over 100 tunes by ear. I can also read music slowly and love playing with others. I’m now learning the ukulele, too. It is great fun and I feel a real sense of achievement. I did not play any musical instrument until my early 50s, and am continuing to improve. It’s also been a great way to make new friends.
Marie Therese Allison, Glasgow
10 Wake up an hour earlier each morning
I decided to start waking up an hour earlier every morning – 5.30am instead of 6.30am. I now start my day by doing a few sun salutations, followed by a prayer (which I use to be thankful rather than asking for anything), and then write in my journal. This change has helped me keep in touch with myself and my emotions.
11 Drink enough water
I used to get awful headaches but then I started to drink at least two litres of water a day. After about five years of doing this my headaches have now gone away, my skin is soft and clear, and I have more energy. I notice that when I don’t drink enough for a few days my body feels like it’s running at half the rate it should be. This has been one of the best things I’ve done for my body.
12 Cycle to work
I began cycling to work last summer (it’s only five miles and it’s usually quicker than driving). I did it because I felt I wasn’t getting enough exercise. It was also because driving and taking public transport through London is expensive and stressful. My journey to work is fun now. Some of it involves busy roads (where I find myself overtaking queues of cars). But I’ve also discovered some nice quiet signposted cycle routes through back streets. I feel healthier and my leg muscles are definitely stronger than they were.
After a hip operation I started pilates as part of my rehabilitation. It made a huge difference to my mobility so I found a local class at the leisure centre. I’ve been going most weeks for several years now. I’m nearly 50 but feel about 20 years younger. Pilates strengthened and straightened me in key core areas: I can get up from the floor without using my hands; I can stand for hours; and I rarely have backache.
14 Date night
About three years ago our three daughters were finally old enough to look after themselves on a Friday evening, or to go out with their friends. So my wife and I decided to make it our date night. We go for a meal or drinks, sometimes with other friends. After so many years of sacrificing our time for the children it has been wonderful to take my wife for a date every week. I really look forward to us spending quality time together.
Philip West, Istanbul
15 Tai chi
Twenty years ago I started learning tai chi and six years ago it became my daily practice. Every morning I do yoga to stretch and then tai chi to balance, settle and ground myself. Tai chi isn’t quick to pick up; it took four years just to learn the form – and it’s a practice that is never complete. There’s always something more to learn. It has helped me slow down and pay attention to the details, emotionally and physically.
16 Cold showers
I was on a cycling holiday in France in the summer of 2015. The temperature was great for cycling, about 27 celsius, and after each day’s ride I looked forward to a refreshing shower. At the last hotel I knocked the temperature gauge to cold. Brrrrr! I set it back to hot. A couple of seconds later I knocked it to cold again. Not so brrrrr – actually, more refreshing. I haven’t looked back.
Vanessa Moss, Kendal
17 Something new every day
At the start of 2016 I decided to do one new thing every day. I initially did this to keep myself busy after a breakup, but I have kept it up ever since. It’s included trying everything from joining a choir to buying a new type of tea. It has been so beneficial: I’ve gained new skills and feel braver, more spontaneous and ever so slightly more exhausted.
Maria Wylie, Ely
18 Stop looking at the phone after 9pm
I made this little promise to myself to gain some work-life balance (I was addicted to checking my email), but also just to have a bit of quiet time before bed. It’s made a huge difference. After the first week I felt noticeably much less stressed. I also slept better. Some of my friends complained that I missed their messages, but it was nothing that couldn’t wait until the next day.
When I was 37, I started kickboxing. In many respects, life was pretty good: I was in a happy, long-term relationship, and my job was secure. There wasn’t a huge amount for me to worry about. But I was restless, with a nagging feeling that somehow life was passing me by. Forty was looming, and I wanted to do something to make me feel more alive. That’s where kickboxing came in. I’m a second dan black belt now: the day I got my first black belt was the proudest of my life. I try to train at least five times a week. At a basic level, it keeps me fit, strong and flexible. But it also keeps me sane and sociable.
Sarah Heseltine, London
20 Give up coffee
I’d become addicted after going from having one cup of coffee a day to sinking six or even eight, and I found I couldn’t think without a cup. I tended to be agitated as a result of too much caffeine in important meetings, and once I decided to give it up, it was easy – although there are times when I still crave a cup. I’m now more relaxed and calmer.