The Big Power of Small Changes

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Stuck in a rut.

The daily grind.

On a hamster wheel.

These phrases are often called upon to describe the routine of day to day life, a sense of repetitiveness. They invoke the idea of escapism and seeking something new, different and exciting to find happiness. This may be in the form of a new job, a new house or a new partner.

Daniel Gilbert, an influential researcher around happiness, claims that we, as humans, completely misinterpret how major lifestyle overhauls and events will make us feel. Trying to predict how we will react after a positive or negative event or change has been called affective forecasting – but we’re pretty bad at it. According to Positive Psychology, we suffer from impact bias which ’causes us to mistakenly over-predict (or sometimes under-predict) the enduring impact that future events will have on our emotions’. In other words, Gilbert’s research highlights how that major change we seek is probably unlikely to have the impact on our happiness that we think it will.

Slow living linen flatlay

Doing Things Differently Every Day

Psychologist Susanne Piët believes that you can find a ‘different life’ in much smaller, more achievable changes. Speaking to Flow Magazine she says that repetitive routines can cause use to feel bored and apathetic, yet seeking a solution in something major is not always realistic. Her argument is to become more mindful of the everyday by switching off autopilot and making your brain more aware. Piët confirms, ‘small changes are less definitive, and you can have a lot of fun experimenting, without any major consequences’. This means shaking up your routine by doing things such as:

  • Trying a new route for your daily commute
  • Eating something different for breakfast, or even getting up earlier to enjoy it with a newspaper or book
  • Listening to a new podcast
  • Arranging fresh, seasonal flowers in your home
  • Cooking a recipe you’ve never tried before
  • Going for a walk somewhere you’ve never been before

Giving Free Time More Value

In addition to creating more variety and joie de vivre in our everyday routines, others believe that the key to happiness lies in planning our spare time more carefully. Professor of social psychology Ap Dijksterhuis claims that we fill most of our spare time with things that aren’t making us happy (scrolling on social media, for example), rather than those activities that do (exercising, socialising and so on). In an interview with Flow Magazine, Dijksterhuis says, ‘most people would probably be happier if they spent their free time more wisely’. A practical and logical solution, yet offering much food for thought.

On the journey to make considered decisions about major life changes, such as getting a new job or uprooting to a new city, it may be first worth exploring if smaller, more achievable tweaks to daily life may have the impact you’re seeking. In the words of Andy Warhol, ‘let the little things that would ordinarily bore you suddenly thrill you’.

This article is part of A Year of Living Slower – 12 monthly experiments in living better, not faster. July’s theme is Slow Living and Seeing Things Differently.

A Year of Living Slower, July: Slow Living and Seeing Things Differently

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Welcome back to A Year of Living Slower. We are officially halfway through having completed six separate challenges. The next few months are set for more interesting and thought-provoking topics around living better, not faster, including sustainability and slow living in the city. At the halfway point, we reflect on the challenge so far and introduce July’s intriguing theme of ‘seeing things differently’.

We kicked off A Year of Living Slower with the basics in Januarytips for a calm bedtime ritual to improve sleep quality. In February, we focused on putting the slow back into sundays and making time for ourselves before the week begins. For March‘s challenge, we explored about slow food and seasonal eating. The year-long challenge turned to the power of getting back to nature in April. And then in May, we shared tips and inspiration around the theme of slow travel, from practising the art of slow looking to London day trips. Finally in June, we focused on slow tech and Cal Newport’s digital minimalism – a framework to manage our relationship with our phones so that they remain a tool, rather than a distraction.

Seeing things differently in July

The enthusiasm for making change and setting goals that flows in January and the spring has most likely waned as we reach the halfway point of the year. We’ve settled comfortably into our routines and are prone to exclaiming, “time flies!” or “can you believe it’s already July?”, while perhaps internally lamenting inside that we’re not where we hoped we’d be at this point.

The focus for A Year of Living Slower was and continues to be an alternative to unrealistic New Year’s resolutions that we forget or give up with soon after we’ve made them. In July, we revitalise our impetus for achievable change by seeing things (the everyday) differently. We’ll focus on switching off autopilot to become more mindful and exploring how small changes to our routines can lead to larger changes, or perhaps, just a boosted joie de vivre.

In July, we take inspiration from Van Gogh, who is quoted to have said, “great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together”.

Join us for July’s challenge to become more mindful and thrive from the impact of small changes.

