Katherine Bilsborough

Creating ELT materials

Helping teachers make excellent classroom resources

35 ways to improve your life without really trying

In my last blog post [here] I wrote about four possibly life-changing intentions I have for the year ahead. They involved time, money and the work I choose to accept. I mentioned a fifth intention and that’s what this post is all about. I thought it deserved an entry of its own.

Self care as a freelancer

On the face of it, it isn’t work-related and has little to do with creating ELT materials but in actual fact it’s got everything to do with those things. Because it’s all about the practices I’ve chosen to adopt for my own well being which will have a knock on effect on everything I do, including, and perhaps especially, my work.

Keeping it real

I recently read an inspiring article, put together by a team of writers, called ‘100 ways to improve your life without really trying’. I loved it for its simple, common sense and, more importantly, do-able ideas. I shared this link with friends on social media and in the course of the discussions that followed I said I’d write my own version. You can read the article I refer to here.

Do It Yourself

Just as I found reading the original article uplifting and motivating, I also found planning my own version, thinking about realistic and do-able small changes, therapeutic and inspiring. So I’d urge anyone who might be contemplating writing their own, to do just that. You don’t have to write 100 or even 50, any number will do. How about choosing your age as I did (or didn’t) and going with that as a number?

My list: not in order of importance

1. Drink a glass of water before doing anything else in the morning. You could pour it the night before to and leave it on your bedside table, covered, so it’s the first thing you see when you wake up. Drinking water is good for lots of reasons. I’ve also recently found out that it’s better to sip and not gulp it down, so that’s worth noting, I think.

2. Set an alarm when you start working at your computer, that can act as a stretch notifier.  When the alarm goes off, stretch as many muscles as possible, including facial muscles.

3. Focus your eyesight on something that isn’t a screen every now and then. It doesn’t need to be for long, but it’s definitely good for your eyes. An outdoor scene is ideal, especial if you’ve got something nice view to contemplate.

4. Have a plant in a place where you can see it while you work. It doesn’t need to be big or fancy and you don’t need to be green-fingered. If the plant doesn’t survive, chuck it out and replace it with a new one. Nobody’s judging you.  A cactus is an easy plant to care for though.

5. Keep a notebook handy where you can make a note of any minor achievements each day, as they occur. This can be anything from managing not to get angry at the news or meeting a deadline. Acknowledging these things is what it’s all about. We’re usually much better at acknowledging the cock-ups.

6. Find a podcast that suits you – there really is something for everyone. Take some time out to relax listen to it. You could do this with your eyes closed, just to rest them or you could do it while you potter. I find a podcast helps distract me from work so that when I return to it, I see things with fresh eyes. And I usually flip between crime, science and literature – whatever floats your boat.

7. Make yourself a happy place in your home. Do whatever needs to be done for it to be a place you feel good in. Things that might help are a scented candle, a comfy blanket, a nice view, a favourite picture, a photo album, a lamp – anything that gives you comfort. Then make an effort to hang out in your happy place at least a couple of times a day.

8. Read! Books can be used as all kinds of therapy. They can take you to new worlds that make you forget the one you’re in for a while, if that’s what you need. They can inspire you with new ideas, teach you new things, help you understand couldn’t get your head around. And of course lots more.

9. Declutter your real desktop and your virtual desktop. You’ll benefit from the practical effects and the mental effects.

10. Unsubscribe from annoying emails that you keep getting. Set aside a block of time specifically for this. It will be time well-invested.

11. Go outside whatever the weather. Really. Invest in some waterproofs, a woolly hat or whatever else is appropriate. Even if you don’t feel like going out, you’ll be glad you went when you get back. Even a walk around the block will have its benefits.

12. Doodle! Get a sketchpad and some coloured pens. Don’t put them away in a drawer. Keep them somewhere handy, maybe in your happy place. Everyone can be an artist. And nobody needs to see your creations. Unless you want to share them of course.

13. Learn how to do something new now and then. I don’t mean big things like learning how to speak a brand new foreign language. Find something that’s useful or interesting for you. I’m thinking of learning a bit of sign language, for example.

14. Watch some daytime telly! Seriously. That whole idea that says watching Netflix at night is fine but watching it during the day isn’t, is just plain wrong. As long as you meet your commitments, you should be able to do relaxing stuff whenever you like.

15. Get hold of some children’s drawings and frame them. There’s always something uplifting about children’s art. If you don’t have children of your own, ask the child of a friend or neighbour to do you a picture. It’s my bet they’d be more than happy to comply.

16. Try a new tea or influsion blend, even if you’ve already got your favourites. I mean, you could find a new favourite and we can’t have too much of a good thing. Especially if it’s a healthy thing.

17. Take some time to think about where you’d like to be in a few years’ time. Not just geographically of course. How can we follow our dreams if we don’t first consider what they might be? And while we’re on the subject, dream big. Be bold.

18. If there’s a club or group you’d like to join but it doesn’t exist, start one up! This can be F2F or online and could be anything work-related, health-related, educational or just fun. It’s a good way to meet like-minded people.

19. Most of us get a buzz when we do some home improvements or even move home. But we can replicate that in small ways by giving a single space in a room a makeover. I recently discovered you can get some really amazing wallpaper these days and you don’t even have to use paste because it’s self-adhesive. I’m in love with some verdigris oxidized copper paper. Google it!

