In the old days we did the spring clean by washing the winter's accumulated soot off our paintwork. Now, where this tradition still exists, we are more likely to take the curtains to the dry cleaners and dare to see what has been breeding down the back of the sofa. As well as seeing off unwanted dirt and clutter, spring is as good a time as any to extend this ritual to look at our metaphorical fluff. We could take out everything we've ever been told, everything we've ever absorbed and only put back what we need.
When it comes to working on ourselves, though, it's usually more difficult than cleaning out a cupboard. But difficult does not necessarily translate to being undesirable. We need stimulation. We can look for it within or externally. When we get away to explore a new place, we feel refreshed by the new sights, smells, environment or culture. Certainly when I do this, I can feel it doing me good. If we seek out richer and more exciting environments it has the side-effect of not only enhancing our self-esteem but also boosting our immune system. A little unfairly, experiments have been done with rats showing that they can withstand the effects of poison better when they are in a stimulating environment, as opposed to poor rats stuck in a familiar situation. So don't let these rats suffer in vain – seek out enough stimulation.
As the motivational speaker Ed Foreman says: "If we always do what we've always done, then we're going to get what we've always got." If we wish for different things we tend to want change to be outside ourselves – to be in the form of a saviour, such as a Prince Charming, or a win on the lottery, or a significant-other undergoing a character change. And this is normal. But just because passivity is normal, it doesn't mean it's viable. Changes that make a positive difference don't have to be dramatic; they can be tiny, fine-tuned adjustments, such as deciding to cultivate a different variety of plant or learning a new word a day. Even when we make a very small difference to our routine or outlook, it can make a significant impact on our feelings of well-being.
When we experiment with something new, it's normal to feel in two minds about it. Sometimes it feels the more good it's going to do us is in direct proportion to how much dread we feel when contemplating it. We often talk to ourselves in a defeatist way by saying: "This isn't really me", but we can clock such excuses and decide to experiment in spite of them. If the experiment doesn't make us feel more stimulated, more interconnected, more alive, no harm will have been done and we can drop it.
Here's my recommendation: get a large piece of plain paper and draw a circle in the middle. Inside the circle write examples of activities that you feel completely comfortable doing. In mine, I might put something like going for a short walk. Around the outside of that circle write down examples of activities that you can do but that you have to push yourself a little bit to do. For example, climbing to the top of a monument or hill. Draw a larger circle around this circle of activities. In the next band write activities that you would like to do but feel some trepidation about. These might be things like a seven-day walk, approaching someone with a new business idea or starting a charity. Draw another circle around this ring of activities. Write down those things you are far too scared to try but harbour ambitions about – maybe putting yourself forward for public office. Create as many circles as you like.
In time, the activities immediately outside our inner circle become commonplace and our comfort zone expands. What may be in an outer circle might well be in an inner circle of someone else's, but we should remember that whatever we try is for ourselves alone. It does not matter what anyone else might think. The idea is to expand in small steps. In my experience, I have found that if we don't test our limits from time to time, the comfort zone can shrink. So onwards and outwards…
Get the adrenalin pumping
It's nearly April, so feel the fresh air. Zip World (zipworld.co.uk), the northern hemisphere's largest zip-wire experience, has just opened in , so now we all have the chance to whip through the sky at 75mph. If you want the feeling to last, try gliding (gliding.co.uk). It's incredibly peaceful once you've got over the terror of being shot into the air like a kite. It is also a sport woefully short of women.
Turn on digital self-improvement
The only thing technology can't seem to monitor these days is your bowel movements. Swimtag, a wristband that will record your performances in the pool, is the latest in a long line of tracking devices that include Jawbone, monitoring how you sleep, move and eat, and InFlow, a free app that enables you to log your moods daily. You can then analyse your behaviour patterns and get advice on how to be a happier bunny. Who needs therapy?
Get fit, exercise less
Fitness buffs have cracked the code with interval training: alternating short, intense bursts of exercise with periods of recovery for optimum fat burning. The Japanese Tabata method requires only four minutes of graft four times a week, while Barry's Bootcamp (barrysbootcamp.com), which has just crossed the pond from LA (where Jake Gyllenhaal and Katie Holmes are fans), can see you burn up to 1,000 calories. Lights flash, tunes pump. Instructors are hot.
Join a Twitter book club
It all started last summer, when 12,000 people took to Twitter to discuss Neil Gaiman's American Gods. Now the @1book140 club is taking off, offering a monthly virtual meet-up for readers who can tweet their thoughts on selected titles in 140 characters. The first pick is Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin. Even anti-tweeters will be tempted.
