Change Yourself, Change The World
“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.” The words of Mahatma Ghandi, an extraordinary man and a true exception to the limitations that seem to hold back most of the human race. Thankfully for the rest of us, it’s still the beginning of the year and it’s never too late to make some positive changes, so, in the spirit of Ghandi himself, we’ve had a think about ways in which we can all remake ourselves for the greater good. Here goes nothing…
Stop using pollutants
Our bodies are made up of 70 per cent water and almost all plants and animals need it to survive, yet it’s estimated that only 2 per cent of all the water left on our planet is drinkable, and that most of that is polluted anyway. Why? Because of all of the waste we keep pumping into it. Containing contaminants that range from suntan lotion to hair dye, facial wipes and lipstick, our planet’s lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater are becoming a dangerous chemical cocktail, so look into what impact your beauty products are having on the environment (and by proxy on your health) and source anti-polluting alternatives wherever possible.
Think about your eating habits
Without naming names, did you know that a particularly popular fizzy drink contains at least six potentially very harmful chemical additives? Researching what you eat will highlight things like whether it contains toxic GMOs (genetically modified organisms); whether the eggs you eat are laid by hens cruelly kept in tiny cages; whether the meat you’re buying is factory farmed and treated with hormones or antibiotics; and whether the vegetables you’re eating have been picked by someone paid a pittance – all of which should be avoided. Meat-free Monday is a great initiative to introduce too; having one vegetarian meal a week might not seem like a big deal, but raising livestock emits a massive amount of greenhouse gases and cutting meat out just once a week has the same positive environmental impact as driving a hybrid car.
Regular exercise isn’t just a brilliant way for you personally to get a free hit of happy hormone, endorphin, it’s also undeniably good for your health, which in turn means less trips to the doctor and less strain on our already stretched NHS. Plus, we live in a society where (whether consciously or not) we are constantly comparing ourselves to others – with fitness, your only competition is yourself, so you’ll start to feel more confident and less concerned with the ins and outs of other people’s lives too.
Go a day without complaining
What with thoughtless memes and outright trolling, there’s a lot of ugliness that’s thrown at people by people that don’t even know said people these days. It’s not good, for anyone, so flip it and start upping your positivity quotient. OK, there might not be any cucumbers left in Tesco, it might be cold and rainy outside, or Monday morning might fast be approaching, but every time you complain, you’re heaping a big dollop of negative energy not just into your life, but into the world overall. Complaining breeds complaining, so before you start waxing lyrical about your peeves, stop and try to think of a way to solve the problem – there will be other cucumbers; you’re lucky to have a warm, dry home; and, Monday marks a fresh week full of fresh opportunities. If you can’t solve it, move on. Life’s too short.
It’s all very well being appalled at how badly the trains are running, or shocked that you’ve found out your favourite cosmetics are tested on animals, but in order to make change happen, you need to take positive action. When petitions that you support pop up on your social media feed, sign them; if you really feel the road outside your child’s school needs a lower speed limit, write to the council and your local MP; if you’re outraged by the government’s treatment of the refugee crisis, stage a march or mass meeting and call them out on it. Turn your mental complaints into tweets, Facebook posts, forums, letters and meetings in a measured and pro-active manner and you’ll find your voice and actions have the capacity to make a profound impact on the topics that niggle you.
Sounds simple. Is simple. You might think karma’s a load of airy-fairy nonsense, but thousands of years of philosophical thinking would disagree: what you put out into the world is what you get back. If someone irks you and you lose your rag, you’ll irk them and likely irk the person who they go on to tell; it’s a whole chain of unnecessary negative energy that can be stopped short if you take a step back and assess if the situation is really worth all the aggravation. Smiling at a stranger, carrying someone’s bags who’s clearly struggling, or giving a fellow passenger the 20p he needs on the bus to pay for his ticket are all small, simple acts of kindness; practice them whenever you can.
