It is a funny thing that for most of us, the pledge to make some of the biggest, most profound changes in our lives comes at a time when our bodies are primarily composed of Baileys and Scots Clan. After the emotional highs and excesses of the holidays, the new year rolls around and we vow to run marathons, ditch sugar forever and go to the gym every day. Then, a week later, the dark terrors of January take hold and we scuttle back to the couch muttering insistently that next year it will all be different.
So what if 2016 was to be different? What about, instead of thinking big and scary, we thought small and gentle? Little changes. Little and easily adapted but with potentially transformative benefits.
Dr Mark Rowe is a practising GP in Waterford who is also an author and renowned speaker in the area of transformation. From his experience with patients, he says he finds that while most people know what they “should” be doing – exercising, eating better, not smoking – not many are able to effect lasting change.
“They try to change the world at once and vow to never again do whatever,” he says. “The problem, however, is when you are running away from something, something is chasing you. It’s much better to focus on positive goals. It’s the butterfly effect – small changes can have large consequences.”
So, with positive goals in mind, we asked a number of health and wellbeing experts for their top little changes for you to pick and mix from, a veritable selection box of positivity. Happily these will allow us to take baby steps into this new year. Moving away from the Scots Clan now is, of course, optional.
Take the time to stop and pause for one minute, five times each day, using those minutes to stay in the present, to breathe mindfully and calmly. It takes only five minutes of your day, but this I believe will help us live more mindfully and become more peaceful people.
Smiling is free and boosts brain health. It gives birth to new brain cells and encourages changes in areas of the brain associated with learning and memory. It makes your brain more flexible, more resilient and better able to cope when challenged by injury or neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Smiling releases hormones that make you feel good, lowers blood pressure, boosts immune function and protects against stress, depression and anxiety.
Start and end your day with a smile. Smile at least five times a day, even or especially if you don’t feel like it. The simple act of smiling sends messages to your brain that can make you happy even if you are not. It’s contagious and can lead to laughter. Spread the happiness and the health benefits.
Eat more veg
This is not an “all or nothing” type thing and by veg we really mean whole foods – fruit, veg, beans, legumes and wholegrains. All naturally high in fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and low in calories and fat.
It's easy to do – eat more veg soups, try porridge for breakfast, eat wholemeal pasta instead of white, brown rice instead of white or change from Cornflakes to Weetabix. It's a series of little steps and it's all about feeling better, having more energy and becoming a better version of yourself. Veg power! For vegtastic recipe ideas see www.thehappypear.ie.
David and Stephen Flynn are the co- founders of The Happy Pear food market and cafe in Greystones. Their next Happy Heart course runs from Jan 6th-Feb 3rd in Dublin
Gratitude in this sense is about wanting what you have, not always striving to have what you want, and it’s the best antidote for feelings of negativity and anxiety. People say “I feel grateful” but you need to properly express it and the best way is to write it down. Get a journal and once a day, write down three things you feel grateful for. Then pick one of them and write three lines about why you feel grateful for it. It can be a blessing in your life, a setback you’ve endured that made you stronger or just the little things that make you happy – sunshine or a good cup of coffee. There is so much in this world today that makes us feel fearful and on edge, this one little change can help banish those feelings of negativity.
Dr Mark Rowe is a GP and a member of the Healthy Ireland Council
Most of us now spend eight hours a day at a desk, which plays havoc with our posture and musculoskeletal system, leading to increased episodes of neck and low back pain. This can be reduced, however, by just moving more. Set an alarm on your phone and do these simple exercises at your desk.
Start by rotating your head left and right four times each side. Turn your chair away from your desk and reach down towards your toes to stretch your upper and lower back four times. Clasp your hands and reach in front of you then above your head, repeating both three times. To finish, stand up and walk over to the printer or water station to get the legs moving. Doing these twice a day will help reduce the likelihood of an episode of back or neck pain.
Everyone knows that eating leafy green vegetables is a good idea and a really easy way to eat them every single day is to wash, dry and refrigerate your leaves as soon as you buy them. Then take a large handful and serve as a side salad daily with your lunch or dinner. Add pizazz by drizzling a little extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice on top and seasoning with black pepper and sea salt. Delicious, effortless and super-healthy.
One of the key principles I would recommend adopting in 2016, to make a significant change in all aspects of your wellbeing, is proactivity. You must become aware of yourself and how you are doing. Treat this time of year as a time to do a self-audit. Analyse yourself in terms of your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Personal proactivity is the first essential step for changing a negative mindset. Proactively engage with those who are most important to you. Reach out to friends and family members – just a simple phone call can drastically improve your daily mindset.
All-Ireland-winning footballer Enda McNulty is chief executive and leader of Motiv8 Performance Excellence and is a top performance coach who works with Leinster and Ireland rugby
Because it is so much part of our being, it couldn’t be any easier. No special kit required. No training. But a daily walk can bring immense transformation in a short time. Remember, it must benefit mind as well as body. So switch off the technology. Start with two miles, and when up to four that will be enough. It’s not only about pace so move slightly out of your comfort zone. It’s no good letting your mind drift off. Each time you go out, focus primarily on one part of your body and keep your attention there. Focus, in turn, on your shoulders, hips, back, knees, ankles and feet. Eventually move through all of them continuously. Your mind will be rested, your body energised, your mood lifted, your stress gone. Walking will never be the same again.