Forget the typical New Year’s resolution cliches – instead, try tackling these 20 little life-changers that will keep you fresh, curious and empowered…
1. Tweak your look
There’s no need for plastic surgery or a whole new, expensive wardrobe. Making a small but significant change can revamp your whole style and attitude.
How: Experiment with a new haircut, change your spectacle frames, buy a bright lipstick, or even grow or shave off your facial hair.
Why it builds a better you: Feeling good on the outside helps you feel good on the inside – stride out with added confidence.
2. Speak out with extra confidence
Hate giving presentations? Tremble at the thought of delivering a speech? These anxieties can hold you back personally and professionally. Tackle your fears by joining Toastmasters, a global organisation that aims to hone members’ speaking and leadership skills. There is no instructor; instead, members evaluate each others’ presentations as well giving impromptu talks and conducting meetings in a no-pressure atmosphere.
How: There are four Toastmasters groups in Nairobi – search for a club at toastmastersclubs.org.
Why it builds a better you: Practising what you fear in an encouraging environment will boost your self-confidence, improve your communication and develop your leaderships skills.
3. Learn the names of 10 Kenyan birds
Did you know that Kenya is home to 1,089 different species of bird? And that you can spot more than 600 just in Nairobi? Indeed, the city has more birds than any other capital! It would take years to learn them all, so start with 10.
How: Look up! Memorise the tail shapes and colours of the birds you spot, so you can identify them from books or the Internet when you get home. Or step out with an expert: Nature Kenya runs weekly Wednesday Morning Bird Walks (8.45am; www.naturekenya.org).
Why it builds a better you: The challenge of learning something new – such as identifying bird species and committing them to memory – helps improve the overall health of your brain, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Plus birds are symbols of innocence and freedom: watching them provides a blissful relief from the stresses of modern life.
4. Take a leisurely evening stroll
Italians call it la passeggiata – an evening leg-stretch with family and friends, after the day’s work is done. It’s gentle exercise, but also a great way to catch up with your neighbours and hear all the gossip!
How: Build it into your routine – do a circuit of the street while your stew is cooking or get off the matatu early to walk part-way home from work.
Why it builds a better you: A brisk daily 10-minute walk cuts the risk of heart attack by as much as 50%, according to the USA’s Mayo Clinic. And you’ll be building a sense of community in your neighbourhood, too.
5. Take photos of your neighbourhood
You don’t need expensive equipment: use a simple camera-phone or cheap digital to capture the world around you. Whether you record beautiful details or photograph local issues, you’ll start to see things in a new way.
How: Get snapping and contact us! Look out for our new readers’ photos page where you can show others what you love about Kenya – or what gets your goat. Visit www.kenyayetu.net for details of how to contribute.
Why it builds a better you: Looking at every element of the world around you as a potential photo teaches you to be more observant; it also develops your attention to detail and encourages creativity.
6. Pay a compliment
Don’t just THINK that a friend’s new dress looks good or that your colleague wrote an excellent report – tell them! Voicing your admiration will brighten their day and, in turn, brighten your own.
How: If compliments don’t come naturally, set yourself a target of five a day. Actively focus on finding nice things to say.
Why it builds a better you: Being positive about others promotes your own sense of optimism. Plus other people are drawn to positive individuals.
7. Paint a new colour
No time or money for major home improvement? Just repaint one room – it’s a quick way to revamp your surroundings on a budget.
How: Calming colours (pale blue, lilac) work best in bedrooms; kitchens can take more vibrant shades. Top choices this season are deep purples and zingy yellows.
Why it builds a better you: Your home is an extension of yourself – refreshing your house will refresh you too.
8. Reboot your finances
Spend a day going through your finances. Yes, it’s dull! But evaluating your bills, rent payments, bank accounts and debts can confer huge savings. Could you be on a cheaper cellphone tariff? Are you paying too much for your electricity? Could you consolidate your debt to make your repayments smaller? This is an easy way to potentially save considerable sums in just one day.
