Modern life has ensured we no longer need to worry about wild animals, starvation, and that lunatic tribe two caves down, but it's also unloaded a metric ass-ton of new stresses on us. Stresses much more complicated than just "don't die." Our basic needs are all set, but now we're expected to be fitter, happier, and strive to be more productive than ever.
A better life isn't a destination, it's a daily process, and it's easier than you think. The problem with most self-improvement advice is that it's either too vague to understand or too impractical to apply. This list is different. Every single item on here will dramatically change your life, is backed by real evidence, and is incredibly easy to accomplish. Also, you can start every single one today.
1. Set aside five minutes for meditation
Mindfulness meditation isn't just for monks and undergrads. It's essentially a workout for the brain, building up gray matter in the areas that help you concentrate, handle stress, and not be a jerk. Best of all, to reap the benefits, you don't need to devote an hour to it. Starting with five minutes every day is good enough. That said, if you're willing to sit still for a full 20 minutes, studies show you'll start to get smarter in as little as four days. Mindfulness is simple, but if you're intimidated, try an app or a guided meditation video to start.
2. Shut down your devices an hour before bed
Scientists believe that the harsh light of tablets, smartphones, PCs, and TVs prevents the brain from secreting melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep. Reading under low light for that last hour before bed is a much smarter idea if you want to get the most out of your rest.
Or, you know... you could meditate.
3. Listen to podcasts during your commute
Getting ahead in the world involves optimizing your abilities and intelligence. And unfortunately you don't learn everything you need to know in kindergarten. Thankfully, stocking up on all the knowledge that wasn't covered in school is a lot easier with podcasts. Want to stay current on the latest advances in science? SciFri. World affairs? Anderson Cooper 360. General knowledge? Stuff You Should Know. Whether you drive to work, take public transit, or walk, use this time to tune in to some mind-expanding media.
4. Floss during TV commercials
The benefits of flossing are clear: you'll guard against gum disease, keep your breath fresh, and never have to listen to another uncomfortably judgmental lecture from your dentist again. If you can't be bothered to add this extra step to your morning and evening regimens, flossing is something you can do to kill time during TV commercials.
5. Always take the stairs
You'll burn 90 calories if you take six flights three times a day.
If your office or apartment is a few floors up, committing to taking the stairs will add some exercise to your daily routine without taking up any major real estate in your crammed schedule. Little habits like this will lay the foundation for major change, and rescue you from awkward elevator banter.
6. Visualize your goals on your lunch break
If you're trying to develop a skill, science shows that just thinking about it in detail can convince your brain that you've actually been practicing. If you're trying to keep your stress levels below "My ulcer and insomnia are teaming up to murder me" levels, taking a few minutes to imagine a calm scene can reduce your worry. If you've got your eyes on the wealth, power, and Twitter fame prize, there's good reason to believe that regularly imagining you've already achieved your goals will prime your brain to see new opportunities and turn fantasy into reality. And you can do this on your lunch break.
7. Write down one thing you're grateful for every day
Studies show this makes you measurably happier and healthier. When two groups of people were asked to either write about the moments in the day they were grateful for, or the things that irritated them, the results revealed that the gratitude group felt substantially more optimistic about life at the end of the study. They also became less likely to visit the doctor and more likely to exercise.
8. Download a current events app
Our world is going through dramatic and confusing changes faster than an 11-year-old boy. Staying on top of current events is not easy.
Streamline the process with a free app like NYT Now, which delivers the most important New York Times content throughout the day, complete with to-the-point summaries, so you know if an article is worth your time. If you can't read the whole thing, you'll still get the need-to-know info.
9. Drink more water
Just do it. The benefits of staying hydrated are well worth the minimal effort involved in taking a few extra trips to the water cooler. You'll look better, feel better, and have more excuses to duck away from your desk for guilt-free bathroom breaks.
10. Increase your IQ with a brain-training app
Mental fitness may not be as sexy as a six-pack, but it will deliver rewards long after beach season is over. There's evidence to suggest that brain-training apps like the Dual N-Back can improve your IQ by up to four points without eating up too much of your time. Download the app to unleash your inner Einstein. Or at least Ken Jennings.