Given up on your new year's resolutions already? You don't need to cut out every ounce of sugar or run five miles every day to change your life. Here, Meadhbh McGrath brings you 10 easy and lasting ways to get out of old ruts and shake up your routine for 2019…
There are great health benefits to owning a pet, from decreased blood pressure and heart rate to reduced anxiety and stress. But a pet can also help to strengthen your sense of self.
"Not all people are oriented towards pets, but for those who are, they give a sense of responsibility," says John Bainbridge, vet and director of Peata, a voluntary association that provides pet therapy. "They care for it and feed it, and in the case of a dog, they walk it and they get talking to other dog people. A lot of these people meet regularly, and it becomes a social conduit for people who may be lonely. Taking on that responsibility leads to a feeling of self-worth. 'Am I useless? No, I look after my dog, and we meet people in the park.'"
He adds: "In today's world, there are a lot of stressors and you may be feeling, 'I'm too stressed' or 'I'm too lonely'. A pet can be a little buffer, and that's really important."
If you're considering a pet, ask yourself, can you afford the time and money? Will it restrict you from travelling? "Our lifestyles do not suit all pets - what may be suitable for an adult dog or cat may not be suitable for a puppy. Dogs are pack animals and cats are solitary, so between the two, you have some pet that will meet your requirements."
Go skinny dipping
Not for the faint of heart, although it does crop up on many a bucket list. Breast cancer survivor Deirdre Featherstone organised the world record-breaking Strip and Dip in Wicklow last summer, a women-only event she launched six years ago.
"I did worry that people would be terrified the first year, but we found that people really enjoyed it. When they got naked, they felt that they were shedding a lot of their inhibitions and worries."
The early years were especially cold, yet Deirdre believes it's not the actual swim but the sense of accomplishment that people enjoy most. "It's good for the soul," she says. "People feel invigorated and renewed by the dip itself, and things that were on their mind don't seem as bad afterwards. It's very good for confidence and body image, and it can be very powerful for people."
For those worried about baring it all, Deirdre advises: "People aren't looking at other people - it's not like a show, no one remembers anybody. People who do it the first time would be scared, but afterwards they're the first to say, 'Put me down for next year'."
Go blonde (or red or purple…)
Always wondered if blondes have more fun? Make 2019 the year you find out for yourself.
"We all make these resolutions, but your hair is something that you see in the mirror every day and it reminds you of the new you: what you want out of the year, that you're not afraid of change, that you'll go after your goals," says Niamh Paget, colour specialist at Dublin's Brown Sugar salon.
Book in for a consultation with your hairdresser and they'll talk you through different shades and colour applications, and perform an allergy test. If you're still not 100pc and just want to give something a try, there are dyes that wash out at home. "Now we have L'Oreal Colourful Hair, which lasts a couple of shampoos," Niamh explains. "It's no commitment, you're not backing yourself into a corner colour-wise that would need to be cleansed out, which can be quite harsh. That would have stopped people from getting a colour in the past, but now it's much less invasive on the hair."
Take a different route home
A way to keep the brain sharp is to switch up your commute. "Probably the biggest discovery that's been made about the brain is that the structure is changing, and that's called brain plasticity," says Professor Billy O'Connor, head of teaching and research physiology at the University of Limerick Graduate Entry Medical School, and host of the popular neuroscience website Inside-The-Brain.com. "What drives this change in our brains is how we interact with the world. The nature of being human is to seek out new things. Curiosity drives our brains to make connections." When we take the same route again and again, we're operating on autopilot, allowing our brains to be distracted by other things. Billy recommends changing your surroundings as much as possible - ideally on foot or bicycle rather than in a car. "You need to be out in novel environments, looking at things, walking through parks, seeing shops, 'Oh there's a new shop'," he explains. "It helps the brain to make connections."
Rare is the person who feels confident enough to hit the dancefloor without a feed of pints, but that's gradually starting to change. Olwyn Lyons is a teacher with Dance Ireland, and her classes take in dancers of all ages. "I think everybody can dance in some capacity. I taught four-year-olds this morning, and I taught a woman that was 102 in a nursing home, and she was fabulous," she says.
It can be difficult to conquer the self-doubts, but Olwyn argues that getting to class is an achievement in itself. "Maybe you'll stay at the back and just take in the atmosphere, but you might feel, 'I think I can do this'," she says. "The second week, you might know the moves a bit more, and you can push yourself a bit more."
