It’s Earth Day! 7 Small Ways YOU Can Make A Big Difference

Happy Earth Day everyone!

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I’m not going to lecture you about the state of our planet, I think we all know it deserves better than what we have given it. In only a few thousand years of earth’s billion-year history, humans have managed to acidify the oceans, punch holes into the ozone, destroy over 50% of the rainforests and push all other living creatures to the brink of extinction with species going extinct at a 1000 times the normal rate… Sorry, I did say no lecture!

The amazing thing is, despite the doom and gloom, there are a million little things that we can all do to make a difference.

Whilst it can sometimes seem hopeless, history shows us over and over again that humanity is capable of amazing change. Not long ago smoking in the workplace was considered a norm, now could you imagine going into a meeting and everyone lighting up a cigarette? If we can drive such a change on a global scale, and in such a short space of time, then there is hope yet.

An incredible film aired last year called Racing Extinction. Directed by Oscar®-winning director Louie Psihoyos (THE COVE), the film pulls into focus our impact on the planet while all the time trying to inspire the viewer to embrace the solutions that will ensure a thriving, biodiverse world for future generation.

It was truthfully one of the most inspirational films I saw all year and it’s really more of a movement than a film. I even had the good fortune of being able to spend an evening with both Louie and rock legend, Brian May at the UK premiere and hear their views on how we can reverse all that we have done.

The film shares an amazing story of a little girl on the seashore, throwing stranded starfish back into the water before they die in the heat of the midday sun. An old man comes over to her laughing and, mocking her, he says “little girl, why are you doing that? There is no way you can possibly save all these starfish in time!” To which she defiantly replies, throwing in another starfish “well, I saved that one, and that one and now this one…”

The film teaches us a simple message:

It’s better to light one candle than curse the darkness

– Shawn Heinrichs, Racing Extinction

So what can be done?

Here is a list of simple little things, which are so easy to do but make a bigger difference than you might think:

  1. Turn Off/ Unplug Everything When Not In Use – you’d be surprised at how much energy things on ‘standby’ use. You may even save some money on your electricity bill.
  2. Give Nature A Home – An RSPB initiative that I love – whether you have acres of land or simply a windowbox there is plenty you can do to encourage nature… my current favourite is the idea of making a butterfly banquet on your balcony during the long summer days.
  3. Eat Less Meat – the agriculture industry is responsible for 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation. If you can’t bear the idea of going vegetarian, try to do a meat free Monday and avoid Beef, the worst offender, as much as possible.
  4. Support Sustainable Fishing – 90% of the world’s fisheries are fully fished or overfished and this is having a devastating effect on the ocean life and in turn the oceans. Our oceans play such a vital role that without them the whole ecosystem would be completely out of balance. By only choosing fish that has been sustainably sourced you will help break the cycle – Fish2Fork can help you make more informed choices.
  5. Choose A More Eco Way To Commute – Can you share a car with someone? Or get the train? Maybe you live close enough to cycle in? Even by taking one car off the road you could be saving over 8000 pounds of C02 every year!
  6. Offset Your Carbon Footprint With An Eco Charity – As a tree matures, it can consume 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. Why not calculate your carbon footprint and try to become carbon neutral by working with a charity that plants trees with your donations. One Tree Planted is just one of these great charities that are working to rebuild our earth’s forests.
  7. Eat Seasonally And Locally – Because who really needs strawberries in December?

Even if you just choose to do one of these, you will have joined a global movement that cares about the future of our planet… Because do you really want to live in a world where your grandchildren don’t know what an Elephant is?

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5 things I learned from practicing mindfulness

In January, I decided that 2016 would be a ‘do’ year for me – no more failed New Year’s resolutions or plans that never materialise – I would shake things up and say yes to more, in true ‘bucket list’ style.

So when the company I work for announced that they would be launching a ‘mindfulness series’, I enrolled myself immediately and vowed that 2016 would be the year I would become more self-aware and ‘present’.

But what is mindfulness? Well according to Bemindful.co.uk:

 Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations…

With a long list of possible results including enhancing focus and clarity, increasing productivity, improving sleep and boosting the immune system, I had high expectations…

Here’s what I learned, both about the art of mindfulness, and also myself.

It’s not as easy as it looks…

The idea of sitting around for an hour, focusing on breathing, movements and ‘the present moment’ didn’t seem like a tall order. In fact, I was quite looking forward to taking an hour out of my busy week to just relax and let go.

In actual fact it was incredibly hard. Painfully hard.

Now, this could be to do with my highly-strung personality or my inability to ever be able to empty my mind (even asleep I have vivid, lively dreams), but the effort it took to just sit and focus whilst on not allowing my mind to wander was, at some points, herculean.

I fidgeted, my breath felt forced and uncomfortable, and no matter how hard I tried, my mind eventually ended up down a winding, distracted path into nonsense.

We spend a lot of time wrapped up in our own thoughts

mindfulness_poster_UKWhilst I wasn’t very good at controlling my thoughts, it did show me how much time we spend inside our own head. Ever left the house and thought only five minutes later, did I lock the door? I do. Pretty much every other day.

Most likely I have been playing over in my mind a daily to-do list or mentally preparing for a big meeting – it’s a detrimental habit though. There is nothing I can physically do until I arrive at work, so playing it over and over in my mind only serves to make me feel overworked and inevitably burnt out.

It’s not for everyone

In fact, it isn’t for me. I think I realised this on one of the exercises where we had to wander around the room and ‘feel’ daily objects, using touch as a tool to be ‘present’.

I felt stupid and embarrassed and spent most of my time pretending to touch the fabric of a chair whilst staring out the office window, wondering what to have for lunch.

Again, I think this may be because of my personality. Whilst I consider myself a creative, I am also very practical; mindfulness is a bit like homeopathy, without belief it has no meaning. Hence, here I was wandering around an office space, stroking chairs and feeling foolish.

Mindfulness is a great sleeping tool

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Whilst I may never be a ‘Mindfulness’ guru, I have taken away a few useful practical skills from the classes. One of which is the ‘body scan’, where you complete a running scan of your body focusing the mind and senses on each particular part until, in my case, you experience a sense of ‘letting go’ throughout.

If you are anything like me and you find it hard to sleep at the end of an exhausting, busy day, mindfulness and meditation can be excellent winding down tools.

The world isn’t going to end if you slow things down for an hour

This was the biggest revelation for me (my lunch hour is usually spent working/eating at my desk) and hands-down the best thing I took away from the sessions.

Most days I would come out of my mindfulness classes with a guilty feeling that I had the spent an hour essentially doing nothing and expect to return to a barrage of emails. Most days I did not, making me realise that as long as I worked smart, an hour out of my day would not be harmful, but in fact very valuable.

Since finishing the series I have vowed to myself that, whilst I won’t necessarily spend an hour wandering around rooms fondling office furniture, I will make sure to take time out of my working day to do something just for me; be that swimming, walking, working out or simply just going to lunch with a friend.

So whilst I may not have mastered the art of being ‘present’, mindfulness did teach me some important lessons: the more working hours put in does not in fact equal more work out and taking a break is an important, but undervalued tool in increasing productivity and quality of work. 

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But, just like with homeopathy, mindfulness can only take you so far… my best advice for anyone feeling work burn-out would be to fly somewhere exotic or book yourself into a spa for the weekend – now these are practices of which I am big believer!

Want to explore more on Mindfulness and Meditation? Here are some useful free guided sessions to help you switch-off and sleep…