No doubt that 2020 has been an emotional rollercoaster for all of us, but now that the year has passed and we’ve been transported into 2021 with strings of “Happy New Year!” wishes, it’s time for us to lick our 2020 wounds and start anew. Let’s actually make it a Happy New Year – the year we take back our sense of control that has been robbed by the pandemic.

Unfortunately, this article does not contain the secrets to getting rid of the virus, but it does contain advice on how to live 2021 on your own terms, even when it seems like the world is spiralling into chaos. The goal is to take advantage of the current circumstances and spin it into productivity. 

If you find yourself saying ‘no thanks’ to change, then this article is meant for you. Yes you, stranger huddled up in your comfort zone. Whether you spend hours fixated on levelling up in your video game, cancelling plans to read a good book or swearing to watch only ‘one more episode’ until the sun rises – it’s time to break out of your roundabout routines and dip your toes into something new. I have four simple and achievable habits for you to try out this year; easy habits that act as a foundation to something more sustainable. 

So fasten your seatbelts, it’s time for the next rollercoaster ride – only this time, you’re manning the controls. 

First Pitstop: Exercising

A cliché start, I know. If you have not been swept by the quarantine workout wave in 2020, now’s the time to start or at the very least try. 

I’m sure your primary school days have drilled the benefits of exercising into your brain to a point where it has become redundant. But as a recap, studies have found that exercise can help with depression by blocking negative thoughts, improving sleeping patterns and changing chemical levels in your brain. This is especially a good break for college students after being piled on with mountains of assignments. In addition to a good mental health, your physical health can also benefit greatly from exercise as it can strengthen your bones and muscles, reduce your risk of some cancers (colon, breast, lung and uterine) and help your body manage blood sugar and insulin levels.

The term ‘exercising’ in this context is very loose; any form of physical activity will do. If you loathe the very thought of going outside then don’t fret, there’s a lot of variations of exercising that you may enjoy. Primarily, home workouts which you can do in the comfort of your own room. There is no end to free fitness videos which you can find online followed by program schedules and people in the comment section hyping you up. You can try a fun 3 minute ‘Kill This Love’ cardio or a 10 minutes abs challenge. If you are just starting out, be sure not to overexert yourself so that the experience can be enjoyable rather than exhausting. 

For those who enjoy watching films such as The Hunger Games or playing any action video games that require trekking, then you can take up hiking. The trick is to imagine you’re part of the movie or part of a video game, which beats 4D or VR in my opinion. Hiking can be less tiring compared to other activities as you have a fixed destination to reach and the view from the top will be worth the climb. Plus, it could be a bonding opportunity for you and your friends which may be more exciting than walking around aimlessly in malls together.

To a certain extent, we all have our own personal body goals that we want to achieve. Perhaps to gain a bit more muscle, or to lose a few kilos. There is nothing wrong with that as long as your goals are realistic and that you don’t forget to love your body. And as sad as it is, the only way we can attain the body we want is through exercise. So it’s time for us to dig up our old sports shoes and get active!

Who knows, with the rate the world is going, a zombie apocalypse may not be so far-fetched so you might want to start working on your stamina to outrun them.

Second Pitstop: Eating and Drinking Healthier

Don’t worry, I won’t try to convert you into a vegan. Although if you are one, then I salute you for giving up meat for the greater good. But what I mean is to be more tactful about what you consume and when you consume it. There’s a reason why I chose the keyword  healthier

Let’s highlight the biggest trend – sugary drinks. This could range from that addictive cup of boba milk tea to the lifestyle choice of starting your day with a Starbucks drink. At times when you see a Boba stall with a long line, and are tempted to join in – stop. A single serving of a milk tea with boba contains 299 calories and 38 grams of sugar. A Starbucks grande with whole milk and whipped cream has 480 calories and 70 grams of sugar. It should be noted that The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25 grams of sugar for women and 36 grams of sugar for men a day.

To add salt, or in this case sugar, to the wound, this innocent table condiment has been linked to an array of unwanted consequences such as weight gain, increased risk of heart disease, increased risk of depression, accelerated skin aging, and a long list of other health risks.

If you find it hard to give up on your sugary cravings, try a cold glass of water and a slice of lemon. This should be enough to quench your thirst for something sweet. And to those who rely on sugary substances as their life source, then my suggestion would be to cut down on the sugar. Start from requesting for only 75% of sugar, then reduce it to 50%, then 25% and sooner or later you’ll barely taste the difference once it’s at 0%. This also applies to any other snacks or desserts which contain high amounts of sugar; try slowly cutting it off from your life. Trust me, not only will your body thank you but so will your wallet. 