Plant a garden
It’s remarkable how much good even the smallest patch of green space can do for the environment – growing your own veg means you can buy less that’s been flown around the world, therefore lowering your carbon footprint and supporting local producers, and growing herbs and flowers will attract important pollinators like birds, bees and butterflies, who are disappearing fast due to the use of nasty pesticides and insecticides. If you don’t have access to a patch of land, get involved with a community gardening like Roots to Growth in West Sussex (www.rootstogrowth.org.uk), or Windmill Community Gardens in Kent (www.windmillcommunitygardens.org) where you can learn to work with the land and embrace the natural growing cycles of the seasons.
Think about what you wear
As with food, your clothes have to come with somewhere and horror stories regarding dreadful conditions and backbreakingly long shifts in global sweat shops are, sadly, all too common. Is your shirt made from cotton laced with pesticides? Have your trainers been stitched by underage workers in China? Research the origins of your clothing by checking out the ethical codes of practice put in place by the manufacturer and boycott those that advocate mistreatment.
Look after your home
This can be as simple as turning off the lights when you leave a room, or as complex as making sustainable choices when it comes to building your own home, either way practice conservation within your home and it’ll benefit the bigger picture. Upgrading your insulation to ward off leaks and drafts in walls, windows and doors can improve your home’s energy efficiency by up to 30 per cent and thermal blinds will help retain heat throughout the colder months. Another good tip? Leave your shoes at the door – it’ll stop all of the invisible chemicals and pesticides picked up by your shoes outside being spread around your home.
Measure your success
Not trying to come across all ‘motivational team-building day’ (*shudder*), but goal setting is a really effective way of working out whether you’re getting enough out of your work. First, write down all of your aims and aspirations, then go through them one by one making notes about how you can achieve them. Just the act of writing them down will focus your mind on what you really want to accomplish and how you can set about doing it. More focused you = more motivated you = happier you = happier everyone else around you.
Volunteering isn’t all about soup kitchens and helping the homeless these days, and although they’re fantastic ways to reach out to people who are less fortunate, working that closely with vulnerable people doesn’t suit everyone. If you’re handy with knitting and crochet, make warm clothing for mother and baby shelters; if you’re a professional, find a school that needs motivational speakers, or mentor a young person interested in your industry; if you love to socialise, visit with the elderly for an hour or two; if you’re an animal lover, donate a few hours of your time to a shelter…seek and you will find lots of opportunities to make a really significant difference to someone else’s life.
Retraining is a big step and one that most people quickly dismiss as impossible if they even dare to think about it, but according to research, between 20 and 40 per cent of people are unhappy in their jobs. Follow-up studies have reasoned that unhappiness at work can lead to stress, weight gain, a weaker immune system, relationship difficulties, insomnia and depression – all of which are a strain on you and a strain on your employer. The bottom line is if you really don’t like your job, it’s well worth getting some advice about other roles and companies that could benefit from your skill set.
Think about how you travel
Driving and flying are two areas where you can make a really positive environmental impact. To reduce your carbon footprint (the sum of all carbon emissions induced by your activities over the course of a year), choose fuel-efficient travel options (as a rule of thumb, trains and buses are better than planes and cars), travel less and try to pick more direct routes to save on fuel, and ride a bicycle or walk wherever possible.
If you’re always on top of your own rubbish, but you despair at the array of crisp packets and empty bottles thoughtlessly discarded in parks and on roads, then pick them up – arm yourself with rubber gloves and stage a quick litter-pick to keep the outside spaces near you looking spick and span, or, if that’s a step too far, think about joining a community clean up. A crucial difference you can make here is to support the ‘ban the bottle’ campaign; single-use plastic water bottles are one of the greatest threats to our oceans, so stop buying plastic and find yourself a refillable alternative like those available at www.reusablebottle.co.uk.
Don’t Dump, Donate
Based on the fact that you don’t trigger one item being produced while another is headed to landfill, it’s estimated that for every item of clothing donated, over 12 kilos of carbon emissions are reduced. And it’s not just clothes that count here too – old TVs, kitchenware, kids’ toys and furniture that you may no longer need will be really appreciated somewhere else. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, so find a charity shop that’ll take them off your hands.