4 Ways to Improve Your Life in the New Year

Don't you just love new years? The prospect of fresh and new possibilities always brings me added motivation to try new things that could potentially improve my life even just a little bit from the year before. If you, too, are looking for a few ways to tweak your life this year, here are a few that I've tried (or am currently trying) and can wholeheartedly recommend:

1. KonMari your life

Last year, I declared war on clutter and unleashed KonMari on my life. For those unfamiliar with the KonMari method, it is the brainchild of Maria Kondo, a Japanese tidying and self-help guru who preaches only keeping things in your life that spark joy. It begins with sorting through your clothes and getting rid of all the things that don't spark joy. You have to be ruthless — let go of everything from that bad shopping decision you made to cheer yourself up on a terrible day (probably something expensive but ultimately impractical or unflattering) to that present thoughtfully brought back from a trip by a favorite aunt (something exotic but ultimately not your style — Kondo says the joy was in the gift-giving moment and you don't have to feel guilty about letting it go). You will start out with decluttering your life of extraneous possessions but if you continue on with the philosophy, you will soon find yourself applying it to everything else, including your personal relationships and career choices.

I talk about KonMari in detail in this this blog post, if you're interested in learning more. But if you decide to go all in, I recommend getting her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, because you will want to refer while going through the process. You will inevitably find yourself getting stuck on an item or fifty, so it's always helpful to read her tips. It won't be easy; the initial stages of hauling off several handtrucks of stuff to charity thrift shops took some effort — but the resulting ease of living a life where everything I touched was something I loved was well worth it. Just imagine a life where everything you use is your favorite thing: underwear that you feel sexy in, tights that are smooth and snug, sweaters that hug you in the right places, jeans that flatter your figure, shoes that put a spring in your step. You probably own many of those things already but they are often obscured by the droopy undies, snagged tights, ratty sweaters, ill-fitting pants and scuffed shoes that you can't let go of. While the prospect of getting rid of many of your possessions may seem daunting, I can guarantee that the end effect is liberating. Don't be trapped by decisions that you regret and things that no longer fit in with the person you've grown into. I can vouch that KonMari is truly life-changing and I absolutely recommend it.

2. Start a bullet journal

Beginning Bullet Journaling with my Moleskine and pen

If KonMari is about decluttering your life, bullet journaling is about decluttering your mind.

I have a friend who started calling me Squirrel when we worked together some years ago because when stressed out, I was easily distracted — very much like this guy — which resulted in my forgetting things that could have had disastrous results. The aforementioned crises were averted and I have not been in Squirrel mode for quite some time now, even managing to juggle full-time work and grad school for two years and ending up with a promotion, a Master's degree and a published article. But the memory of that time has always left me with lingering anxiety that I'll revert to Squirrel state when confronted with too much to do. Moreover, I always worry that I will get lost in the minutiae of busy work and lose track of the big picture.

This is why the idea of bullet journaling appealed to me when I first read about it. A bullet journal is essentially a to-do list, planner, journal and notebook rolled into one. It is meant to be a quick and easy way of keeping track of what you have done, what you need to do right now and what you plan to do in the future. All you need is a notebook and pen (I'm using this Moleskine notebook and an erasable pen), and you're meant to jot down quick bullet points rather than the "Dear Diary" entries of yore. Different bullets help you keep track of tasks you've completed and those that need to be "migrated" to a later date. The Bullet Journal website gives the purist's explanation of the concept, which is meant to be extremely quick and simple. But as with most trends, bullet journaling or "bujo" as it's been nicknamed by fans has taken on a whole other life of its own, as you'll see from the #bulletjournaljunkies tag on Instagram. Crafty and creative sorts will probably be enticed after reading Buzzfeed's take. Personally, I've kept it pretty simple so far and I have only been at it for a few days but I am really enjoying it. Apart from alleviating unnecessary anxiety that I'm forgetting something, jotting down quick notes has been an exercise in mindfulness, making me more aware of how I am spending my days and how my daily tasks contribute (or not) to the bigger picture I am after.

3. Try doing 30 days of yoga from home

I was stuck in a cycle of vacillating and postponing my workouts when I discovered the Youtube channel Yoga with Adriene. Adriene is a Youtube phenomenon with over 1 million followers and over 125 million views on her videos. I immediately liked her easy, unpretentious approach to yoga and the fact that her videos were just the right mix of ease and challenge. My tailspin stopped when I started her 30 Days of Yoga series, doing a session every day, first thing after waking up.

It wasn't always easy to get myself to do yoga upon waking (especially when the night prior involved a lengthy happy hour) but I managed to drag myself to the mat religiously because I found that no matter what state I was in, I was happy to be on that mat within 5 minutes of starting. Adriene's 30-day series sessions are usually between 20 to 30 minutes and not wickedly strenuous so it's really nice to start the day with them. While you might not exactly be doing crow poses and headstands by Day 15, you will feel calm and centered, while also gradually improving your strength, flexibility and balance. I am such a fan that I have since moved on to her newest series, Yoga Revolution, which so far ties in rather nicely with the last item on this list.

4. Beat the bulge with a slow carb diet

I bought Tim Ferris' bestselling book, The Four Hour Body, a few years ago but never gave the slow carb diet section much thought as I was so busy at the time that I barely had time to eat, let alone get fat. I bought it for the quick exercises that he insisted would keep me toned without taking too much of my precious time. The kettlebell swing he suggests kept me in pretty good shape until I went into my thesis hole and shunned the world outside my research.

Fast forward to the end of 2016 when, after a few months of living happily ever after with my love in Switzerland, the land of cheese and chocolate, I realized I had also begun living fattily ever after. All the homey carb- and wine-fueled dinners at home and long drinking sessions with our newfound Geneva friends had resulted in a soft layer of fat cozying up to my midsection. That realization, coupled with the impetus of a new year, got me to consider Ferris' slow carb diet, which promises that one can lose 20 pounds in 30 days by:
  • avoiding "white" carbohydrates; 
  • eating only protein, legumes and vegetables for every meal; 
  • only drinking water with lemon, coffee, tea, no/low calorie drinks and red wine; 
  • not eating fruit; and 
  • taking one day a week to binge on everything you couldn't eat before. 
Basically, a good slow carb meal would look like this:

The perfect slow carb meal

Not so bad, right? While I don't need to lose 20 pounds, I thought it would be nice to shed off extra fat and get on the road to being more toned this year so I did a trial period this week. Although I ended up cheating a little bit every day, just consistently having a slow carb breakfast has made me feel less bloated and more trim, so I will keep trying. Friends who have been able to sustain eating similarly have encouraged me that it truly works. So if you are looking for a quick and effective way to shed unwanted fat, you might want to give this a try.

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Well, those are my tips for improving life in the new year. Do you have any life-altering ideas you'd like to share? I'd love to hear some. Let's rock this new year!