Forget dropping a dress size in a week or running a marathon. Most women know grand New Year’s resolutions such as these are little more than pipe dreams.
Instead, the best way to change your life is one small step at a time. Small is attainable and, crucially, sustainable.
The best thing about this realistic, grown-up approach? All those little steps add up and, when you sit back and look, you’ll find you’ve taken one big stride towards a better, healthier, happier you. So, go on, make this the year you . . .
LEARN TO JUGGLE
Dr Max Pemberton is a medical doctor, an award-winning journalist and the author of three acclaimed books.
I don’t mean learn to juggle your time or your home and work life, I mean actually learn to juggle. Balls, beanbags, fruit — it doesn’t matter. Juggling shouldn’t be just for clowns.
It’s the perfect antidote to the stresses of modern life, with real benefits for our mental health. It has all the positive psychological benefits of meditation but, I think, is more sociable and accessible. Unlike meditation or mindfulness, juggling is active and involves focusing the mind on a task, which many people prefer.
Dr Max Pemberton (pictured) advises practicing juggling to improve mental health as it can help to calm and console
This is in contrast to mindfulness, which is passive and introspective.
One of my key issues with mindfulness is that it’s all about living in the moment and not allowing other thoughts to crowd your mind. That can be easier said than done and also rather unfulfilling. When I’ve done it, I’ve often come away thinking that I’ve just wasted time.
When thoughts are racing, it can sometimes be too much to expect someone to focus on their breathing and the unhelpful thoughts not to intrude, for example. The great thing about juggling is how absorbing it is. You could easily do it for a few hours without really noticing.
Pretty much anyone can learn to juggle. Even the most uncoordinated person can master it. I’ve run juggling workshops in various day programmes that I’ve worked in with people who have severe mental health problems and I’ve been amazed at how it can calm and console people.
I’ve taught disturbed teenagers with anger problems, elderly people recovering from strokes and adults with depression.
Once you’ve mastered it, it’s incredibly peaceful, rhythmical and relaxing. Feeling stressed, worried, upset, confused or alone? Pick up three balls and start juggling and you’ll be amazed how it puts some distance between you and those feelings.
Weight-loss guru Louise Parker, whose clients include the Duchess of Cambridge, is famous for The Louise Parker Method, a holistic approach to ending dieting and transforming the body (louiseparker.com).
Louise Parker (pictured) recommends scrutinizing your schedule every six to eight weeks to see if it’s possible to squeeze in more exercise
Living a healthy life doesn’t mean exercising obsessively or for hours. The key is to do little and often — to downsize your workout time into smaller, more manageable chunks.
Sit down with your diary and run through the timings of a typical day. Ask yourself what you could possibly re-jig to provide a 15 to 20-minute exercise window.
An extra 15 minutes in the morning could be enough time for you to walk, rather than drive, to your destination. Perhaps the 30 minutes spent unwinding after work could be re-allocated to exercise?
Scrutinise your schedule every six to eight weeks to see where you can squeeze more time out and exercise in. Do it now, then mid-February, and again at Easter. You’re only looking for 20 minutes here and there for strength-training and fat-burning routines, but it must be regular.
Continually tweaking that commitment keeps exercise front of mind, even at times when everything else seems slightly chaotic.
The 6 Week Programme by Louise Parker (Mitchell Beazley, £20).
Dr Neil Stanley is an independent sleep expert and author of How To Sleep Well.
New research last year revealed 15 per cent of us believe we are sleeping worse than we were 15 years ago.
Isn’t it remarkable that, despite the massive rise in sleep books, experts, phone apps and high-tech wearables, so many of us find ourselves sleeping worse than we ever did before?
Dr Neil Stanley (pictured) advises against discussing your sleep with family, friends or colleagues to avoid overthinking about your routine
There’s now so much information about the dangers of poor sleep that we have somehow terrified ourselves into sleeping badly.
In a bid to get the ‘right kind’ of sleep, we are worrying ourselves awake. Sleep should be one of our greatest pleasures, not a competitive sport or a lifelong fixation.
