We’re deep into what always feels like the longest month of the year, and willpower is starting to wane. It’s cold, dark and miserable, meaning for most of us, the motivation to do anything other than hunker down with a box set is pretty low.
But what if I told you that all it takes is five minutes to change how you’re feeling? Five minutes. 300 seconds. It doesn’t sound like much, but experts believe that it’s long enough to switch up your mindset and prompt change. “Small changes, including actions that only take five minutes, can definitely help to shift habits,” assures productivity coach Juliet Landau-Pope. “We tend to stick to familiar patterns of behaviour and often get stuck in a rut. A short burst of exercise, a brief conversation or a few moments of reflection can be all it takes to break that impasse.”
Habit change practitioner Helen Hopkins agrees. “I 100% think that five minutes can make an impact,” she tells Stylist. “As a habit change practitioner, the focus is always on starting small. Because even on a busy, overwhelming day you can still find the energy for a five-minute action.”
We asked the experts to share their top five-minute tips to help shift up our 2023.
Think about three things you’re grateful for
Gratitude journalling is nothing new, but for those of us who are put off by the thought of having to write lengthy paragraphs in beautiful calligraphy on flowery notepads, we’ve got good news for you. Business mentor Sarah Berthon recommends starting small, a few lines at a time. “Writing in a gratitude diary in the morning really can set you up for a positive day,” she explains.
“Think of just three things that you are grateful for and make sure they are different every day. Doing the same thing at night can also be a great way of winding down at the end of a long day.”
Landau-Pope agrees, and challenges us not to worry about how small or significant these seem. “Whether it’s a mug of tea that you’ve savoured or a mortgage payment that you can afford this month, take a few moments to appreciate the positive aspects of your life. Studies show that doing this on a regular basis, ideally every day, enhances happiness.”
Block out five minutes in your diary every day
“I like to ‘time-block’ so that I can achieve things in my day,” shares business owner and educational consultant Jemma Smith. “As a self-employed business owner, it can be hard for me to get anything done otherwise. I schedule in one hour for me to achieve a five-minute task every day.
“Some of the tasks that I time-block take more than my block and it can lead to me feeling annoyed that I haven’t achieved anything. So, this one block – which might be a task to tidy my desk or put things in the dishwasher – is always achieved, giving me a boost of dopamine.”
“Ideally, in order to effect long-term change, we want to make new habits automatic,” explains Hopkins. “The quickest way to do this is to tag the new action onto something you already do, such as making your morning cup of tea, waiting for your computer to load, or even just after the school run.”
This is known as ‘habit stacking’ and has been shown to be an effective way to build new habits; instead of carving out new time and energy to perform a new task, you’re simply adding a little something to a chore you already complete without thinking about it. Think “after I’ve made a coffee, I’ll meditate for five minutes”, and suddenly that goal feels more achievable and actionable.
“Habits are born from repetition and consistency,” says Hopkins. “By doing this, you can transform an action into an automatic activity (or habit). Making the impact not just for today but for life, because it becomes an unconscious action. These require very little energy, whereas a conscious action needs you to think about it.”
Lifestyle coach Anne Iarchy suggests fitting movement into your mundane tasks. “There are plenty of ways we can integrate movement and exercise within a busy life throughout the day,” she says. “Every time you boil the kettle to prep a cuppa, do some press-ups against the kitchen counter. While brushing your teeth for two minutes, try standing on one leg – then, in the evening, stand on the other one. When you go to sit down, introduce a few squats first!”
Try a few rounds of box breathing
Speaking of things we do automatically, entrepreneur and author Jan Cavelle recommends a simple breathing exercise which she says has transformed her levels of anxiety and wellbeing. “Try a five-minute breathing exercise through the nose – small breath in for a count of four, hold for four, out slowly for at least four – and do this twice over,” she says. “You can also try a five-minute slow breathing exercise to meditation music of your choice.”
Celebrate the small wins every day
According to trauma therapist Danny Greeves , every celebration counts. “Increase the number of celebrations,” he says. “When we celebrate even the tiny, simple things, we get a boost of the feel-good chemical dopamine. As well as feeling better it also creates a drive to want to do the action again, helping to build a habit.
“Start adding in small, consistent celebrations – even a fist pump is enough – when you make some progress on a task or do a health-promoting action to help you feel good about improving your life.”
Identify the biggest challenge you’ve faced today – and celebrate it
Greeves also recommends practising not only gratitude for the good, but also the more challenging aspects of your day. “Although gratitude is scientifically proven to improve wellbeing, the general structure is to focus on things that are going well, things you have or things you like,” he explains.
“By spending time each day identifying the biggest challenge you’ve faced in the last 24 hours, and asking how is going through that challenge going to help me in both the short and the long-term, you start to become grateful for both the things that you have and the challenges that you face. This makes a huge difference to your overall mood and mindset when practised daily.”
So don’t be afraid to start small. Rather than a sweeping, unsustainable resolution, consider these everyday tweaks – and remember, a few small changes really can add up to a big change.