If you answered in favor of improvements but aren't sure where to start, review this list of top actions you can start working on right now.
1. Identify and attack toxicity.
The two basic ways to continually weed out most forms of toxicity for health and mental clarity are to set clear boundaries and to replace new habits with old ones. For the former, make sure that you explain why you want the boundary (the benefit) and offer a means to adopt a new alternative. For the latter, find your ultimate "why," make sure your environment is conducive to the new habit, and create and implement a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achieveable, Realistic, Timely), step-by-step action plan for how to move forward.
In both cases, focus on just one area at a time, and start small to build your confidence. Be prepared for pushback from others, and stick to your guns. Self-compassion, patience and a willingness to learn from mistakes and try again are all critical.
2. Make swaps.
Routines are hard to break, but often you can gain drastic physical, mood and cognitive benefits simply from tweaking what you already do. For example, if you always have toast and jam for breakfast, buy whole wheat bread, not white. Find one small "boost" to give yourself each week. Do that every week and you'll have shifted 52 factors in your life for the better by the end of the year.
If you choose your swaps well, they can improve the physical function necessary for energy and focus, make it easier to manage distractions or stress, and even save you money you can invest in new ideas or additional self-development.
3. Be a learner (and practice).
Ensuring you learn something each day, however small, gives your brain new data that can shift your perspective and influence both creativity and decision-making. It can also help you feel capable and relevant regardless of what's swirling around you. The reward system involved in learning also can keep you more motivated to keep exploring.
Some easy examples of how to include learning in your everyday routine include reading articles on your subway commute or break, subscribing to "of the day" educational services, or challenging yourself to make a new dish for dinner at least once a week. The key is just to make your learning choice as easiily accessible and repeatable as possible, as that increases the likelihood that you'll complete the activity even when you're tired and busy.
But don't stop there--real achievers are the ones who put what they learn into action. Practice new skills and share what you learn, not only to help solidify new pathways and memories in your brain, but to be kind and helpful to others for long-lasting, meaningful influence.
4. Get your sleep schedule on track.
Yes, I know there's pressure to work late and that worries can keep you awake at night. But out of any physical thing you can do for yourself, sleep likely matters most. It's during the deep stages of sleep that your brain cleans away damaging toxins, potentially reducing your risk of diseases like dementia and Alzheimer's. Sleep is also connected to memory consolidation and supporting a host of physiological processes, including immune system function, tissue repair and hunger control. And rest makes it much easier to regulate emotions, which influences both your stress response and interactions with others.
These tips can help you snooze more easily:
- Prepare your room well--no work items, slightly cooler temperature, psychologically relaxing items and color schemes, and no lights that can mess with your brain and the circadian rhythm.
- Cut out electronics at least one hour before bed, not only to prevent your brain from responding to the blue light, but also to ensure your brain doesn't get new information and problems to mull over.
- Brain dump your to-do list for the next day or whatever is on your mind on good old-fashioned paper.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
- Get creative about working around time differences in the global market.
Remember, staying awake to work doesn't do any good if your brain is too exhausted to focus and make good decisions. You'll likely find that productivity goes up, that you're doing more in less time, when you are well rested.