In addition to minding your diet, you should also mind the hours you spend eating. Studies have suggested that eating late at night can have negative effects on your health such as inflammation, weight gain, impaired memory, altered hormone function and increase in blood sugar levels. As sad as it may be, you may have to give up your late-night romantic walks to the fridge. In case you do feel hungry later in the evening, opt for high-protein snacks over carbohydrate-heavy meals.

Remember that you have a say in your food choices so be stronger than your cravings. 

Third Pitstop: Meeting New People

To all the introverts out there, please don’t click out of the article yet. Taking into account that we are currently living through a pandemic, interactions online would be just as beneficial, as long as your online friend does not claim to be a Nigerian prince. If your new online friend asks you to send money his or her way, it’s probably best to exit out of that friendship.

With that precaution aside, the internet gives us the luxury to pick and choose any friend we want from all across the globe. Various platforms offer unique ways of meeting new people: playing video games like PUBG with strangers can introduce a sense of comradery that can be molded into friendship, going on Tumblr gives you a safe space to explore your interests and interact with people that inspire you, and participating in reddit discussions gives you a chance to practice your communication skills among people who enjoy the things that you do. It may seem intimidating at first to be the first one to initiate a conversation, but do remember that you’ll be doing it behind the safety of your screens. If you do end up embarrassing yourself, there’s always that glorious ‘exit’ button that has your back. Regardless of which platform you choose, the benefits you’ll gain from it range from reducing your stress, improving your self-confidence and helping you cope with any trauma. 

At the off-chance that students are able to return to campus, take the chance to join a curricular activity. Not only will you learn a new skill, boost academic performances, and impress  universities, but you’ll also be able to hone your social skills. People who are involved in student leadership bodies or clubs are often friendly and will have no trouble helping you fit right in. You’ll get the chance to widen your social circle simply with a smile and an invitation to a conversation. Although the prospect of talking to a stranger is frightening, you’d be surprised at how quickly they may warm up to you once you’ve broken the ice.

Besides, if you’re looking for a relationship, an increase of social activity directly leads to an increased chance of finding your soulmate. If you start now, maybe you’ll find someone you like by Valentine’s Day *insert moon face emoji*.

Last Pitstop: Doing What You’ve Always Wanted To Do

I’m sure at some point in our lives we’ve been handed the ‘Cold Hard Truth’ pill that we swallow only to choke back out and tuck it somewhere hidden. Because truth be told, the only obstacle in between us and what we want in our lives is ourselves

All of us have something personal that we want to achieve, a goal hogging at the backs of our minds, silenced by comforting consolations of “I can’t do this now” or “I’ll do it next time”. Whether it’s the dream to create a YouTube channel, score that 4.0 GPA, start a new business venture or even confess your love to a longtime crush – I say it’s time to lay the foundations for your dreams and start building. Film that first YouTube video, revise those notes, plan out that business model or sprinkle glitter on that love letter. As long as your dreams don’t involve violating the COVID19 SOPs nor is it illegal, then there’s literally no reason for you to shy away.

The future is both cruel and uncertain, but the present remains entirely in our control. Don’t let the fear of failure or rejection stop you from what you want in life. It’s always better to know the outcome of your efforts rather than to regret not trying at all. You may have heard this before, but you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. 

It will be challenging, but nothing worth it ever comes easy, if it did, everyone would be living their dream lives by now. So on the days that you struggle and are tempted to give up, you need to keep in mind that the tears and doubts are part of the journey which makes the destination all the more worth it.

Anything is possible if you put your mind to it, it doesn’t matter what your family or friends or teachers say; if you want it, get it. Period. 

As Walt Disney once said, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”

To conclude, I know these aren’t exactly groundbreaking advice, but it is merely a guide for the first step out of your comfort zones. As a recap, for the times you feel like taking a nap, opt for a walk around your neighbourhood, for the times you feel like spending RM12.90 on a boba drink, buy a bottle of water instead, for the times when you would scroll pass a post, try leaving a friendly comment, and for the times you feel like quitting, try and try again.

Remember, it’s better to try and fail rather than to not try at all. 

By: Natasha Maya

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