The fundamentals of sleep hygiene — making sure your bedroom is dark, silent, comfortable, warm and free from distractions — haven’t changed for 250 years.
So, if you’d like to sleep better in 2019 than you have ever slept before, my one piece of advice is to dial the volume right down on your sleep patterns: make a point not to discuss how much sleep you did or didn’t have, how much you’d like to have, whether you snored or sweated or lay awake for hours.
You need to stop overthinking your sleep routine and never discuss your night’s sleep with family, friends or colleagues.
Because removing some of the self-imposed stress you may have built up around sleep is the best possible way to ensure you naturally get the rest your body needs. Then you can go to bed, get comfy — and sleep.
AUDIT YOUR LIFE
Former CEO of Prince Harry’s charity Sentebale, Kedge Martin now runs career-coaching teams for midlife professionals at rutbusters.org
It’s easy to go through life on an ever-spinning hamster wheel, meeting other people’s demands without stopping to consider whether you’re living the best life for you.
Kedge Martin (pictured) recommends taking time to conduct a mini life audit in order to allow new ideas to start forming
Studies show that 55 per cent of people are mostly satisfied with their job. That’s great. However, it means the other 45 per cent — an estimated 16 million people in the UK — aren’t as happy as they could be.
So, make this the year you pause to think about where you are and where you might like to be. The best technique is to conduct a mini life audit. It doesn’t take long, but can be a powerfully effective way to help you focus and overcome any innate fears.
Sit down with a piece of paper and write a list of the values that matter to you the most (freedom, trust, respect).
Next, make a list of your specific skills and talents. What’s going right for you in terms of work, family, friends, purpose, fun, relationships and health? What would you secretly like to do if you thought no one was looking? What makes your heart sing?
A life audit is a powerful way to free the ingrained blockages in your brain and allow new ideas to start forming.
You might decide you are quite happy, or you might choose to regard your list as the ingredients for an exciting new recipe.
If it does nothing else, it should silence the noise of other people’s opinions — you are ultimately in control of the way you think about yourself.
The last thing my stockbroker father said to me before he died was: ‘I wish I had been an engineer.’ Don’t leave it too late. Do a life audit now.
The presenter of Channel 4’s SuperScrimpers and a former investment banker and Financial Times columnist, Professor Heather McGregor is now the executive dean of Heriot- Watt University’s Edinburgh Business School.
Make this the year you commit to spending an hour a week reviewing and managing your finances. That might sound like a lot but, when you compare it to how long you might spend worrying about money, it is no time at all.
Make a regular diary appointment, then use it to work through everything from your gas bill to your car insurance via your credit card outlay.
Professor Heather McGregor (pictured) recommends reviewing everything you spend money on and sorting out your credit file to ensure you have access to the best deals
Write a list of everything you spend money on — I don’t mean cups of coffee, I mean serious money, such as your TV/internet supply — then review each one.
When do all your contracts (mobile phone, house insurance) expire? Put a calendar on the wall with all the renewal dates and make it your task to get every one cheaper next time around.
Next, get hold of your credit file. People sometimes talk about their ‘credit score’, but there is no such single thing — all the main firms who track your credit footprint ‘score’ you differently.
What you need to find out is what information they are holding on you, whether it’s accurate and how it is affecting the price you pay for everything. Sorting out your credit file will ensure you will have access to the best deals on everything.
Checking that you are on the electoral roll at the correct address or cancelling a store card that you don’t use, for instance, can make all the difference to the interest rate offered on a credit card.
And an absolute must for 2019 is to check if you had payment protection insurance – Professor Heather McGregor
The three main credit reference agencies — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion (formerly Callcredit) — all offer a service where you can sign up for free and get access to your credit file for a month before you have to pay.
If you find things wrong on it, call the agency and ask how to correct them. (Just remember to cancel the arrangement before they start charging you.)
And an absolute must for 2019 is to check if you had payment protection insurance (PPI). The final date for claiming is August 29, 2019, less than eight months away. Many people I speak to have not claimed because (like me) they associate PPI with being aggressively sold stuff down the phone by claim management firms, who take 30 per cent of any money you might recover.