How: Sign up to constructive newsletters – for example, www.pesatalk.com sends a weekly round-up of financial news and advice. Also, follow our top five tips (below).
Why it builds a better you: Mastering your finances doesn’t just make you richer – it makes you happier, too. A report by the UK’s Consumer Financial Education Body (2010) found that individuals who increased their level of financial awareness from low to average enjoyed a 6% increase in psychological wellbeing and a 15% reduction in anxiety and depression.
1 Know how much you have – Check your bank account and count your cash before you spend
2 Budget for essentials – Ensure you have enough for food and toiletries before buying anything else
3 Collect money due to you – Know what money you are owed; chase up any that is unpaid
4 Open your post – Do face your bills: it might be scary but it’s better to know where you stand
5 Stay organised – File all important documents (payslips, receipts, bank statements, etc.) in one safe place
9. Start singing!
Anyone can sing, anywhere: it requires no equipment or particular skill but confers huge health benefits – and, aside from anything else, is a lot of fun! Join your local choir, take lessons or just get in the habit of flexing your vocal chords on a regular basis.
How: Rent musicals on DVD and croon along with friends. Bellow with gusto in church. Wannabe pros could enrol at the Kenya Conservatoire of Music, which runs group and individual lessons (www.conservatoire.co.ke).
Why it builds a better you: Singing exercises major muscle groups in the upper body and improves the efficiency of your cardiovascular system, leading to increased alertness. It also improves your mood, releasing the same feel-good brain chemicals as sex and chocolate!
10. Learn to tango
The Argentine tango is a dance of impetuosity and passion that originates from the sultry suburbs of Buenos Aires. But it’s finally making its mark in Kenya. Mario Ruggier of the Patamango Association has been teaching the dance in Nairobi since 2010; while dances such as salsa have been around longer, he reckons that taking up the Argentine tango is the best way to awaken your senses, get fit and reinvigorate your love life in 2013. “The tango is a shared emotion,” he says. “It puts high emphasis on improvisation and the connection of the couple. There is no pre-determined choreographic interpretation – the aim is spontaneity at every moment.” As well as revamping your romantic life (and toning your thighs), it also has many hidden benefits: “Not only is it a fun, light and safe activity that can be done at any age, it makes you feel better,” says Mario. “The effects of simply hugging another person are automatically therapeutic.”
How: Patamango offers regular ‘initiation’ sessions and a four-week basics course; it also offers thematic workshops. See www.patamango.com.
Why it builds a better you: “Tango is an interaction that involves our senses, our motor skills, our instincts, our feelings, our intuition – our whole psycho-physical totality – to such a degree that it can be used as a tool for a general development of a human being.” From Why tango? by Artem Maloratsky (tangoprinciples.org).
11. Discover a new part of Kenya
Do you always go home to your village, or holiday at the same beach? Try somewhere new in 2013!
How: Friends’ recommendations are a good start. For more fun, be led by a challenge: to climb a mountain or visit every town beginning with ‘Z’. If money is tight, take a day-trip to a different part of Nairobi.
Why it builds a better you: Learning more about your country increases not only your understanding but also your connectedness.
12. Self-edit your social media
Promise yourself this: before I send that Tweet or post on Facebook, I will pause to consider if I really need to share it. Impulsive updates may seem harmless fun, but could end up being embarrassing, superfluous or downright damaging. Think before you click!
How: Employ the ‘Resumé Rule’ – would you want your potential future boss to read this? You can bet any prospective employer will Google you before granting an interview these days. Will they like what they find?
Why it builds a better you: You’ll be protecting you career and your personal life. Plus, by only saying what matters, people are more likely to listen to you.
13. Go off-grid for a day
Kill your mobile, ignore the Internet, turn off the TV – in short, tune out from the world’s constant info barrage for a day.
How: Just turn it all off! Or escape the city for a place with no reception.
Why it builds a better you: It helps you stay healthy and socially capable in the actual world. According to a recent piece in the New York Times: “The pervasive demand of pings, rings and updates is creating a profound physical craving that can hurt productivity and personal interactions.” The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the authority on mental illnesses, plans to include ‘Internet Use Disorder’ in its appendix for the first time in 2013.
