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Small changes

Growing up, I recall my Dad often used the old Scots phrase mony a mickle maks a muckle and I’ve always loved it. It’s about the value of taking care of the little things because if you keep it up you get something bigger.

It’s true, and here’s a good example. Over the last six months I’ve made lots of small changes to my life and I’m feeling an overall benefit.

Where I started

It’s useful for me to reflect on what was happening in my life last year. Although there was no particular emergency there were a number of lower-level flags.

I’d taken days off work for stress and mental fatigue triggered by aspects of my job. I often became frustrated by work.

I was pretty obsessive – work projects, web trends, supposedly fun hobbies – you name it. My OCD-like symptoms lead to paralysis and were mentally draining.

My life felt disorganised; cluttered and messy.

I suffered bouts of low mood which affected aspects of personal and home life. I felt tired and disconnected.

I was getting my priorities wrong which wasn’t fair on those closest to me.

During and after lockdown, partly as a result of working from home, I’d developed bad habits. I often stayed up late then struggled to get up, with knock-on effects for the rest of my day. I would only just start work on time each day but without having eaten properly. I would dress lazily due to lack of time and organisation.

I was overweight, and probably drinking a little more than I should when socialising.

This collection of issues had snowballed into a general malaise.

It was while on holiday last August with a chance to reflect that I started making changes.

Eating better

Clair told me about scientist and author Tim Spector’s ideas about diet, avoiding harmful blood sugar spikes, and gut health. Until then I’d thought it was relatively healthy to drink a glass of Tropicana every morning, and did so for years. Upon learning the short and long term sugar-related impacts I decided to cut this out completely… and have stuck to it.

I was pleasantly surprised by Tim’s advice that coffee is good for you! So I now have no OJ but two strong black-ish coffees (minus sugar) with breakfast.

Food-wise I now tend to make a breakfast of eggs with seeded toast on days when I’m working from home. I’ll combine that with oily fish like mackerel. Along with my coffee it’s so tasty – I love it! And it really fuels me for the morning ahead. I still sometimes eat granola but have cut back on the amount and the sugary varieties, introducing more nuts, seeds and proper yoghurt.

Action first (thing)

I used to hit the snooze button on my alarm clock every morning – a terrible habit. It made me late which is a bad start to the day. Worse still, appparently the start-stop-start action also plays badly with your brain and your chances of productivity that day.

Listening to Mel Robbins who espouses the “action first” mantra gave me a nudge to exert some control over the impulse and change the bad habit.

Since deciding to stop hitting the snooze button several months back, I’ve got up straight away every single day. I’ve surprised myself!

It’s a small but mighty change, this one, which feels less about alarm clocks and more generally about better self-awareness and decision-making.

And since it gets me up earlier I often have an opportunity for a few press-ups and sit-ups too, helping keep me in better shape.


I realised that although in years gone by I dressed smartly for work, I had drifted into lazier habits. I think it was partly a legacy of the Covid situation and home-working becoming the norm… although also symptomatic of having less energy. I’d do the morning dog walk and stay in the same clothes, or generally just default to a hoody. Dressing like this for work even when working from home didn’t make make me feel particularly good.

I should say that I think people should dress how they like; if they’re comfortable and happy, great. And I like that my employer provides that freedom. But equally I’ve always admired people who dress well. And I know I personally feel happier and more confident when I make an effort.

So I started to better organise and look after my clothes. I retired some old stuff and bought a few new things. I earmarked some work outfits so I’d look more put-together, less thrown-together. I started to choose and lay out clothes the night before work, as a wee courtesy to my future self.

The overall effect is that I feel I’m now showing myself (and the day ahead) a bit more respect.

Taking sleep seriously

In order to have enough pre-work time for a decent dog-walk and to eat well, I needed an earlier start. And to avoid that urge to snooze the alarm I needed to be well rested.

So I started going to bed for 10pm. I stopped taking my phone into the bedroom. I allowed twenty minutes reading time because it helps my brain wind down naturally.

This particular change has been brilliant and really impactful.

I’ll admit that, as a night owl, it’s a tough one to sustain. Recently I’ve noticed a couple of old habits creeping back in, for example messing about on the internet ‘til late, or taking my laptop (rather than my phone) into bed. But I quickly recognised these were happening, that they’re not conducive to a good night’s sleep, and am working on quitting those too.

A happier workspace

In winter 2023, Harry Roberts posted an image of his new workspace. It struck me how lean and clean it looked and how that clutter-free environment must be doing wonders for his state of mind at work. So I made some changes to my own. It didn’t take long and it’s now a small source of joy each home-working day.

Acknowledging mental health and talking about it

By December 2023 I had already started making a few small changes but there was a bigger fish to fry. The ocurrences of low mood, brought on by work-induced stress or anxiety over other apparent issues, were too frequent to ignore. It wasn’t good for me or anyone.

Clair encouraged me to talk to someone. I agreed, which strangely felt like a small win in itself.

In early 2024 I had a short but productive session with a mental health consultant arranged through a work benefit. I didn’t know what to expect, but the consultant allowed me to talk about frustration, mental fatigue and a sense of disconnection. She encouraged me to reflect on what things gave or sapped energy, and to define my values so that I can ensure to do things that support them.

She also recommended that I read Lost Connections and this was really beneficial in helping me understand what was ailing me and how to go about reconnecting.

Taking care

One thing I’m sure does me no favours is a tendency when socialising to have a few drinks too many. It has various downsides but two of the worst are that it would make me pretty sad and that it would sap my energy to do things.

To address this I’ve been shifting my attitude.

When socialising, drinking alcohol shouldn’t be the default. Doing it on 50% of ocassions would be more sensible.

I’ve been normalising drinking non-alcoholic beers (which most venues sell) either all night, at the start or interspersed.

I’ve been planning the night in advance – how and when I’ll get there, when I’ll eat, what time I should leave and how I’ll get home. This really helps avoid the night going off the rails unnecessarily.

I’ve been gently leaning on close friends to help encourage me in the right rather than wrong directions.

This is a hard one. I’ve long used alcohol for dutch courage and old habits die hard. I live in the west of scotland where it’s part of the culture.

But so far, I’ve been doing pretty well. I think the key for me is to be a bit more planned about things when I’m socialising. That tends to trigger the right thoughts and guardrails. It also helps to think about the real social reason why I’m going out, which helps me realise that it’s more than enough and I don’t need more.

Reconnecting with what’s important

I’ve been making more effort to see and keep up with my (large) family.

I’ve been taking every opportunity to catch up with friends.

Let’s be honest – doing this is a pleasure. I’m lucky to have amazing people in my life. But it’s weird how you can lose your way. In my case, I realise that I previously filled up my bandwidth with other stuff. Not only did this suck time and energy, it led to stress and social anxiety.

Seeing friends and family, and hearing all their news, is a tonic.

So far, so good

This year, 2024, has felt really positive so far. I think those small changes have really helped. My state of mind is good and furthermore I feel like I’m generally putting some better vibes out there. I’m gonna do my best to keep this good thing going!

Thanks for reading. I know that some of the issues that affected me (and I’m still working on) affect others too. If you ever want to talk about it, just shout. It’ll probably be good for both of us.

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