Learn new tricks form your elders
The new evening class is a lesson from the Amazings (theamazings.com), a group of over-50s giving online tutorials. They teach everything from making curtains to how to perfect a retro hairdo, because they are wise – and cool. (If you're older you get to give the advice.)
Spend the night in a museum
Make a date with a skeleton or da Vinci from 16-18 May, when the Museums at Night festival takes place at museums, arts and heritage spaces around the UK. Artists from Gavin Turk to the Chapman Brothers are giving talks. There will even be DJs to help you party, which is typical, considering this is the one time that falling asleep in a museum is permissible.
Inject new life into your face (with a needle)
Spring heralds the new-born lamb and sheep's placenta facial. The O-Placenta (you smear it on, lovely) fights rosacea and acne but is most popular for its "anti-ageing" benefits. Simon Cowell and Victoria Beckham are said to be fans of the expensive treatment (it's not sheep!) Available at Harvey Nichols.
Start a menagerie
What else would you want to do in your own garden but create your own zoo? Encourage the birds and the bees (and the bats) to shack up next to you by buying all the right boxes for them to live in (greenfingers.com). They will mate and be happy and you will feel a heightened sense of self. You will.
Pimp your sandwiches
The average office worker spends £90,000 in their lifetime buying boring lunchtime fodder. So spend your money more wisely. Use your hands and perfect the art of the sandwich. Be adventurous… It's time for parma ham, mozzarella and caviar lunchboxes.
Cycle across the Channel
Cycling London to Paris – so "done". Coastline! Mmm. Enter the new cross-Channel route linking Devon and Dorset with Brittany, Normandy and Jersey? Highlights include Dorset's Jurassic Coast, Mont St Michel and the D-Day landing beaches. You'll also be blissfully free of traffic, as at least half the 265-mile route is along peaceful greenways. The only catch is you'll need to take a boat. Sign up for the Petit Tour De Manche (en.tourdemanche.com).
Get your colour done
Clever hair people Percy & Reed are developing an iPad app where you take photos of yourself in different lights, and they'll work out the best colour for your skin tone and lifestyle. Until then, their London salon (020 7078 0780) has a system of changeable coloured lights and reflective boards to ensures you leave with the most flattering dye job yet.
Book a rustic retreat
Bluebell Wood sound idyllic? It is. This Cotswold campsite offers two shepherd's huts with woodburning stoves and the chance to wake up to a carpet of blueness (from £70 per night, canopyandstars.co.uk). Further west, Otter Cottage blends culture, countryside and cute furry things. A short drive from the bookshops in Hay-on-Wye, it has views of the Black Mountains and a family of otters that swim in the brook running alongside (from £419 per week, underthethatch.co.uk/dwrgi).
Boost your Vitamin D
Anyone for rickets? Vitamin D deficiency in the UK is on the rise – and it's no wonder, considering the weather we've had. Not only does the "sunshine vitamin" contribute to healthy bones, it helps to control the amount of calcium in the blood. Only 10% of a person's recommended daily amount is found in food (namely oily fish, eggs and mushrooms), so arm yourself with a good supplement. If a break in the Caribbean isn't an option, we find drops the best (Nature's Answer Vitamin D-3 drops, 15ml, £16.49, wholefoods.com).
Get a lodger in
If it's just your clothes horse that lives in the spare room, consider getting in a real person. It's one way of addressing your finances and you don't even have to hang out with them – Monday-to-Friday lodgers have never been more popular (spareroom.co.uk has more ads for weekday lets than any other time). But renting to foreign students might help you with that language course, which would in turn pay for your sabbatical somewhere abroad (sabbaticalhomes.com will put you in touch with academics and teachers worldwide who are looking to rent your home while you're away). The other option is a house swap (homeexchange.com), just like in that terrible film, The Holiday.
Run the Antarctic
The Ice Marathon is not just a marathon, it's a race near the South Pole. It's held at an altitude of 700m and temperatures will plummet to -20C and more. It's the ultimate challenge, and you will only have the penguins there to cheer you on. But you will feel like a caveman from the Ice Age. Good. The Ice Marathon is on 20 November (icemarathon.com).
Throw away your knickers
Every morning you rifle through your underwear and every morning it makes you feel at best bored, at worst bad, right? There's never been a better time to chuck out all your threadbare knickers and invest in a new drawerful. At Cos the mesh sets are sophisticated and modern (mesh-panel knickers £12, cosstores.com), while at their sister shop & Other Stories they're made to be seen (blue brief £17 stories.com). If you want to spend some real money, you can't do much better than a pair from Rigby & Peller (hotpant £64.95, rigbyandpeller.co.uk), but for a flash of the summer to come, we like Topshop's Tango pant (£6, topshop.com).
Compiled by Katherine Bannon