‘People do their best work when they tune into the habits and behaviours that optimise their ability to have a good day,’ says Ian Sanders, author of 365 Ways to Have a Good Day: A day-by-day guide to enjoying a more successful, fulfilling life.
Storyteller, author, speaker, trainer and celebrated coach, Ian works with some of the world’s leading organisations such as Amazon and the BBC, helping people to design life-enhancing habits and hacks to inspire people to spark change in their own lives.
‘Having a good day affects your happiness, creativity, productivity and wellbeing. It makes a difference not just to yourself, but to your partner, family, friends and colleagues.’
Here we talk to Ian about how to create a happier day.
What’s the best way to start your day to create more happiness?
Start your day on a front foot. You know that feeling when you have a lot to get done? And then perhaps you wake up earlier than usual – or you set the alarm early – the sun is shining and you feel motivated to get up, while everyone else is asleep. So you go for that run, you clean out the fridge, or get that difficult email written. And then it’s done. That’s a great feeling. Ticking one or two things off your to-do list first thing can create a positive mindset for the rest of the day. Those early wins will stay with you for the rest of the day.
What’s a positive way to end your day?
The Germans have a word for marking the moment when you switch off at work for the day: the feierabend. It’s a celebration that your work is done and is often accompanied by a German beer. Often during the week I’ll head out for a short walk with the dog, to clear my head and get back into dad and husband mode. On Fridays I’ll go for a German version, when I’ll snap the top off a beer, crank up the music and celebrate the end of the week. It’s often harder to delineate work from home, requiring you to be more intentional to shift your mindset. What would work for you? Ten minutes’ meditation? Lighting a candle? Even reading a fiction book for a few minutes?
Feierabend is a German word that marks the celebration that your work is done – often accompanied by a beer
What’s the best thing to do when you just feel miserable?
Befriend your emotions. I love the advice of clinical psychologist Dr Hazel Harrison. She says it’s important to get friendly with your emotions. Emotions are sources of information – they help you navigate your day. Being more accurate with what you’re feeling allows you to be clearer about what you can do. Next comes acceptance. Knowing that it’s okay not to be okay. Then, recognise that you’re not the only person feeling that way – when you realise others are likely to be experiencing the same things, it gives you a connection. Then think how you would speak to someone you really care about who was going through a tough time. You probably have compassionate words for others – it’s time for self-compassionate words to yourself. So think, what would you say to them? What would help them feel better? Then, say those things to yourself.
How can you have a more creative day?
If you want to be better at coming up with ideas, start by collecting old ones. Take a notebook everywhere, or use your phone to capture thoughts and ideas. Write down your own thoughts on your morning train commute, or write down other people’s ideas and stories, copy quotes that inspire you, cut things out, snap photos on your phone. On his travels around the world, fashion designer Paul Smith takes photographs of everything from street scenes to window displays. Such images inform his next collection. The act of clipping (whether with a digital tool or a pair of scissors) makes my brain well-tuned to spotting inspiring content, whether it’s a blog post, a tweet, a newspaper article or a photo in a magazine. It’s satisfying to have a portfolio of ideas to leaf through when you’re looking for inspiration.
How can you create a happier day at work?
Take a fika break! I know of a team at work that goes out of the office together once a week. At 3pm on a Thursday they take a half hour break for coffee and pastries. You mustn’t schedule a meeting then – because they’re making time for fika. Fika is a Swedish workplace tradition where colleagues take a break together for coffee and cake. And work chat is strictly off limits. My friend Sally hosts regular online fika sessions with her team around the world. She told me it’s a wonderful way to get to know one another – with no agenda other than having those real, human conversations and asking each other how they are.
What can you do when you’re feeling overwhelmed?
I read an article in The Economist about a paper published in the academic journal Nature. The paper explains a human tendency which is quite intriguing. It found that when people were asked to improve something – a golf course, a Lego model, or a report they’re writing – they tended to think about adding something to the item. They were less likely to immediately think of subtracting something, even when taking something away was the better solution. It suggests this is why people struggle to improve things ranging from organisational red tape to their overburdened schedules at work. So if you want to improve anything in your life – your surroundings, your schedule, even how you live your life – try taking away, not adding.
If you want to improve your surroundings, your schedule, even how you live your life – try taking away, not adding.
How do you deal with regrets?
At the beginning of 2003, I was 35. Newly single. Self-employed. I didn’t have much work going on. I had the opportunity to do something life-changing. Rent out my house and go and stay with a friend in New York and try my hand at something new. Go travelling. Go write a novel. But I did none of those things. Do you know why? Because at the time I thought I was too old at 35! Now when I look back at that from my 50s, I wonder why I thought that. And when I’m 80, I don’t want to look back and think, ‘whoa, you were only 55 and you thought you were too old’. Really, it’s never too late to embrace trying something completely different.
What’s the best happiness hack that’s changed your life?
When the co-founder of the animation company Pixar, Ed Catmull, was a child, his family was in a car accident on a winding canyon road. Two inches to the left and the car would have gone over the cliff. Two inches – no Ed. No Pixar! Just think. No Toy Story, no Inside Out, no Up! In his book Creativity Inc, Ed describes this as a two-inch moment. Let’s tune into those events where you are two inches from misadventure and two inches from opportunity. So many of the trajectories in my life have been that close. Two inches from an ‘aaagh’. But also two inches from a ‘wooaah!’
On a Sunday evening in August 2003, the very last day of my ten-day internet dating trial subscription, I decided to check the dating website one final time. I guess it was one of those moments when I nearly didn’t bother (definitely two inches either way). The site suggested I was a good match with ‘Zoë from Streatham’. I clicked on her. She’s my wife!
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