But you can — and should — do it yourself. Everyone who has had a mortgage, a store card or a car loan even back as far as 1980 should check. (MoneySavingExpert.com has an excellent section on this which is well worth a read.)
The biggest thief of money is time. Busy people don’t check their contracts to see if they could get a better deal. When your phone contract next runs out, instead of upgrading or renewing, why not buy that phone outright and get a SIM-only contract instead? It will cost much less in the long run.
THE BIG QUESTION
Andrew Marshall has been working as a relationship therapist for more than 30 years and is the author of 19 books (andrew gmarshall.com).
Andrew Marshall (pictured) recommends talking about unfulfilled dreams with your spouse to reduce the dangers of an affair or midlife crisis
If you want to protect your marriage from the dangers of an affair and midlife crisis, you need to ask your partner and yourself one question.
After years helping couples on the brink, I’ve become increasingly convinced that the biggest threat to love is unfulfilled dreams.
When you first dated, you probably spent hours talking about your future. But when was the last time you did that?
So, my question to ask your spouse is: ‘What dreams or ambitions do you think I am holding you back from in 2019?’ You will probably get the answer ‘none’, or a laugh, but don’t just breathe a sigh of relief and think: ‘Job done.’
We are so frightened of upsetting our partner that we censor our dreams before they have even begun to form. So follow up with the question: ‘Did I stop you from doing anything in 2018?’
If they reply that ‘you didn’t stop me from doing anything’, that’s great, but again, follow up with: ‘If circumstances were different, what would you like to do?’ In this way, you can eliminate the problems of money or children for a few minutes of blue-sky dreaming.
Their answers might be banal (such as improving their golf handicap) or long-term (starting their own business), but they will get an important message that will insulate your marriage against problems: you are on their side.
And if you’re single . . .
TEAR UP YOUR LIST OF REQUIREMENTS
The problem with having a list of characteristics is dating becomes: ‘Do you meet my needs and do we have matching ambitions?’ At best, this will bring about a lack of curiosity about a date if they don’t appear to fit the brief.
Instead, listen. If you are curious about where a potential partner is going, you might discover some overlap.
Sometimes, what we want and what we need are different things. You can’t open your mind to the unexpected if you don‘t listen.
Sometimes, what we want and what we need are different things – Andrew Marshall
Worse still, it is easy to hear what we long to hear and conclude: ‘He is so into me that he must want to fulfill my goals with me.’ But this is a recipe for disappointment down the line.
How do you truly listen? Focus on summarising back to him what you have just heard. Ask questions — and then some more.
Whatever happens, you will have a more interesting conversation and might just lay the foundations for a happy future together.
TRY A SKIN DIET
Facial plastic surgeon and skincare expert Dr Maryam Zamani is an associate member of the British College of Aesthetic Medicine and the Royal College of Ophthalmology.
To get the best out of your skincare, you need to be sure you are applying it properly and in the right order.
Regular exfoliation is important, but you don’t need to be aggressive to cleanse your face thoroughly.
I am not a fan of mechanical cleansing brushes, because they create a lot of micro-inflammation in the skin.
Dr Maryam Zamani (pictured) says knowing how to apply cosmetics properly and in which order is important for getting the best out of your skincare regime
For cleansing the face, a konjac sponge made from konjac root vegetable fibres (£12 for two, johnlewis.com) feels gentle, but effectively removes old skin cells.
Instead of a face scrub, I prefer a chemical exfoliating solution (such as a skin tonic based on glycolic acid), which removes surface debris without being abrasive.
Once your skin is clean and dry, apply your skincare. If you are using serums — say, a vitamin C serum for brightening, or a hyaluronic acid one for hydration — add that next, along with any eye cream.
If you have more than one product, start with the lightest-textured and let it sink in properly before you apply the next.
These products have been formulated to work on their own — you don’t know what the ingredients will do with each other if you mix them.