How to Embrace Digital Minimalism after a ‘Decade of Digital Dependency’

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In January 2007, Steve Jobs revealed the very first iPhone at the Macworld conference. Since then, the way we interact and consume information has changed immeasurably. To mark the evolution of the smartphone, Ofcom focused their 2018 Communications Market Report on the ‘decade of digital dependency’.

Today, we spend an average of 2 hours 28 minutes online each day. For 16 to 24 year olds, this figure reaches 3 hours 14 mins a day. In Ofcom’s report, 78% of respondents said they couldn’t live without their phones, despite 43% admitting that they think they spend too much time online and over half the respondents saying that connected devices disrupt in-person conversations with loved ones.

Digital Minimalism to Beat the Attention Deficit

Dubbed the Marie Kondo of our digital lives, professor and author Cal Newport believes that, while no one app is to blame, the addictive nature of our devices is damaging our quality of life and sense of autonomy. His solution? To strip back the digital clutter. By applying ‘digital minimalism’ and reducing digital interactions to only those that support ‘things you deeply value’, we ensure technology is serving us, rather than enslaving us through distractions.

Much like Kondo, Newport’s ethos isn’t the sterile, restricted idea of minimalism that many hold as a preconception. It’s about focusing on what brings you joy and offers the most value and determining how tech can enhance what’s important to you. Newport isn’t inherently slamming the use of technology, rather through digital minimalism he’s offering a fundamental framework for managing tech that has been so sorely lacking. In his latest book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, Newport explains, “Digital minimalism definitively does not reject the innovations of the internet age, but instead rejects the way so many people currently engage with these tools”.

Digital Decluttering and Re-finding Pleasure in Analogue Pursuits

Digital minimalism is well aligned to the slow living mindset; slowing down and switching off auto-pilot to make more conscious decisions for our well-being. To Newport, slow tech tips, like turning off notifications and occasional digital detoxes (which are usually compromised by family or work needs), don’t go far enough. Due to the addictive nature of our devices (some have likened them to miniature slot machines in our pockets which we ‘pull down to refresh’), Newport believes tackling habits one by one won’t work; the attention economy will draw us back in.

How do we begin stripping back the layers of our digital dependency that has become so entrenched in daily life? And how do we do so in a sustainable way? Many are turning to Newport’s 30-day digital declutter to start replacing mindless scrolling with meaningful analogue pursuits:

1.Take a 30-day break from non-necessary technologies

The first step towards digital minimalism is to remove ‘optional’ technology from your lifestyle – such as social media. Technology you need for work, of course, is fine (during work hours).

2. Embrace analogue activities

Rediscover or try out new offline activities to fill the tech-free void. Perhaps that’s taking up exercising, doing something creative, or even getting started on the book that’s been on your bedside table for months.

The idea is to pursue activities that have meaning and value for you and discover how you really want to be filling your time.

3. Reintroduce optional technologies that support what you value

At the end of the 30 day period, selectively reintroduce technology that helps serve your aspirations and what you deem important. Newport explains, “the goal of this final step is to start from a blank slate and only let back into your life technology that passes your strict minimalist standards.”

The popularity of both Newport and Kondo’s decluttering techniques highlight how many of us feel our lives have reached saturation point, whether that’s through constant communication and connection, or through constant consumption. There’s never been a better time to explore a simpler lifestyle that prioritises living better, rather than faster.

This article is part of A Year of Living Slower – 12 monthly experiments in living better, not faster. June’s theme is Slow Tech.

A Year of Living Slower, June: Slow Tech

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Welcome to the sixth month of A Year of Living Slower, a collection of 12 monthly challenges in living better, not faster.

A Year of Living Slower started in January with tips for a calm bedtime ritual to maximise your sleep. In February, we focused on Slow Sundays and making time to practise self care. In March, we discussed slow food and seasonal eating. As Spring sprung, the challenge turned to the power of getting back to nature in April. And finally in May, we shared inspiration and ideas around slow travel, including how to get more from your trip, whether that’s going off-grid and recharging in the countryside, or practising the art of slow looking on a city break.

This month, we’re tackling tech, something that both enables and arguably complicates our lifestyles. The aim of the month is to gain a better understanding of your relationship with your phone and to know if switching off more regularly could actually help you recharge.

Talking About our Relationship with Technology

While we’re immensely privileged to live in an era of knowledge sharing and connectivity and we’re far from advocating digital luddism, we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the more negative aspects of technology. That includes, in particular, the way our 24/7 digital interconnectedness and FOMO-culture affects mental health, productivity and our relationships. Research is still developing and technology use is likely to affect us all differently, yet one thing is very clear: smartphones, social media and digital communication are a huge part of daily life and are here to stay. It’s vital that we become equipped to deal with their impact.

