A few years ago my wife Zoë started an experiment. She set her alarm for 5.30am. Already a fairly early riser, she pushed her start time back a good hour.
Zoë says she started the experiment as a way to counter the sense she had of the day always running away with her. Giving her an extra hour or so would provide a buffer, a time to ease into whatever needed doing. Getting up early was her way of trying to steal a march on the day.
It’s a habit that’s worked so well for her, she’s kept it going. The hour before everyone else stirs is her golden time. She can potter about, sort things out, do some admin, make lists. It helps her get ahead. It’s reprogrammed the way she views the day: even at weekends it’s the same.
There’s nothing complicated about her routine, or contrived. It’s not particularly revelatory — lots of people get up early as a matter of course. Yet the benefit is clear. Having that morning hour has made a hugely positive difference to her life.
Now it’s part of her recipe for having a good day.
The essence of what we need to have a good day is this: it’s first of all paying attention to the things that make a difference to us, and then it’s being intentional about building it into our life. Those small elements add up — the fabric of our lives is made up of what we weave into our every day.
Figuring out your own recipe for a good day requires experimentation. Finding out what things give you the boost you need. And then when you find what works, do more of it.
Here’s my five stage plan towards having more good days.
- Track the good times. At the end of every day I jot down all the good things that have happened that day, from people I’ve enjoyed meeting, to a tasty lunch to hanging out with my kids after school. I call it my Good Times list and I’ve written it for 9 years. When I look back over the lists certain themes jump out at me. They keep me on track to make sure I continue to do the things that feed me!
- Ask around. Embrace your inner curiosity and get inquisitive about what others need to have a good day. Ask colleagues, friends and partners what their strategies are. What have they tried that’s made a difference to their lives?
- Hard bake it in. Once you’ve figured out the habits that make a difference to your life — getting up early, taking a walk, going to your favourite cafe — be intentional about building those into your day-to-day. Take control, make sure they are present.
- Iterate! Part of the beauty of this approach — the attention and intention — is that it’s not a restrictive ‘guide for life’. Instead it encourages play and experimentation. Think like a designer — allow anything and everything in, and tweak and hone as you go. If something doesn’t work for you, move onto the next idea.
- Go easy on yourself. David Hieatt is an entrepreneur. He told me he aims to not look at his phone for the first hour of the day and then to put it away in the evening. That makes for a better day for David. He told me there are occasions when he’ll break his rule. And he’s okay with that, because it aligns with his philosophy: that the default is the default, but exceptions are exceptions. He won’t beat himself up if he falls off the wagon. It’s a forgiving position, as well as pragmatic. So, be intentional about your good habits, but don’t be hard on yourself if you slip up.
Ultimately, finding out how to feel happier, more creative and more fulfilled comes from one simple approach — and that’s keeping yourself and your needs front of mind. So first pay attention to what you need to have a good day and then second, be intentional about building it into your life.
It’s all up to YOU!
365 Ways to Have a Good Day by Ian Sanders is out now