How not to become debt-free, in five easy steps

Sorry for not blogging
Long time, no blog. Eight months, to be precise. It’s amazing how it can be so hard to find the time to do the things that you really want to do. To be fair, I’ve had a lot on my plate: turns out job-hunting, studying and wedding planning keeps you pretty busy.

In the midst of all this, something important happened: I finally paid off my credit card debt. All thousands and thousands of pounds of it: gone. (For those of you who are new to this blog, or have forgotten given that I haven’t posted in a million years, this was basically my Number One Life Problem, i.e. my Kryptonite/Kilgrave/Night King/insert other enemy beginning with K here).

So: YAY. Let me take a moment to celebrate in gif form:

YAY

Now. Back to business.

When I was halfway towards this goal, I wrote a blog post about five of the things that had been working for me. And now that I’m proudly debt-free, I wanted to write about five things that DIDN’T work. Because, as I’ve said before, there is a lot of unhelpful crap out there… and in my journey to becoming debt-free, I think I tried ALL of it.

#1: Focus on your goals (to the exclusion of everything else)

We are taught that if we want to achieve anything in life, we must turn our aspirations and hopes into specific, measurable goals.

The only problem is: setting goals doesn’t necessarily get you results. I know this because I have made approximately seven billion of them over the years. In fact, I have an entire Google Drive of Shame, filled with dozens of spreadsheets containing lists of monthly and yearly goals, few of which I’ve ever met.

Setting goals is fun. It feels like progress. It’s a fresh start: the first step towards becoming a better Future You, someone who won’t fuck it up this time, like Past You did. The only problem is that if we focus on WHAT we want to achieve, we forget two other important factors: why and how.

‘Why’ is important because changing your behaviour is hard. It’s much less fun than goal-setting. Getting yourself out of debt doesn’t need to be a miserable process (more on this later), but it does, sometimes, mean you have to say ‘no’ to things you’d rather say ‘yes’ to. It involves changing your routines and habits so that you don’t fall into the same traps that got you spending more money than you actually have. You need to be crystal clear on why you want to get out of debt to get you through those moments. So that saying ‘no’ to things feels like a positive thing to do, and not like an act of miserable and pointless self-deprivation.

In addition to being clear, your reasons for getting out of debt must feel important and inspiring. Yes, getting to cut up your credit cards feels triumphant, at least temporarily, but you need to think bigger than that to avoid pushing it off to an ever-distant future. What does it actually mean to get out of debt? For me, it’s two things: 1) Not having to make monthly repayments makes you that little bit more free. You don’t, for example, have to stick in a job you hate because of them. 2) Not paying off debt means I can finally put money towards some of the big stuff: getting married, and saving for a deposit on a flat that’s not mouldy and ridden with mice. (See: admitting that kind of stuff means I’m unlikely to ever make it as an ~aspirational~ lifestyle influencer. Alas).

 

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‘How’ is just as important to think about. In retrospect, one of my biggest mistakes when I was trying to get out of debt was failing to work out how I could make significant monthly payments whilst still having enough left over to, you know, live my life. The conventional wisdom for when you are in debt is to cut down your spending, which I did. And as a result, I let myself lose touch with a lot of people because I thought I couldn’t afford to socialise with them. I didn’t go on holiday abroad for five years. I endured proper bouts of FOMO when my friends post pictures of festivals and restaurant meals. But despite all this pain, I made no progress. In fact, I ended up in such a miserable state I sometimes ended up cracking out my card and racking up even more debt.

It was like this, but not cute
It was like this, but not cute

The reason for this is now clear to me: trying to tackle my debts by exclusively focusing on cutting back made me feel like I was being constantly deprived of fun things. This was made worse when I could see that everyone around me was enjoying what I couldn’t have. Which then led to two further Tangents of Shame: 1) How come I didn’t have my financial shit together when everyone else I know seems to? and 2) How dare I feel so miserable when I was, in the grand scheme of things, really fortunate?

So, trust me as someone who has been there: if the experience of becoming debt-free starts to make you unhappy, your #goals will go in the fuck-it bucket before you can even *think* the words ‘you only live once’ You need to work out a way to live within your budget that will allow you to enjoy your life AND meet your goals. It’s harder than just setting the goals, I know, but it’s the only way to actually achieve them in the long run without losing your mind.

 


 

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I Quit Quitting Sugar (and gluten, carbs, dairy…)

Last month, Mount Vesuvius erupted on my chin.

You might think I’m being dramatic, but I’m not. Honestly. It looked like a red Wine Gum had been superglued to my face. It was quite possibly the biggest spot anyone has ever seen.

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I thought that I had dodged the acne bullet as a teenager. Turns out that acne isn’t a bullet: it’s a boomerang. One that has smacked me in the chin, repeatedly, ever since I was twenty-five or so. I haven’t had clear skin in six years. SIX YEARS.

And in that time, I have valiantly fought The War Against Acne: going to the doctor, buying expensive skin products, trying different cleansing methods, going to another doctor, drinking gallons of water, praying to various gods, going to a different doctor, repeatedly Googling ‘a cure for acne’…

This leads us onto sugar. In my extensive research, it kept coming up as a potential Enemy of the Skin. Quitting sugar has now become something that people do: Davina McCall’s got a book about it. There’s been rubbish reality TV shows about celebrities doing it. Even Cancer Research UK has turned it into a fundraising challenge.

Sarah Wilson, an Australian TV presenter and writer, has made her name by teaching others how to quit through books and an £89 online programme. The alleged benefits of ditching the sweet stuff, as listed on her website and in her books, are compelling: weight loss, clearer skin, fewer wrinkles, more energy, improved mood (and more!). And to be honest, I was desperate enough to give pretty much anything a shot, because having acne sucks. It feels painful and embarrassing. And with Mount Vesuvius erupting on my chin, quitting Crunchie bars for eight weeks seemed like a small sacrifice to make.

