Seven practical ways to improve your life in 2019
Better Living: Slow and steady wins the race, so start with these simple rules for a great year ahead, writes Tanya Sweeney
Between Brexit, the arrival of a Royal Baby, crazy weather patterns and a possible general election, 2019 is already poised to be a year with as many ups and downs as last year.
As ever the best way to face into a new year is to put one’s best foot forward. It’s easier said than done: only 9.2pc of people are said to ever break free from bad habits, while January 12 is said to be the fateful day when motivations start to falter. Instead, supercoach Judymay Murphy advises that taking small but immediate steps is the only way to get anywhere.
“The great thing about focusing on and improving one aspect of life at a time is that first of all you can see the progress really clearly,” explains Judymay. “If you have success in tons of areas it can be harder to feel successful. One reason it’s good to focus intensely and set yourself a goal within a shorter time span than a year, is because the brain can’t really conceive of a year. If you have a month in which to do something, you have a sense of urgency so you’ll actually get up and do it.”
If small and steady is the best way forward, here are some of the practical resolutions that might just signify an upswing in fortunes, a brighter workday, or a healthier lifestyle.
1. Want to improve your finances?
Sort your pension
According to recent research, 90pc of Irish workers aren’t on track with their pension savings; even more alarming, six out of ten people don’t pay into a pension.
According to Kildare-based adviser Bob Quinn, it’s never too early to brush up on the basis. “If you are single, earning more than €35,300 and aren’t at least putting 20% of your gross salary away as a pension, you’re a bit of a moron,” he says. “Yes, you have a lot of things to pay for before you retire — childcare, education, mortgages — but you have to ringfence your assets for when you’re not earning. If you’re now 25 years of age, you need to focus on putting a smaller amount away, but you need to get used to the discipline of saving pension money. If you’re at 50 and have no pension, you’re already putting yourself under tremendous pressure in the future.”
2. Want to feel more valued at work?
Ask for a raise
John Deely, occupational psychologist at Pinpoint notes that preparation is key in a successful negotiation strategy. “Quoting the L’Oreal ad ‘because you are worth it’ in an ill-timed pitch is guaranteed to backfire,” he says. Instead, do your preparation and research. Be clear about why you want a raise, whether it is the market value or the value you add. Identify a specific, realistic figure, and reflect on what else you want (like other benefits or additional responsibility). Think about the wider context — how the company and sector are doing. How are you performing relative to the role and expectations? Is that value known by the various decision-makers? Timing your ask is important, ideally in the context of some other good news. Do not accept a ‘no’ based on one meeting. Respectfully ask for a response based on some reflection. And if you’re not successful, stay positive… but start developing a career plan.”
3. Want to feel better?
Learn how to deal with stress
“New Year’s Resolutions don’t work. Big sudden life changes for unrealistic goals cause big stress!” advises stress management expert Sarah Bird. “It’s much better to make small but significant changes in your lifestyle. So, start by changing your vocabulary: no more ‘try’ — only ‘do’. No more ‘I have to…’ say ‘I choose to…’ In life, be realistic about your time. Learn to say no. Try the stop-pause-breathe approach: five minutes of mindful breathing reduces stress. And remember, you are responsible for making the change. No-one else will do it for you. It’s good to keep in mind that one per cent permanent change is better than zero!”
4. Want to reduce stress?
Learn better time management
“The enduring bit of advice I have is that digital deluge is growing every year,” says Dermot Rice of Priority Management Training. “According to Gartner research, the average corporate worker is receiving over 100 emails per day and this is growing. If you don’t get in control of this medium you will be constantly swamped and will never be able to manage your time effectively. You need to get to the stage where the inbox is treated like a normal letter box, and is emptied after each visit and the emails are filed, deleted, sent to someone else or pulled to a task to be done later. The inbox cannot become a pseudo ‘to do’ list. Take back control, keep the inbox empty, and use your time effectively to achieve your key objectives, such as spending time with family and friends, and staying fit and healthy.”
5. Want a nicer home?
Clear out your closet
“Clutter is the enemy of a tidy home so my top tip is to have a place for everything,” says interior designer Jackie Carton, of stylemyroom.ie.
“The New Year is the perfect time for a good clear out — then decide how to store what’s left. In the kitchen, aim to have the worktops as clear as possible. Figure out which items are causing a mess and create storage solutions to keep them tidy. In all rooms, keep the practical yet unsightly items in storage baskets, cabinets and boxes — leaving open shelves and other surfaces free to display ornaments, artwork and the beautiful items that help define your home’s style and personality.”
6. Want to improve your health?
Smoking is on the decline (from 23pc in 2015 to 20pc in 2018), and 40pc of smokers have already tried to quit in the last 12 months. “We now know that there are more quitters than smokers in Ireland. Over half of smokers (57pc) are at least thinking about quitting, and 40pc of current smokers have made an attempt to quit in the past 12 months. Over 150,000 smokers successfully quit smoking in the last year,” explains Kevin O’Hagan, Cancer Prevention Manager at the Irish Cancer Society (cancer.ie).
Trying to quit without support is really difficult. The first thing to do is to plan when and how you’re going to quit. Get support from family and friends, talk to your GP or pharmacist about Nicotine replacement products and medications, which will greatly improve your chances of quitting. Motivate yourself, change your routine, get active and think positive and take one day at a time — you can finally kick this habit for good. Call the National Smokers Quitline on Freefone 1800 201 203 to speak to a specialist Quit counsellor who can offer information and support to help you give up smoking for good.”
7. Want to eat better?
Aim for 8 (not 5) a day
Stop worrying about what you can’t have, and focus on getting more of the good stuff in. “When we embark on a weight-loss regime we often focus our energies on not eating chocolate, take-away, crisps, even bread,” explains nutritionist Anna Burns (annaburnsnutrition.com). “Turn that thinking around. The language of weight-loss is always negative; one of loss and discipline. Ask yourself, instead: ‘Have I had my fruit and vegetables today?’ Five a day is a lame aim! Think eight-plus. Start your day with fruit, end your day with fruit and punctuate your day with fruit. Have vegetables at lunch as well as at dinner. Suddenly, your focus has turned from one of hardship to one of plenty. Weight loss will be served to you as a bonus along the way.”