My goal for 2019 was to undertake a year of holistic self-improvement. Having watched the Minimalism documentary late into 2018 and since discovering their podcast alongside other inspiring people such as Pick Up Limes, Matt D’Avella, Jenifer Taylor Chan and many others, my values have dramatically changed. Some of my passions and interests remain; foremost, my interest in user experience design and psychology, which I’m grateful as this is also my profession, though some have also abated. The time I consumed watching football, time lost to games consoles and time spent on social media have all since been removed, or more accurately, dramatically reduced and in their place I’ve incorporated genuine passions and interests. Self-care and self-improvement without a doubt are two that top this list.
Over the past 6-month, I’ve absorbed endless information on how to live a healthier life. This information included scientific studies, hours of YouTube videos, vast Medium articles and trialling numerous practical habitual tips, some of which were a success, others not so. Subsequently, I’ve started to settle on a consistent 24 hour day which if I follow correctly, keeps me feeling healthy, positive and productive. Please note, my 24 hours certainly reads very militantly. I admit, there is a large part of this that is pre-planned, however, I’ve constructed my day to seamlessly integrate into those hours that are essentially mandatory i.e. work and commute, so my day to some degree still feels natural.
My intention for this is driven by the fact my self-improvement mission is largely within my control. The time I go to bed, the time I wake, the foods I consume and the number of hours I allow myself to meditate are those which fall under my jurisdiction. Admittedly, I’m not in control of external factors such as stress initiators that either impact negatively on my mood or cause me to buy a sweet tasting unhealthy snack, however, I can regulate how I respond to these initiators and provide myself with the best opportunity to reduce their impact.
So what does my 24 hours look like?
I wake each morning at 06:20. I wake at the same time each day regardless of the day or if I am working. Maintaining a consistent sleep and wake time is essential for our internal biological clock. We each have an internal circadian rhythm, a body clock that is designed to regulate and promote feelings of sleepiness and wakefullness. It’s a contributory factor to jetlag. Although we may find ourselves in a new country under a bright sunny sky, having reversed our wrist clock by some hours, our body clock is still telling us to feel sleepy even though it’s only mid-afternoon.
Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule helps to keep our circadian rhythm balanced. The outcome of a balanced circadian rhythm is also a balanced digestive and metabolic system, amongst other health benefits. A prolonged imbalanced circadian rhythm which can be achieved by simply waking and sleeping at irregular times can contribute towards sleeping disorders, depression, diabetes and other chronic health problems.
I awake to my iPhone alarm though this will soon be replaced by a Braun Analogue Alarm Clock, one which is silent and comes with a non-illuminated display. I ensure I don’t hit the digital snooze button. Hitting snooze is very tempting though it does have dangers. Between each snooze you allow your body to fall back into a sleeping cycle which is abruptly ended by the subsequent snooze alarm. This period of sleep, often 5–9 mins is unhealthy and provides no benefit to our body. Once awake, I avoid using my phone and subjecting my eyes to any type of digital screen. As I have no social media accounts and I also have ‘do not disturb’ mode switched on until 07:15, there is no temptation for me to use my phone. I purposely avoid checking any business communication; slack, outlook etc while also avoiding exposure to any artificial light if possible. During summer I will shower without the bathroom light being switched on. In winter this is not quite possible so I give myself around 5 minutes for my eyes to naturally respond to light.
After showering and dressing I will head downstairs and meditate. Using the Headspace App I will meditate for 5 mins. Meditation enables me to calmly think about any challenges I may face in the upcoming day and assess how I may respond. It also allows me alleviate any anxiety issues I may or may not be aware of while making me feel present. Morning routines can easily become monotonous and can run without thinking or processing. Meditation allows me to become aware and exist within the present. During the summer I will meditate in the garden. Exposing my body to sunshine as early as I possible can will increase my levels of Vitamin D and improve my overall mood and well-being. In the winter months I meditate indoors.
After meditation I will leave for work. I do not eat breakfast.
Each work day (mon-fri) I try to run a 16/8 intermittent fast. This involves abstaining from food for 16 hours. This time period sounds difficult, however I make this easier for myself by ensuring I sleep for 8 of these hours (50%). As my morning commute takes 1 hour, my actual window of avoiding food consumption is 7 hours. As this 7 hours is split between the previous evening and the following morning, it is less difficult than anticipated. Intermittent fasting is suggested to provide many health benefits. The science that supports these is growing larger with each passing day and many health and nutritional experts, alongside doctors, are recommending this across multiple media sources. Personally, I have found that cognitively is where I notice the biggest benefit. Toward the end of the fasting window, I feel sharper, alert and more energised.
Science behind fasting shows similarities to those of our circadian rhythm. Our digestion system also runs rhythmically, which is initiated when we consume food. As food moves through our digestive system, it requires each organ to work until the digestion process is complete. After which, each organ will enter a phase of maintenance and self-clean until the next consumption of food. Tests on mice have shown that the greater window of inactivity, or fasting, the greater the long-term health benefits will be. My approach is to create a consistent, habitual eating pattern, similar to my sleep, ensuring my biological rhythm remains in sync.
12:00 Finish fast
At 12:00 I finish my 16 hour fast and eat lunch. I consume a plant-based diet so the food I eat consists mainly of fruit, vegetables and legumes. I ensure that all lunches are pre-made the evening before and that they typically consist of a dish containing 5 or more fruits and vegetables.
I eat a relatively small lunch. I eat a small portion as I dislike the feeling of post-meal bloat and I know that eating a small portion helps to regulate and maintain healthy glucose and insulin levels. I eat an apple after lunch to fend off any sweet cravings that may be on the horizon.