The following stats from Deloitte’s 2017 Global Mobile Consumer Survey highlight how reliant we have become on screens and are a good place to start when considering your own screen time:

  • 34% of UK adults check their phones within five minutes of waking up.
  • 53% of 16-75-year olds use phones while walking and 11% would continue doing so as they cross the road.
  • 78% of us use our phones in the hour before going to bed, jeopardising our sleep quality due to blue light exposure.

If you’re fed up with wasting time on your phone, join us in June and start exploring the concepts of slow tech and digital detox.

6 of the Best London Day Trips for a Change of Scenery

Buildings in Bath

In need of some escapism? You don’t have to travel far to experience a change of scenery from the London skyline, whether that be historical buildings or rolling countryside views. Embrace the principles of slow travel and explore somewhere new at your own pace with these London day trips.

1. Bath

The picturesque city of Bath became a World Heritage Site in 1987 due to its Roman ruins and hot springs. There is plenty to do in Bath, including visiting the famous Roman baths, taking a dip in the popular modern spa, shopping, eating and exploring the Royal Crescent.

Trains from London Paddington to Bath take approximately 1 hour 30 minutes.

2. Whitstable, Kent

Wooden beach huts in Whitstable

For a change of pace, independent shopping and some fantastic fresh fish, Whitstable is a great choice for a day trip from London. Renowned for its oysters, this pretty seaside town has a big reputation. Tuck into some fish and chips and walk along the seafront to Tankerton Beach to admire the colourful beach huts.

Trains from London Victoria take around 1 hour 20 minutes and trains from St Pancras take around 1 hour 10 minutes.

3. Hitchin Lavender, Hertfordshire

Fields of Lavender, Hitchin

Reap the benefits of getting back to nature and leave with a bag of blooms at the highly Instagram-worthy Hitchin Lavender Farm. The swathes of sweetly-scented lavender and adjacent sunflower fields couldn’t be further from your normal city scenes. Filling your paper bag to the brim with stems takes quite a while making the whole experience both relaxing and mindful.

Trains from St Pancras to Hitchin take just 37 minutes. From there, it’s a less than 10 minute taxi or Uber ride away. If you’re driving, it’s not far from the A1M and there is ample parking.

4. Oxford

Perhaps needing little introduction, Oxford is known as The City of Dreaming Spires and continues to attract visitors from around the world for its architecture and university. From exploring the Bodleian Library (one of the oldest in Europe) and colleges, to trying your hand at punting on the river and visiting the Botanic Garden, there is a lot to see and do in Oxford.

Trains from Paddington and Marylebone take around 1 hour to reach Oxford. The Oxford Tube bus services runs 24/7 from the following stops: Hillingdon, Shepherd’s Bush, Notting Hill Gate, Marble Arch and Victoria. From Victoria, this takes 1 hour 50 minutes- longer if there is traffic.

5. Henley-on-Thames

If Henley rings a bell, it’s probably because of the annual Royal Regatta that is hosted in this Oxfordshire town. While Henley comes to life in the summer for the boat races and a music festival, it’s an enjoyable day trip from London all year round. With a pretty market square, riverside walks and plenty of shops, pubs and restaurants to visit, it’s easy to while away an afternoon here. If you’re driving, popular National Trust property Greys Court is 10 minutes away.

Trains from Paddington take around 1 hour 10 minutes, changing at Twyford.

6. The Cotswolds

Indoor plants at The Burford Garden Company

As an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), there are almost too many picturesque villages and towns to list in the Cotswolds. With the area’s trademark stone and stunning countryside, it makes for a perfect city escape. Here are a few places that are worth visiting:

  • Burford: a pretty little town which is home to The Burford Garden Company – much more than your usual garden centre with a fantastic cafe and carefully curated homewares section.
  • Bibury: a popular village with a row of quaint stone cottages
  • Cirencester: a market town in east Gloucestershire, the largest in the Cotswolds

Coach tours do run from London, but in order to experience the serenity of the area and get away from the crowds, it’s easier to travel by car and plan a road trip.

To explore somewhere new and escape the city, these are six of the best day trips from London. If you’re sightseeing on your trip, don’t forget to try the art of slow looking – a slow living inspired method to get more from cultural experiences.

This article is part of A Year of Living Slower – 12 monthly experiments in living better, not faster. May’s theme is Slow Travel.