To take your mind (and eyes) off the people around you, set yourself personal goals. "Everybody is focused on themselves, we're all in the same boat so don't compare yourself so much," says Olwyn. "Realistic goals give a real sense of achievement, if you have that patience and kindness with yourself and say, 'I really got that turn this week'."
Speak in public
A quarter of people say they hate public speaking, with some believing it's scarier than death. But at some point you'll have to make a presentation, give a reading at a wedding or deliver a eulogy. "Public speaking is a life skill," says Catherine Moonan, author and pitch coach on RTÉ's 'Dragon's Den'. "But I've witnessed that fear. On 'Dragon's Den', I saw people with angels in their pockets and one woman with a personal healer calming her down."
So how can we get to grips with it? "It's a little bit egotistical to think it's all about us, because it's not about us, it's about the audience and who we're presenting to," Catherine explains. "Equip yourself. When that opportunity comes, put your hand up and volunteer as opposed to shying away from it. Buy a book on presenting or go on a presentation skills course. Practice out loud in a room on your own. The more often you do it, the better you become."
Change your tunes
According to a study by streaming service Deezer, 60pc of people say they're "stuck in a musical rut" and only listen to songs they already know - something Adam Read, the site's UK and Ireland music editor, describes as "musical paralysis".
"Our study shows that the prime age for musical discovery is 23 years old for women and 25 for men. Musical paralysis often kicks in once we reach our 30s and we stop discovering new music because we lack time or are overwhelmed with too many choices," he says.
To begin your search, Adam advises setting aside a bit of time for your pursuit of new music. "We typically like to have some structure when it comes to trying something new. New tracks and albums are typically released on Friday so gradually get into the habit by spending 15 to 20 mins at the end of the week hitting play on a new release playlist."
You can learn most of the basics of painting in a one-day session
The thought of picking up a paintbrush may prompt cringe-inducing school flashbacks. Dermot Cavanagh, a Tyrone-based art tutor and former host of BBC series Awash with Colour, points out that it’s often those memories that hold people back.
“Their confidence was knocked, they were told they couldn’t do it or they just have a belief that they weren’t good at it,” he explains. “When people have tried to paint in the past, they may not have had the right information, and they lose confidence and give up. They think, ‘I can’t do that’. But that’s not true. Anyone can learn. I think you can bring out the artist in anyone.”
A course can be a good place to start, but you don’t need months of night classes — you can learn most of the basics in a one-day session. And your brain will thank you: research by the Mayo Clinic found painting can lower the risk of developing dementia by 73pc, and boost memory and problem-solving skills.
“When you’re painting, you tend to block out everything else,” says Dermot. “A lot of people have said that when they came on the course, a lot of their worries were relegated to the back burner. It can be a very calming experience, and it’s a bit of a retreat in a way.”
Let someone else order your dinner
Just as we have a usual route to work, many of us have a regular order at our favourite restaurants. This year, challenge yourself to expand your palette and leave your order in the hands of a trusted friend or family member. You might discover something spectacular.
“We’re creatures of habit, we all tend to go back to the same things,” says chef and food writer Edward Hayden. “Sometimes I’m guilty of it myself. When you’re going out for a nice meal, maybe you’ve starved yourself since breakfast and when you get to the restaurant, you’re afraid to take the gamble, in case you might not like the lobster thermidor and it won’t satisfy your hunger craving. So many people take the safe option and go down the steak route. I think it’s worth taking the gamble and trying a new thing.”
If you don’t trust someone to choose for you, Edward suggests agreeing with friends to order a different starter, main and dessert, and sharing the plates between the group. “To broaden your palate, shared, convivial dining is the way to go,” he says.
A red lip is a classic for a reason, but it can also be a daunting one for those whose repertoire doesn’t usually extend beyond nudes and pinks. Lesley Keane, global senior artist at MAC, insists there’s no age limit on strong lip colour.
“As you get a bit older, it’s such an easy look to do that suits any age,” she says. “You have to change up your make-up as you get into your 30s and 40s and so on, it’s all about shape. If I were to put on the same amount of eyeshadow now that I did in my 30s, I’d look tired and it doesn’t wear well throughout the day. So for me, a lipstick is a much easier way to look done than trying to do a smoky eye. It’s less time-consuming, and it looks really clean and polished.”
Ignore the ‘rules’ about what shades go with what skin tones — it’s all about personal preference, so try a few options on at the make-up counter, ideally with the help of a makeup artist. And think about texture, too: it doesn’t have to be a full-on, matte stamp across the lips, you can take the edge off with a softer stain or satin finish.