20. Make (and then share) a cake! If you don’t think you can, you’re wrong. Anybody can. Just add ‘easy’ to a recipe search. If you’re afraid you’ll eat the whole cake, avoid that by sharing it with a neighbour. I’ve done that several times and the reaction has been nice. I mean, how would you react if someone came around with cake?

21. Find an internet page with jokes and fall down the rabbit hole for ten minutes. You’ll need to find the right one, of course. I love dark or absurd humour like Steve Wright’s. His one-liners make me laugh out loud and laughter is good for the soul.  

22. When you’ve enjoyed working with someone on a project, send them a message to tell them just that. When I’ve received such an email, it’s made my day and it really is a small thing.

23. Have a picnic lunch outside even if it’s a workday.  Or it could be a breakfast or dinner. This is something I do regularly and it makes me feel like I’m on holiday, even if I have to get back to my desk afterwards. If it’s cold, just wrap up warm, and take a thermos of tea or coffee.

24. Organise a weekly, or fortnightly trip to see something cultural. If you can get to a real museum or art gallery, great! If you can’t, visit one of the online museums or galleries, either from the comfort of your home or a café or bar. Take notes!

25. Watch an obscure or not-well-known film you wouldn’t normally watch, maybe a foreign film or an old film. There are lots of ways of doing this and thousands of films to choose from.. You could do an internet search with ‘award winning films + [country]. If it turns out you don’t like the film, you can stop watching. But chances are you might getting drawn in and discover a whole new back catalogue to watch. If you don’t know where to start, reach out and ask, especially if you have friends from other countries.

26. Think of something new to learn that seems big but can be broken down into smaller bits. Then practise or learn one bit until you feel you’ve nailed it. After that you can decide whether to move on to the next bit or just abandon it for something else. This can be something cerebral like learning a foreign alphabet or something science-based like the Periodic Table. Or it could be more physical, like Yoga asanas or dance moves.

27. If you work in ELT (or if you don’t), find out more about EDI issues (Equality, Diversity, Inclusion). Find reputable sites with key information and make a note of anything you learn that you didn’t know before. Maybe share that information with somebody else.

28. Find four or five keyboard shortcuts or hacks that could make your life easier. Then make yourself a little card and place it near your computer so that you remember them … until they become second nature.

29. If you live in a place where the night sky is visible, go outside when it’s dark and see what you can see. Check out with a website what’s going to be visible in your area on a particular date. You can even sign up for notifications so you know in advance when something special might be happening. You can do this with the naked eye but you might also like to invest in binoculars or a telescope.

30. Make your own luxury chocolates using the best base chocolate you can afford and your favourite ingredients. Invent new flavours and combinations. I’ve tried this with dark chocolate doing combinations of fresh cherries and sea salt and small chunks of figs with chili pepper. I’m going to try slivers of ripe pear next.

32. Find a local radio station and check out their programme schedule. Then listen in and find out what’s going on in your area. Even the most remote corners of the world have their own radio stations and it’s a brilliant way of finding out all kinds of useful information. I started listening to Radio Valdivielso [here] a few years ago and I’ve even formed a friendship with the presenter and made spot appearances to talk about things as disparate as fracking, growing your own vegetables and Tom Jones. But more importantly I’ve had great advice on the best internet providers, where to buy local produce and all kinds of local laws and social matters.

https://radiovaldivielso.es/

33. Find out about ergonomics and how you should be sitting at your desk. Most of us get into bad, slouchy habits and while that might not matter right now, It could cause health problems in the future. My friend and fellow ELT freelancer, Julie Moore wrote an excellent blog post [here] about laptop ergonomics. It includes a really useful image, explaining how to position yourself for pain-free posture.

https://lexicoblog.blogspot.com/search?q=WFH+laptop+ergonomics

34. Write a ‘to do’ list with some things you want to do, rather than chores or work tasks. This could be a shorter daily list or a longer weekly one. See what works best and keep it realistic.

35. Offer to do something spontaneous for a friend, neighbour or family member. Many of us jump to help when asked but fewer of us actually offer without being prompted. This could be anything from babysitting, walking a dog, helping with some gardening, running an errand, driving them somewhere. Obviously everything depends on the person and what you feel comfortable with (and authorised to do). A nice way of doing this is to make and give the receiver a token stating what you are offering to do.

Over to you!

It would make me happy to think that at least one person reading this blog decides to try one of the things I’ve highlighted for myself in this list. But as I mentioned at the start, writing your own list is a really good thing to do. I’d love to hear from anyone who does this. Happy pondering!

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2 thoughts on “35 ways to improve your life without really trying”

  1. I’m definitely going to do a couple of these, starting with drinking a glass of water right now. I’d add ‘volunteer’ to the list. I’ve fostered a puppy and worked at the Inclement Weather Center that gives a warm bed to those sleeping rough in cold weather. Whatever it is, you meet the best people.

    1. Hi Annette,
      Thanks so much for commenting. I absolutely agree about meeting the best people when you volunteer. I hope you’re enjoying life with your new member of the family! What a wonderful thing to do.

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