14. Host a dinner party – and cook something new
With our increasingly busy lives, it can be difficult to see friends as much as we’d like. Hosting a dinner party means you can catch up with multiple friends in one go. Set yourself a personal challenge by serving up something you’ve never cooked before. Try rolling sushi or simmering Vietnamese pho soup – you’ll have fun learning, and it’s a guaranteed conversation starter!
How: Go to the market and select that odd-looking ingredient you’ve always wondered about… then incorporate it into a recipe. Or seek help: Lakuku cooking school runs various courses on everything from vegetarian food to sushi (www.lakuku.co.ke).
Why it builds a better you: A healthy social life is key to your overall happiness. Plus trying something different keeps you curious.
15. Write for Kenya Yetu!
Kenya Yetu is a magazine for you – so make it your resolution to tell us what you want to see in it! Got a cause to champion? A burning issue? Let us know – you could be right here next edition: a published journo!
How: Get in touch with us – via Facebook, Twitter, email – and tell us what you want to read in the magazine. See www.kenyayetu.net for details.
Why it builds a better you: You could be the next Gitura Mwaura or Mohammed Ali! And writing starts with thinking – it’s a no-brainer.
16. Read a book by a Kenyan author
Reading isn’t just good for kids – benefits to adults are many: it makes you smarter, and simply gives pleasure. Reading a book by a local writer can help you see your country in a different light or make you question your preconceptions. When you’ve finished, pass it on to someone else – spread the joy!
How: Join the Kenya Yetu Virtual Book Club! Each issue we’ll recommend a book we think you’ll love – or at least love discussing – and open an area on our website for you to swap opinions. This issue we propose One Day I Will Write About This Place, Binyavanga Wainaina’s memoir of growing up in Africa. The New York Times said it was ‘brimming with insouciant virtuosity’ – do you agree?
Why it builds a better you: Reading increases concentration, vocabulary, intelligence, memory, reasoning… the list goes on.
17. Create your own work of art
Don’t spend huge amounts on gallery-bought art – make your own. It’s cheaper, more personal and more fun. You could even get the kids involved to make a family event out of it.
How: Use your imagination: frame funky bits of wallpaper; make a collage out of postcards; buy a blank canvas and splat it with paint for your own take on a Jackson Pollock masterpiece – anything goes! For more structured ideas, sign up for a course: the Nairobi Art Centre runs a range of workshops, from life drawing to clay sculpture (www.artyparty.co.ke).
Why it builds a better you: “Being creative is important in building self-confidence – through all phases of life,” reckons Migael Andesha of Nairobi Art Centre. “People also form friendships and expand their range of skills.”
18. Spend a day a month volunteering
Volunteering is a win-win resolution: the cause you volunteer for – be it a children’s home or a community theatre – benefits from your time and efforts; you, the volunteer, enjoy a gloriously warm glow from helping out, not to mention an enlarged social circle. It even improves your health!
How: Options are endless. Chose a cause you feel strongly about – you’re more likely to stick at it. Look locally – is there an elderly neighbour who needs a hand? Don’t overstretch yourself: you don’t want your good deeds to become a stressful burden.
Why it builds a better you: A report by the American Corporation of National and Community Service found a strong relationship between volunteering and health: those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer.
19. Read aloud to your kids for 15 minutes a day
Shared reading is fun for you, fun for your kids – and it sets them up for a bright future. According to a global study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, children whose parents regularly read with them pre-primary school are still ahead in terms of literacy at the age of 15.
How: Choose a range of books – not just international classics but African stories that will resonate with your child. Swap with other parents or visit your local library. Help kids without books by donating to www.startalibrary.org.
Why it builds a better you: Reading with your kids cements your bond with them, and stimulates their development.
20. Run a race
Most of us want to do more exercise. We know why it’s important. But right now there’s too much to do – taking the kids to soccer, keeping up with work, spending time with family… next month. I’ll lace up my running shoes next month… Entering a race makes it real. You draw a line in the sand, lay down the gauntlet to yourself, and work out what you need to do to be ready. The sense of achievement when you complete the race is hard to imagine. And who knows: you might even enjoy it!
