Saturday 18 January 2020

20 small changes to make your life better in 2020

In the first of a three-part series, our experts offer 20 adjustments to make your life better in 2020

'With time running out before school starts again, let children play and build castles in the air' (stock photo)
'With time running out before school starts again, let children play and build castles in the air' (stock photo)

Which of us hasn’t used the New Year as a great excuse to finally make a fresh start? January 1 always feels like a clean slate, a chance to try something new or a little bit different in the year ahead. A moment to promise ourselves that the year ahead can be healthier and happier than the year gone by.

That’s a noble aspiration, but sometimes we bite off more than we can chew, and then end up falling at the first hurdle. Overwhelming changes can be hard to pull off, particularly in the long run.

To become happier at work, focus on achievement this year not just activity
To become happier at work, focus on achievement this year not just activity

But what if you think smaller? What if you were to make lots of bitesize changes, but make them in all areas of your life? More manageable, but when taken together, you’d find you’d overhauled your life fairly dramatically.

So we’ve asked ten of our favourite experts — people we really trust to give us great advice — to each suggest two great changes they’d recommend for the year ahead. The result? Over the next three days in the Irish Independent, we’ll outline 20 small things that you can do to improve every area of your life, from your parenting skills to your fitness levels to your mental health. We hope that you can put these changes into practice and really achieve that goal of a healthier, happier you.

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Today, we’re looking at nutrition, parenting and your career. Read on for some inspirational advice, and start 2020 as you mean to go on — with a spring in your step. Happy New Year!

Nutrition: Orla Walsh, Dietitian

Food for thought: basing your diet on fruits, vegetables and wholegrain carbs will improve your wellbeing
Food for thought: basing your diet on fruits, vegetables and wholegrain carbs will improve your wellbeing

Eat more fibre

One change that I would encourage is focusing on fibre. Research suggests that about 80pc of Irish people do not eat enough fibre. Fibre is incredibly important. It helps us feel full and keeps us full, thereby helping to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. It also helps reduce the risk of conditions and diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. Additionally, it helps us manage certain conditions and diseases. For example, upping your soluble fibre can help reduce cholesterol levels while focusing on the balance of your fibre, and the variety, can promote better gut health. Some foods are very high in fibre, and include the likes of beans, peas, lentils, nuts and seeds. If buying food with a food label, try and choose the carbohydrates that have greater than 6 grams of fibre per 100 grams more often.

Eat more plants

Dietitians have always recommended a plant-based diet. What it means is simply basing your diet on fruits, vegetables and wholegrain carbohydrates. What this looks like in practical terms is that one third of your meal is fruit or vegetables and one third of your meal is starchy plants. If aiming to lose weight, one half of your meal could be fruit or vegetables and one quarter starchy plants. The rest of the meal is comprised of higher protein foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, beans, peas, lentils, tofu, quorn and soya mince. Benefits of eating a more plant-based diet are endless. The person will probably feel better from a day-to-day perspective in terms of energy and mood and they would be protecting their body from conditions and diseases in the longer term. Those that eat a more plant-based diet tend to be leaner and weigh less. I would encourage people to eat a more plant-based diet to make them healthier, but as it’s also more environmentally friendly, eating a more plant-based diet is an approach that will also help future generations.

Parenting: David Coleman, Child psychologist

Let your children suffer more

It may sound like strange advice, but resilience is about our capacity to bounce back in the face of hardship, adversity or struggle. If your children never face any challenge, because you don’t want them to suffer any distress, then they can never learn to deal with challenges. Similarly, if you fix every problem for them, they will never learn how to deal with their own problems. For example, most parents I’ve met will drive to the school to drop off a forgotten lunchbox for their child. This just teaches a child that you will run around after them, whereas, leaving them to be hungry (or to negotiate with the teacher or other pupils, as they are likely to do) helps them to learn that they won’t actually starve and that remembering their lunchbox in future saves them from the hunger they experienced. So, don’t be in a rush to salve your children’s minor suffering. See how they deal with it and support them to cope, rather than trying to fix the problem for them.

Give your children more responsibility

Yes, I am talking about getting your children involved in chores, but not just that. I’m also talking about giving them the strong sense that stuff that they do (or don’t do) is their responsibility and that the consequences that come from that (good or bad) are also up to them to shoulder. Being resilient requires us to accept that it is our own job to help ourselves. Learning that can only come from experience of actually feeling the weight of personal responsibility. So household chores encourage children to realise that something is “their job”. Making mistakes and being held to account (but not being punished) also teaches children that their choices count and that they must take personal responsibility for what they do.

Career: Jane Downes, Career performance coach

Take action

What can you do about this during the season of career melancholy (typically January/February of each year) is change your mindset and take some action. In my work with clients I usually find the challenges faced have usually given their perception a negative bias, leaving them with an unrealistically narrow estimate of the room for manoeuvre open to you to improve their career. As a career performance coach, I know this much: Reflection + Action = Effective response to career dissatisfaction. Leave one side of the equation out and you may continue to be career disappointed.

Do more with less

Focus on achievement this year not just activity — believe it or not activity is not the same as achievement. Once you are on an achievement roll you have earned the right to set some clear work boundaries — learn to say no nicely and educate others on your style of working and what works for you and make work work better for you. So, to start the ball rolling, use the deep winter to do some deep thinking to recharge your career game plan. I ask you to treat separately the kind of work you are doing versus the conditions of work (pay, manager, colleagues, company culture, working conditions and environment). If you are becoming increasingly unhappy with the kind of work you are doing, then you will likely need to consider a career change.

Irish Independent

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