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Make a change with five minutes of focus

A good five minutes

On the Tim Ferriss Podcast, author James Clear shared an incredibly helpful piece of advice: This being that a lot can be done in a good five minutes.

Think about this for a moment. It’s likely that most of us will think that five minutes is such a small period of time and not a lot could be done in its duration. However, if you consider it again, you may realise that in five minutes you could:

  • do 45 seconds of press-ups, followed by a 15-second rest;
  • do 45 seconds of air squats, followed by a 15-second rest;
  • do 45 seconds of sit-ups, followed by a 15-second rest;
  • do 45 seconds of bench [or chair] dips, followed by a 15-second rest;
  • do 60 seconds of running on the spot.

The five-minute workout I have shared above can be done anywhere, with no equipment required. If you did it every day for a month, the results will be very positive for both your physical and mental health.

You’ll also be likely to notice that the amount you can do will improve if you stick with the programme.

Physical fitness is just one area. You could spend five minutes a day learning a new language on an app like Duolingo; reading two pages of a positive book [Atomic Habits, by James Clear being a great option]; making your bed as soon as you get up each morning; calling, texting, or emailing a friend or family member.

Each of these ideas is quite easy to do. Imagine the changes in your life if you did all of them every weekday [weekends off] for four weeks. There is no doubt in my mind that your life will be better than it was when the process started.

Read books more than once

I have just started reading the book Atomic Habits by James Clear for a third time. I have also listened to the audio version of the book twice. Additionally, I have listened to numerous podcasts in which Clear has been interviewed about his thoughts and ideas on habit formation.

So far I have only read the introduction, but I have already identified two things I have previously overlooked that I will take action on.

I have written before about reading books more than once. Most recently this was in regard to Dandapani’s book on focus. Already this year, I have re-read a book from which I have gained valuable knowledge – which will enhance the action that I am taking in my role as a school principal. In fact, most of the reading I will do this year will be books I have read in the past – that I know I can get so much more out of if I more deliberately implement the ideas and strategies they share.

Referring back to Dandapani, the Hindu priest and author: He shares how there is an overwhelming amount of information and material that we have access to. Because of this, we tend to jump from idea to idea, constantly acquiring new information, but not actually doing anything with it. A goal for me this year is to learn less, but to do so in greater depth, essentially doing more with what I do learn. A key part of this will start with the ideas from Atomic Habits, as I become more familiar with the concepts through reading or listening to them for the fifth time.

Deliberately doing it hard

Stoic philosophers would often choose to make things harder for themselves in their lives. For example, Seneca, who had access to vast personal wealth, would go through periods where he would sleep on the floor, eat only bread, and drink only lukewarm water. He did this to prepare himself for times in which life wouldn’t be so easy for him – when he might lose access to the many things and privileges he had acquired.

Sure enough, this proved helpful to Seneca – as he was sent into exile and lost many of the things that made his life one of luxury. However, because he had essentially inoculated himself against the trappings of privilege he was able to cope and even thrive when they were taken away from him.

Most of us don’t live a life equivalent to Seneca’s. However, there are things we become very reliant on that we should, perhaps, spend time without. Can you, for example, exist on a very simple and inexpensive diet, live without a car, not have access to a gym, or live in a smaller house?

A starting point could be to choose just one thing to give up for, say, one week. You might find that it’s easier to do than you thought, or, at least, that you can cope without it.

Tough times are coming our way, or, for many, are already here. Just like the Stoics, there are things we can do to cope in these times with a little more resilience.

Spark joy

I heard an idea on the Calm Daily Jay Meditation about how we could bring joy and happiness to our lives. It’s actually quite simple.

The idea is to deliberately plan for and do things that bring us joy. In writing this, I acknowledge many of the things that do bring me joy are expensive and can’t be done on a regular or daily basis: Overseas travel; buying things I want; eating out for dinner. However, there are many things I enjoy that can be done easily and at no or little expense – like reading, exercising, watching shows I enjoy, walking my dog, and catching up with people I like.

At the end of each day, I record three things in a journal:

1. Something I am grateful for;

2. A highlight from the day just gone;

3. Something I am looking forward to the next day.

Number 3 relates specifically to this post. These are things that I will enjoy that I need to be proactive to make happen. They spark joy in my life and make me a happier person.

Finding your purpose

We would all like a career that gives us a clear purpose. I consider myself to be very fortunate in this respect as the principal of Lakeview School, where the purpose is very clear in our mission statement: “Engaged and Empowered to Achieve Excellence.”

This purpose impacts everyone in the school – we all want this for our students, and everyone has a part to play. Some roles are literally “at the chalkface”, whereas others are more about providing the resources and conditions for our teachers and students to work in.

Sometimes a purpose might be a little harder to identify. Yet if the role wasn’t done, there would be a domino effect that would impact others further down the chain. Perhaps an administration position that ensures an essential resource for building a piece of medical equipment is imported. Or a manufacturing role for one small but vital part of production. Both are essential and purposeful, but their necessity could easily be overlooked.

What is making you unhappy?

There are many things that make us unhappy. These can relate to both our personal and professional lives. Sometimes things may seem overwhelming, and we feel we have no way of getting back on the track towards contentment.

However, we can take some level of control by stopping to do an analysis of the roots of unhappiness.

Take the time to think about ways in which your life isn’t the way you want it to be. Perhaps you aren’t as healthy as you know you could be. In this area, you could do some research to identify a few things you could do to be healthier. For example, exercise, diet, sleep, and social media use. For each area, you could choose just one simple and easy action.

The next step is crucial – this being to implement just one action, starting with the one that is easiest to do. It might be going to bed 15 minutes earlier each night . Once the first step is embedded in your routine, you can add another thing from your list and slowly implement that too.

Essentially, this strategy is about taking control and being proactive. Of course, there may be times when obstacles may seem insurmountable – but these can be chipped away, creating a feeling of momentum towards personal fulfilment and happiness.

Why people change

In the book The Future is Analog, author David Sax shares how a person’s life became considerably better after he makes some changes to the way he does things. This person had become depressed and withdrawn after a number of things happened in his life: The death of his parents, losing his job, and getting divorced. His response was to withdraw from society, choosing to have very little interaction with others. Any contact he did have was brief and surly.

However, the person was encouraged to reconnect with others by joining a group that would catch up to talk about anything at all – from popular culture to gardening. Initially, he didn’t contribute, but eventually started to engage more. This led to him forming positive, friendly and respectful relationships with others. This went beyond the group and into the wider community.

I can’t remember the person’s name, so I’ll call him Barney [my dog’s name]. Barney initially thought that others had changed in a positive way, but soon realised it was he who had changed –with his attitude towards others reflected back to him.

We need to be the ones who make the initial effort, just as Barney chose to. If we wait for others, it may never happen. Going first may be a little uncomfortable, but doing so can make the world a better place for others – and for us.

Tim Nelson is principal of Lakeview School and author of the book Small Steps for a happy and purposeful life. He endeavours to learn something new every day by reading books, listening to podcasts, and engaging with a wide range of other content.

Tim Nelson
Tim Nelson
Tim Nelson is principal of Lakeview School and author of the book Small Steps for a happy and purposeful life. He endeavours to learn something new every day by reading books, listening to podcasts, and engaging with a wide range of other content.

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