Next comes moisturiser, if you need it, then sunscreen, which is vital, and it goes on last because it doesn’t need to be absorbed in order to protect your skin.
At night, cleanse your face, then apply a serum. Let that be fully absorbed before applying your moisturiser, if needed.
Do include some facial massage while you are cleansing, not only to destress the skin, but also to improve the circulation of blood and the lymphatic system.
The key is to create a routine and stick with it. This may sound like a lot of bother, but it’s five minutes of time for yourself and we all need that!
YOUR SKINCARE REGIMEN
MORNING: 1. Cleanse. 2. Apply a skin tonic. 3. Apply any medicated products. 4. Apply a serum and eye cream (if you need it). 5. Moisturise only if you need it. 6. Sunscreen.
NIGHT: 1. Cleanse and massage your face for a full minute. 2. Apply any medicated products such as a retinol serum. 3. Moisturise only if you need it.
DRY JANUARY? DITCH IT FOR A RICH AND HEALTHIER RED WINE!
Nutritionist, broadcaster and the author of four bestsellers, Amanda Hamilton runs retreat programmes in the UK and Europe.
I spent the last few weeks of 2018 researching a new book in Sardinia, known to be one of the world’s Blue Zones, where people live longer and healthier than anywhere else on Earth.
Amanda Hamilton (pictured) advises finding the best variety of wine and drinking less of it, as studies show a moderate intake of red wine can have a positive effect on bacteria in the gut
Many of the reasons for the area’s incredible statistics are built around core habits most of us are now aware of — eating a plant-based, whole-foods diet, sleeping well, living close to nature, moving more, connecting with others. Nothing that would surprise us.
However, I did come across something new for those of us who still enjoy a glass of wine.
It’s a variety of grape — Cannonau — with exceptional levels of polyphenols. These are a group of phytochemicals which are naturally occurring micronutrients in plants. Such compounds give a plant its colour and can help to protect it from various dangers.
When you eat plants with polyphenols, you can reap some the health benefits as well.
The polyphenols present in red wine make it a better choice of drink, in health terms, than beer, spirits and white wine.
Choose the best variety of wine you can, drink less of it – Amanda Hamilton
In even better news, several studies show a a moderate intake of red wine polyphenols can have a positive prebiotic effect of on the composition of the bacteria in the gut.
So my ‘one thing’ relates to drinking alcohol well. Choose the best variety of wine you can, drink less of it — a couple of glasses a week is my usual advice — and savour it more.
Vigne Surrau Cannonau di Sardegna (£15.25, ocado.com) is one of the most celebrated Sardinian wines. In fact, any organic Pinot Noir would also be a great choice.
APPLES TO ZUCCHINI, EATING THE ALPHABET IS THE BEST THING FOR A STRESS-FREE LIFE
Medical doctor, author and host of the Feel Better, Live More podcast, Dr Rangan Chatterjee also presents BBC’s Doctor In The House.
Dr Rangan Chatterjee (pictured) recommends eating 26 different plant foods a month as diversity in your diet is crucial to gut health
Put up a chart in your kitchen and see if you can eat the alphabet every month. A realistic goal is to aim for 26 different plant foods a month — from asparagus and bananas to yellow lentils and zucchini (courgettes).
Though we’re still trying to understand what a healthy gut looks like, one thing that’s clear is that diversity in your diet, and so in your gut bacteria, is crucial.
The more diverse your gut bacteria, the healthier you’ll be and the more psychologically resilient. Choosing a diverse diet rich in fibre is one of the best things we can do to live a stress-free life.
Eating the alphabet means getting lots of different kinds of crucial fibres, including inulin, found in leeks, onions, garlic and artichokes, and pectin, which is found in apples.
A diverse diet will also be rich in polyphenols. These nutrients help increase the growth of beneficial bacteria — berries being one of the most polyphenol-rich foods.
If you’re not used to eating this amount of fibre each day, build up slowly to allow your gut — and your gut bugs — to adapt.
The Stress Solution by Dr Rangan Chatterjee (Penguin Life, £16.99).