A new year, a new start, a new you… right? The period between Christmas and the New Year gives us all a chance to reflect on the bad habits we’ve fallen into and vow that we will make next year different, that it will be the one when we finally commit to losing weight, saving money or actually starting revision on time.
Needless to say, this tends not to go that well.
The booziness and indulgence of December falls into grim January, and before we know it, we’re in the middle of exams and in no fit state to actually go jogging or eat vegetables. And then, Refreshers rolls around, and we might as well admit that this whole not drinking thing is unlikely to happen. Barring the few superhumans who are able to stay in perfect shape, start assignments early and be responsible with their student loan, the new calendar year is a good way to spring clean your soul, and just perhaps make your life a little better.
At the core of it, everyone’s resolutions boil down to one thing: be better. What better means to you is the important question. Too often, we feel the pressure to radically change our behaviour, to conform to unrealistic ideals and start leading a new life. We can’t change who we are and our entire lifestyles, but we can make small tweaks that will really add up. Better still, we can focus on one thing that will make us happier and find a realistic way to get there, with the support of friends along the way.
To begin with, pick your resolutions with care and work out what you’ll actually need to do to get there. Eating healthier is a good start, but does that mean cutting certain things out, having smaller portions or eating more of other things? Will it affect your budget or normal meal plans? Do you have a budget or make meal plans? Decide on how you’ll measure healthier, why you want to eat more healthily and get your friends and family involved: if you have a set goal, a reason for getting there and someone to judge you for stress-eating an entire tub of Nutella, you’ll be a tad more successful than if you commit to a Fruitarian diet because it sounds cool and give in as soon as someone mentions McDonald’s.
Above all, be kind to yourself. January is a dark, cold time of year, and even if you don’t live up to the new you that you envisioned, you’re still doing your best. If it helps, remember that the calendar year is an artificial construct – you don’t need a new year to make a change, every new day is an opportunity to start afresh, and you must be doing pretty well to have gotten this far.
So, have a look at some hints and tips for a slightly healthier, hopefully happier and probably wealthier you!
1. Hydrate! It’s a dull one, but drinking more water will make a difference to your skin, digestion and energy. You don’t have to do any crazy super-hydration challenges, but trying to get through a 500ml bottle of water as you’re out and about, a glass of water or diluted juice with dinner, and a cup of herbal tea before bed will all add up. For some inspiration, see how self-confessed Diet Coke addict Josie Carr coped with only drinking water for a week.
2. Put down your phone before bed. I’m not sure that I’ve ever spoken to a student who’s said that they get a refreshing eight hours every night and wake up feeling full of energy, and looking at screens right before bed will keep you awake far longer. Even if you do find it easy to fall asleep, swapping Snapchat for a book or magazine will help you unwind and reflect. If you’re able to, keeping your phone in another room while you get ready for bed might help you avoid temptation, but you could also put it in a drawer.
3. Do some filing. Keeping your notes and papers in order will make life a lot easier come exam time, make your room look tidier, and at the very least, make your bag a little lighter. Invest in a lever arch file for home and a document wallet for out and about, and date things as you write them.
If in doubt, ask that one friend (everyone has them, the one who colour codes their notes and has every colour of highlighter imaginable) to give you a hand. They have organised their own life into microscopic perfection, and will relish the chance to sort out yours. If you are that friend, offer your services to someone who needs them. They will thank you. Probably.
4. Batch cook. Your freezer is without a doubt your wallet and your stomach’s best friend. You don’t have to have a Michelin star to make up a tasty chilli or pasta bake, put it in some freezer bags and defrost a portion when you can’t face cooking. Again, if you’re not too confident in the kitchen, get some help from a flatmate. For bonus points, label what you’ve cooked and when you froze it, to avoid the perennial joy of mystery curry night.
5. Get off the bus a stop earlier. If you haven’t officially exercised since GCSEs, committing to running a marathon in April is unlikely to give Mo Farah a run for his money, but doing something to get you out of breath once a day will help. If you’ve got time to take a longcut, take the stairs instead of the escalator or any other little change, these will all add up.
6. Try something new. If you want more scheduled exercise, to meet more people, or broaden your horizons, a society can be a great way to start. Many run taster sessions at the start of the second semester, and all societies are desperate for new members. There is an incredible array of opportunities, and you definitely won’t look back this time next year and regret learning a new skill or making new friends.
7. Get a planner and use it. Writing things down will help you to contain the spill of to do lists and creeping dread that currently fill up your brain, help you to plan for deadlines and ensure that you don’t miss anything important. Treating yourself to a nice diary will also give you the incentive to write in it.
8. Love your store cupboard. The concept of a capsule wardrobe seems to have become a thing lately, so why not try a capsule cupboard.
Do a big shop for the key ingredients than can form the basis to any meal: canned foods, like tomatoes and kidney beans, staples like pasta and rice, and splash out on some spices and seasoning. These will keep forever, and will make a variety of nutritious, cheap and filling meals according to what vegetables and meat you have in the fridge.
9. Make a budget. A new student loan instalment is always a relief after Christmas, and a chance to take a look at your spending. If you’re too scared to check your bank balance, it might be time to sit down and have a look through at what you’ve been spending your money on.
Sadly, rent is non-negotiable, but you can definitely look at ways to stop thoughtless purchases. If coffee shops and cafés swallow up a lot, consider taking your own travel mug and teabags or buying multipacks of your favourite studying snack or drink. Last night’s leftovers can be put in some Tupperware and microwaved on campus. If it’s more impulse control that you struggle with, get out a certain amount in cash at the start of the week and try not to use your card at all. You’ll notice your funds going down a lot more when you hand over cash than just by tapping your card.
10. Enjoy your time at uni! No matter where you are in your academic career, a new semester gives you a chance to take stock and figure out how you can make the most of your time in higher education.
If you feel that something’s holding you back from enjoying it to the full or living up to your potential, now’s the time to do something about it. Talk to your friends and family, remember that the University offers a wide range of support services and make sure that these years are ones that you’ll look back on proudly, knowing that they helped shape you.