Written by: Koh Ze-Wen
Let’s take a poll: was your 2018 a dumpster fire, or… surprisingly good?
Regardless of your answer, we should be able to take our cues from the past year and create a fresh start this 2019. Even if you had a great year, I think there are always still ways to improve your life. You can both love yourself, and want to do better.
#1 Health and exercise.
If you’re already a gym rat lifting a weight right now, this isn’t the tip for you; but all of you proud Internet goblins, I now address you.
Look, I get it. I, too, have lived the couch potato lifestyle, and have remained tragically pale because I’ve never ventured into the Unknown (i.e. the outdoors, or an exercise facility, or a… nutrition… bar?). All that sweat, the judgemental people and those giant bulky machines that don’t come with an instruction manual? It’s a nightmare.
But news flash! Self-care and self-love (a staple of Instagram) more often than not isn’t actually binge watching Star Trek or Marvel movies for an entire day and eating nothing but ice cream and granola! (I know, I was shocked too.) Sometimes it’s forcing yourself to sleep early, wake up at 8, clean your flat, pay your bills, and yes – go for a run.
Honestly, a lot of students struggle with their mental health, whether it be a recurring chronic problem or just the acute anxieties and stress of a city college life. It means it’s not a matter of shame, but more importantly, it means that we have access to wells of information about what makes it easier to deal with. And studies as well as personal experience have repeatedly proven that exercising and eating healthy do improve how you feel about your life.
It might sound like a gargantuan change, but really, sometimes all it takes is eating regular, non-ice-cream-based meals, and hitting the tracks once or twice a week. You don’t have to become a health and fitness nut. An occasional good run is all you need for that sweet, sweet dopamine rush.
#2 Don’t flunk class.
If you’re a straight A student, you’re doing fine, skip this (but also, calm down and breathe, please). And to the rest of you, that’s not necessarily the goal. We all have different priorities in life, and academics are not the be all end all; but academic stress is all too real, and that kind of pressure only builds and builds until you crack.
It’s going to sound cliche, but a good start goes a long way. It’s not about buying every past year under the sun, or about midnight cramming sessions (although, admittedly guilty) – I’m just saying make the effort to pay attention in class, or finish your homework. Small steps.
Force yourself to set aside the time to revise, and if you think your self-control will falter, get a family member or friend to reinforce it. Just make sure you put in enough time that you’re never crying at your desk the night before a test, or breaking down with a fist clenched around your results slip.
Set reasonable expectations for yourself based on what you want to achieve, and work at it to reach them – even if you fail, that honest work you’ve put in is real.
#3 Spend time with your family and friends.
Your loved ones are your support system. There’s no greater comfort than the people who love and put their faith in you unconditionally, standing behind your back – plus, it’s been proven that social support acts as a buffer for the ill-effects of stress.
As fledgling young adults, maybe you’re eager to get out there and spread your wings. I get it. But being independent doesn’t mean being alone. The ability to rest your weight on the people around you is a privilege – so cherish it.
Phone up your mother once in a while, listen to your annoying little brother talk about his dumb game, and reach out to old friends. Tear yourself away from your books and your headphones to cook up a family meal and listen to a cousin’s life updates – you never know the new gems you uncover in old acquaintances.
And also, because I think it’s an important reminder – toxic family environments do exist. When I say spend time with your family, I’m not saying kowtow to your parents and forgive them unconditionally – sometimes your family’s words can be hurtful, and it’s important to acknowledge that. Relationships are two-way streets: if you really want to be an Adult™, look back on the fractured relationships in your life and try to initiate healthy communication about the ways they could be mended or resolved.
#4 Just. Be. Kind.
Hi, it’s me, your conscience! Okay, I’m not saying you have to give up your witty repertoire or your edgy, jaded cynicism – I know some of you pride yourself on your quick comebacks or your lack of polite niceties, and you think that taking the time to say hello and goodbye is a waste of time because social interaction is a government conspiracy and don’t you know that you plebeian –
But! I’m not saying you have to be nice. There are a lot of different ways to exist, and although I personally appreciate a cheerful good morning, I know it isn’t for everyone. I’m just saying, be kind.
I know it’s hard to imagine, but we’re really, at our core, the same. The scrawny, bored McDonald’s employee, the angry housewife yelling down the street, the tired lecturer begging you to be quiet. We are all of us people at heart, who will cry at a sad Petronas commercial and jump up and down, excited, at our first acceptance letter. We are all protagonists of our own lives.
So listen. Understand. Imagine people complexly.
And the next time you feel like spewing pure hatred in a Youtube comment, the next time you feel like making fun of someone “cringey”: reconsider.
#5 Schedule, schedule, schedule.
Are you going to remember the resolutions you’ve made? None of the resolutions you make are going to come into effect – health, love, anything – if you don’t make the effort, and make the time.
Look, I’m not saying you have to divide every day down to its 24 hours and colour-code it – I’m just saying, make permanent changes to your schedule. Set a reminder on your phone to call your mother every evening, or download an application that turns your phone off during the hours you want to study.
Get a friend to help reinforce your resolutions – a roommate or a sibling is a good bet. If you want to start running every week, get a buddy of yours to do it together. That way, not only do you have company to make it more fun, but you also turn peer pressure into a productive force.
This is not a tip, but: you’re going to fail sometimes.
On a parting note: if you fail in your streak of looking after yourself, don’t worry.
Growth isn’t linear. We fail, and fail, and fail, and we think that we’ve lost our foothold in life, that we’ve hit rock bottom. The truth is, none of us can see our lives mapped out in front of us. We failed at fifteen and we’ll fail at fifty, but we won’t be able to do either if we just give up trying.
Sometimes our path leads us back to the same place we began, but this isn’t going backwards. Our path loops and meanders and is eternal.
Growth is something none of us consciously witness, like the stretching of our bones during puberty, like the strengthening of an old oak. Fraction by fraction, decimal by decimal, to something greater than its components altogether. Infinitesimally small yet ineffably large.