An area I am still yet to improve is my awareness when eating. I’ve attempted mindful eating meditation sessions which yielded a small success, however, due to office distractions and more often than not a busy schedule, I eat my lunch more quickly than I’d like. Ultimately, I want to be eating my lunches at a much slower pace, one that is not at my desk amongst the many office distractions preventing me from actually tasting and experiencing my food.
I hit the gym 4 times a week, twice during the week and twice on weekends. My workouts are predominantly strength training focused, not as a result of scientific reasoning but mainly since I consume a plant-based diet, which are naturally lower in calories, it can be easy for me to lose muscle mass, especially if I promote aerobic exercise above strength exercise.
While at the gym I wear my noise-cancelling headphones to reduce the amount of audible distraction around me. The gym I attend plays loud music, often ranging from house to electronic which doesn’t keep me in a positive mindset, nor does it inspire me to workout. Music is very individual and each track will enlist a different emotional response person to person.
Listening to music helps to reduce cortisol — our main stress hormone — which helps to control our mood. It also increases dopamine — our feel-good hormone which helps to increase motivation. I purposely shuffle my playlist to ensure I experience small, unexpected releases of dopamine throughout my training session. Research shows that we can determine our emotional state by playing particular songs. However, playing a playlist in order increases predictability and causes our favourite songs to feel a little mundane. By shuffling our music, we remove anticipation and maintain our small, unpredictable hits of dopamine.
The gym is an environment where I simply cannot control the situation around me, however, I am in control of myself and I can control how I respond to the situation around me. Choosing to wear noise-cancelling headphones and curating my own music playlist is an example of this.
19:30 Evening meal & start fast
Like lunch, I try to eat the same time each day ensuring my biological rhythm remains consistent. Again, as I follow a plant-based diet, my evening meal will consist of vegetables, legumes but also it will include more carbohydrates than my lunch. I often try to consume more cruciferous foods in the evening such as broccoli and cauliflower while also including vegetables I’ve grown in my own garden such as onions and carrots. At the beginning of this article I discussed how, through minimalism, I had discovered new interest and values. Practising a small dose of self-sustainability is one of these values which has consequently led to me transforming my garden into a place that allows me to grow vegetables and herbs.
By 20:00 I have eaten my evening meal and this is my last meal until 12:00 the following day. This is the beginning of my 16/8 intermittent fast.
The remaining two hours of my evening is spent watching Netflix with my wife. This is time we both value, watching something of shared interest. During this time my phone is out of sight ensuring no distractions or pacifiers exist. I also enable “do not disturb” meaning that the final hour before bed is a period that unless of a serious emergency, any calls or text messages will be muted until 07:15 the following morning.
I’m someone who’s classed in the world of sleep research as an “average person” and therefore I typically require, on average, 15 minutes to fall asleep. Being in bed at 22:00 allows me to fall asleep between 22:15 and 22:30 ensuring I have around 8 hours of sleep each night.
I do not use my phone while in bed unless reading a Medium article. I have Night Time mode switched on and I have the slider set to maximum yellow light. Blue light, the standard form of light that displays like our mobile phones emit reduces our level of melatonin. Melatonin plays a big part of our sleep/wake pattern and we require higher volumes. If our melatonin levels drop, we experience symptoms of insomnia and daytime tiredness.
I sleep in a room of complete darkness to prevent any light stimulating my brain. This includes a black out blind and also an eye mask. Additionally, I wear ear plugs to reduce any noise disturbance I may hear during the night. I live with two very active cats, one of whom is determined to wake me during the night, so ear plugs come in very handy for this.
There are times throughout the day that cannot be identified with a single time stamp, yet they’re part of my habitual 24 hour day. These include:
2 litres of water
Each day I ensure I drink 2 litres of water for maximum hydration. This also helps me during my fasting period if I notice small bouts of hunger.
Removing myself from stressful situations
If there are moments at work or outside of work when I notice stress indicators rising (fast breathing, warmer temperature, sweaty palms, etc.) I will either remove myself from that environment or try a short meditative breathing exercises to ease any oncoming stress.
During my daily commute I try to avoid conversations around work, especially in the morning. This doesn’t always resonate well with my wife; however it prevents potential negative and stressful emotions from entering my mind, especially when I am in an environment that does not allow me to make any positive impact. Alternatively, I listen daily to the same morning radio show, one that is filled with positives and good music to help maintain a happy mindset and to put me in a position of positive energy to accept any upcoming work challenges that may face me.
So that’s my 24 hours. I try to establish a positive approach to sleep, diet, meditation and exercise.
There are days when my habitual process cannot always be maintained. For instance, sometimes I’m required to travel for work and this can often include trips to London or abroad. On these days I may be required to wake earlier than 06:20 and this is unavoidable. On these occasions I will attempt to go to sleep earlier. There are also days in which I can’t always prepare fresh food and I may be required to purchase meals as an alternative. In these moments I will choose foods that contain fruit and vegetables and are low in processed elements or added sugars. Salads are often my go to choice.
For days that I know will deviate from my regular routine, I will try and mirror my schedule as closely as possible. If this isn't possible then I simply do not give myself a hard time. These days are outside of my control so I will not hold myself responsible or instigate negative emotions upon myself for this.
I’m currently working on an app that takes a holistic approach to health which includes activities that help achieve a calmer mind, a more energised body and a happier heart. What’s great is that all of these activities can be completed at home and without equipment. If it’s something you’d be interested in then please check it out.