How: Choose a race – pick one that’s a sensible length and far enough in the future that you’ll have enough time to train for it. There’s no point in signing up for a marathon next week – and certainly not if you’ve never run before. But if you’re new to running, maybe a 5km in three months’ time, or a half-marathon next June if you run a little already.
Why it builds a better you: There are obvious benefits to physical health: for example, researchers found that regular intense exercise – running 30 minutes a day for five days each week – extended the lives of those studied by about 3.5 years. And it’s good for you mentally and emotionally: it can boost mood, confidence and self-esteem, and help you sleep better. But the main reason for entering a race is to set yourself a challenge – and prove to yourself that you can be better than you are now. That kind of lesson in confidence can affect your whole life.
Five more resolutions for good measure…
1 Take up yoga – Tone your body and calm your mind; see www.yellowlotusyoga.com or www.vinyasayoga.co.ke.
2 Frame one of your certificates – your degree, a swimming prize, an ‘employee of the month’ award, whatever: celebrate your achievements and those of your family.
3 Refresh your soft furnishings – changing just your curtains and cushion covers will instantly update the look of a room.
4 Try a food you’ve always thought you didn’t like, but haven’t ever actually tasted – at least you’ll know!
5 Buy only clothes that fit you – no matter much how much weight you ‘plan’ to lose, or how much of a ‘bargain’ they are…
The Yetu Challenge – are you up for it?
We asked Kenya Yetu columnist Jackson Biko if he would put his money where our mouth is and run the Standard Chartered Nairobi Marathon in 2013. That’s just under a year to get ready to run 26.2 miles (42km). And he agreed. We’ve also found four more marathon novices to take on the challenge, and we’ll follow their progress over the next year. Read on to meet Team Yetu… Would you like to join them? We’re looking for another Kenya Yetu reader to sign up for the marathon – see details below. We will provide you, and the rest of Team Yetu, with great Adidas kit – essential for any runner – and the advice of a Life Fitness personal trainer, courtesy of Deacons (deacons.co.ke).
Meet Team Yetu!
23, head of client and media relations, 149kg, 173cm
Why run? “I understand that this is no slimming competition, but I want to prove to myself that I can be tough. I have started diets in the past but failed to follow through. I have lost 8kg in the past two months; the marathon is part of the motivation that can push me further. I will run that marathon – and prove that a big girl can make it, too.”
30, communications and research expert, 76kg, 168cm
Why run? “Like many women my age, my bulging centre causes me stress every time I pass a mirror… More than that, I yearn for the feel-good hormones I used to get after a good workout, and I know it feels great to stretch my body to its limits. That is why I want a challenge like this one: it demands consistency, discipline and drive – all of which I want to put to test.”
34, lecturer, 80kg, 173cm
Why run? “I have always been active in sports but my professional life has knocked me off balance. Right now I have a pot belly and do not exercise. I need to get back into shape, and I want to beat my plantar fasciitis injury.”
29, lawyer, 81kg, 159cm
Why run? “I feel healthy, but a recent medical revealed my BMI was high. I have realised that I don’t do enough exercise – I just can’t muster the energy or discipline! I need a goal – and what better goal than to run a marathon? I am at that point in my life where, if I don’t take care of my health, I will suffer for it in old age – and I am not a sufferer!”
35, writer, 87kg, 190cm
Why run? “I once interviewed Stephen Sackur, of BBC HARDtalk, and he told me that he runs marathons because it keeps him alive – that it pushes his mind and body to limits that very few things do. The lesson I learned is that life, generally, is about discipline and doing things that remind us that we are mortals. This race will teach me about my body and my mind. After finishing the marathon (because I will finish it) I hope to have established a relationship with all my organs and harnessed the innate spirit and power of my mind.”
Want to join Team Yetu?
Write to us, via email or Facebook, to tell us in 100 words or less why YOU want to run the Nairobi Marathon!