Take a mental break from your big goals today. These six habits are so easy you can’t fail. They all boost your mental wellbeing and make you feel happier.
1. Get 10 minutes of sun every morning
Start your day with a dose of light. This wellness formula is free and easy. If you’re desperately tucked into a cabin deep in the dark woods or a big-city high rise, you could turn to a daylight bulb. But those extremes aside, just open the door and stand outside for 10 minutes in the morning. Yes, you can take your coffee. You can wear your PJs and slippers if the neighbors are OK with it, too.
Daylight boosts your happy neurochemicals, especially serotonin. Ten minutes is also enough light to be sure you naturally produce about 5,000 IU of vitamin D during the summer. And morning sunlight tells your brain to wake up, for a dose of mental energy.
But once you’ve made this a habit, you may want to spend even longer in natural morning light—with sunscreen of course. A study that tracked 30,000 Swedish women for 20 years found that those who spent more time in the sun lived longer than the women who spent more time indoors.
2. Indulge in a little something you’ve denied yourself
Along the way, we all make our own set of rules then forget we’re the taskmasters in charge. Nobody tells you that you can’t spend your money on flowers for yourself or go deep-sea fishing instead of raking the leaves.
Often, the things we tell ourselves are too extravagant are exactly what our spirits need.
What would you do if you gave yourself that special something you’d love to have and no one else will think to give you? Would you play the guitar or piano? That would be good for your mood, memory and cognitive strength. Would you tell some clubs and organizations “no” so you can take a restful Saturday morning off from the constant pressures? That’s good for your calmness, which is good for your immune system. Would you watch Real Housewives instead of reading a book on politics? Well, fine! While you are giving your brain a problem-solving break, you are recharging.
Think of it as self-compassion. And there’s research to prove that being thoughtful of yourself combats depression.[i]
3. Watch yourself breathe
If we said, “Go meditate,” you probably would skip this tip, right? Only people who already meditate or have done so in the past have a clue how easy it is to begin and how little time it takes.
All you have to do is find somewhere comfortable to sit (or lie down) and watch yourself breathe. Breathe in through the nose—notice where the air flows. Observe what it feels like. Is there a cool spot, a hot spot, does it tickle? Breath out through the mouth—where is the air now? What does that feel and sound like? If anything else enters your mind, acknowledge it and say “later, alligator.” Go back to breathing.
Getting started is that simple. If you’d like a little help on the way, there are plenty of phone apps. Or you can go to YouTube.com and search for a “mindful breathing” video. Even a little bit of time is good. So make it easy on yourself by listening to something like this soothing 5-minute guide: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmFUDkj1Aq0
4. Give something away every week
This is a two-fer. Generosity is good for the spirit, and so is getting rid of stuff that clutters your surroundings.
Ideally, you might find something that a friend or neighbor would love. The young family down the street might appreciate those extra too many towels or sheets that keep getting mildewy because you use them so rarely. Your cousin might love to have one of those beautiful quiche pans—you don’t really need two, do you? Or maybe that second electric drill would be more welcome.
You don’t have to have a genuine hoarding disorder to feel the harm of clutter. Neuroscientists have found that it causes too many stimulating signals in the visual field “providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system.”[ii]Or as we might say, “looking at all that junk will drive you crazy.”
Once a week, find something. Then find someone. Make them happy, be a hero, which always feels nice. And get that extra stuff out of your house.
5. Watch animal videos for fun
You know you want to. Yeah, it’s officially a waste of time. But why listen to officious officials? Animals make us feel good. Period.
And scientists think we should do it. Researchers at the University of Leeds discovered that watching 30 minutes of cute animal clips reduced a group of volunteers’ anxiety as much as 50%. Average blood pressures fell from 136/88 to 115/71.
Japanese researchers have found that animal videos prompted a spurt in productivity. But cute animals, “kawaii” in Japanese, are even better than animals in general. A paper that reviewed three Japanese studies of cute animal effects concluded that, “Kawaiithings not only make us happier, but also affect our behavior. … viewing cute things improves subsequent performance in tasks that require behavioral carefulness, possibly by narrowing the breadth of attentional focus”.[iii]
6. Tick off an Accomplishment Every Day (You Can Rig This Game)
Anxiety is a modern affliction that makes a lot of sense when you consider how we live. There’s always more to do than time to finish. Even social media, which should be fun, turns on the guilt if you skip a day or two and miss a friend’s birthday announcement and fail to see dozens of posts. Millions of professionals today feel they have to be connected to their jobs via email and work apps from early morning to late night—conditions no self-respecting ditch digger would tolerate without overtime pay!
Since you have a million things to do, make yourself a to-do list with a purpose. But let this list be a place where you score daily wins.
Instead of forgetting to call the plumber about the leaky faucet for two weeks, choose a day and put “call plumber” on that day’s short list of to-do’s.
Keep it up. Every day make yourself a to-do list of things you can be nearly 100% sure you can get done. If you pack school lunches for the kids every day, put that on the list. Cross off when completed. If you need to stop for gas sometime soon, put that on today’s list. Cross off when completed.
This is not the place to write, “send the boss ultimate proposal and PowerPoint on new accounts” or “lose two pounds per week until Christmas.” This is where you list things that are going to be successes right away. It’s where you put those myriad non-recurring pesty chores like remembering to call the plumberIt’s not a wish list. It’s a definitely-going-to-do-that-today list.
At the end of the day, you can see you got things done. Another day of success. That feels great. And you can feel less anxious and guilty about all the little things you forgot.
Getting to-do’s done is certainly a good thing, but even making the list is good for your mental health. It will take you just one or two minutes a day, and the payoff far exceeds the effort. That’s because research has proved that unfinished goals create intrusive thoughts while you are trying to focus on other things. That hurts your productivity and mood. As soon as you put theses tasks on a list, you free your mind to concentrate on whatever you are doing at the moment. [iv]
That’s it. Six tiny habits you can perform easily and with hardly a bump in your routine. Each one takes just minutes. And every one does something nice for your mood and mental health.
[i]Körner A, Coroiu A, Copeland L, et al. The Role of Self-Compassion in Buffering Symptoms of Depression in the General Population [published correction appears in PLoS One. 2015;10(10):e0142027]. PLoS One. 2015;10(10):e0136598. Published 2015 Oct 2. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0136598
[ii]McMains S, Kastner S. Interactions of top-down and bottom-up mechanisms in human visual cortex. J Neurosci. 2011 Jan 12;31(2):587-97. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3766-10.2011. PMID: 21228167; PMCID: PMC3072218
[iii]Article Source: The Power of Kawaii: Viewing Cute Images Promotes a Careful Behavior and Narrows Attentional Focus
Nittono H, Fukushima M, Yano A, Moriya H (2012) The Power of Kawaii: Viewing Cute Images Promotes a Careful Behavior and Narrows Attentional Focus. PLOS ONE 7(9): e46362. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.00463
[iv]Masicampo EJ, Baumeister RF. Consider it done! Plan making can eliminate the cognitive effects of unfulfilled goals. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011 Oct;101(4):667-83. doi: 10.1037/a0024192. PMID: 21688924.