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As I don’t have a spare £89 knocking around, I took the cheap option, getting I Quit Sugar & I Quit Sugar For Life from the library. They are pretty, colourful books full of photos of Wilson herself. She is a beacon of happiness and good health. In some pictures, she GLEAMS. She looks as if she might have superpowers. Who wouldn’t want to sign up for that?


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After two-weeks of adhering to the plan, I hadn’t developed any new spots. But none of the other benefits materialised. I was actually more tired, despite getting plenty of sleep. I felt stressed, had low energy levels, and was right on the edge of burnout. This probably had nothing to do with quitting sugar, and everything to do with the fact that I was trying to balance a full-time job with a part-time Masters degree, training for a marathon, writing posts such as this one, and reading labels on every single food item. (Spoiler: sugar gets. in. bloody. everything.)

 

On week three, new spots appeared on my cheek. I was still exhausted. Still stressed. And so I quit quitting sugar.

 


 

Wellness is a very healthy business to be in right now. Cookbooks full of superfoods are a recipe for commercial success. And we eat it up without asking questions. Eating healthily is good; so eating super-healthily must be better, right?

 

We turn to people like Sarah Wilson, Deliciously Ella and Hemsley + Hemsley because they look the part; ignoring the fact that it is IMPOSSIBLE that a healthy diet alone has created their model looks, glowing skin, good health and amazing-looking lives.

 

We believe them because we want to believe them. Let’s face it: the idea that we can change our diets to change our lives is irresistible. It’s something active that we can do to solve our problems. It gives us control over our destiny. And our acne-ridden chins.

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The wellness industry is booming because we want to have that control, and its main figureheads make alluring promises about the unique benefits their programmes will bring. And therefore we will fork out £147 to have our bodies ‘transformed’ after three months. Or £2 for a 40g snack as part of a diet that could help cure your postural tachycardia syndrome.

 

The unfortunate truth is that the problems we want to solve are complicated and have no guaranteed solutions. Take obesity: despite the popular myth that we can cure it individually by cutting down on cake and going for a jog, it’s actually far more bloody complicated than that. In fact, it’s THIS complicated:

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These are all the systems that contribute to obesity. As an issue, it’s economic, psychological, environmental, genetic and hormonal. We cannot solve obesity in ourselves by cutting out gluten or sugar, or by eating chia seeds and ‘green powder’ (whatever that is). If only it were that simple.

 

And, sadly, it’s not that simple when it comes to my skin situation either. I will still continue to fight The War Against Acne but I am coming to realise two things: firstly, that there is probably not one single weapon that I can deploy to stop my spots for good. Women like Wilson may look like they have superpowers, but they cannot rescue my face.

 

Secondly, and sadly, clear skin might just be an impossible dream. I might just have to, you know, LIVE with my spotty chin and learn how not to let it piss me off.

And whilst it’s sad not to have an simple solution, it means that I can quit quitting things and go back to enjoying Crunchie bars and other sugary treats. As part of a balanced diet, of course.

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Why are we so scared of being average?

You know those banal motivational quotes that occasionally pop up on Instagram and make you want to stab yourself through the eyes? Last month, The Pool, which is usually above posting the kind of stuff that causes women to hate themselves, put THIS on its feed.

#TodayImChannelling Taylor Swift #totd #quotes #TaylorSwift

A photo posted by The Pool (@thepooluk) on

 

It’s January, and I’m still thinking about it. It seems timelier now, as thousands of us are embracing the concept of ‘new year, new you’. We’re setting #goals in our bullet journals, aiming to become ‘Lean in 2017’, fluent in French AND CEO of the company (by March). I’ve come to realise that our compulsion to better ourselves is probably driven by that fear of being average. Because average is code for ‘not really good enough’. Because being average means being one of the faceless people in the crowd, the people who aren’t special enough to deserve love or respect or admiration.

We have this weird double-standard going on: we’ll look around at other people and accept them for being who they are, whilst secretly believing that we ourselves need to live up to higher set of standards. We would never criticise a friend for not having visible abs or for failing to get on a ‘30 under 30’ list, but we’ll loathe ourselves for it. It’s half egotistical; half self-loathing. And it completely sucks.

I’ve already written about how trying to become a better person made me worse. I’m still trying to get away from the mindset that I’m not good enough unless I am phenomenally successful on all fronts. It’s a tough balance for me: I want to achieve things and move forwards in life, without letting the pursuit of goals possess me like that weird monster in Stranger Things.

Whilst I’m not sure that I’ve got that balance nailed yet; I’ve certainly had a lot of thoughts about what our fear of being average means. And the more I think about it, the more ridiculous it is. Here’s why:

‘Above average’ is a psychological trick we play on ourselves

Studies have shown that when asked to rate ourselves on our skills or personalities, we’ll give ourselves an above-average score – despite the fact that at least half of us are guaranteed to be average or below average. It’s called the illusory superiority bias, and it probably exists to protect our self-esteem. We delude ourselves that we are OK by comparing ourselves favourably to others. It’s a psychological boogeyman. It’s not real.

‘Average’ is just a statistical concept

You’ve heard the one about how the ‘average’ person has one breast and one testicle, right? Statistics, broadly speaking, is a mathematical way to try and describe properties of groups of people or things. The ‘average person’ doesn’t really exist in a living, breathing sense. So in actuality, fearing being average is a bit like having a phobia of unicorns. Completely pointless.

There are no actual league tables for people

Black-Mirror-Nosedive
That episode of Black Mirror where everyone has a public rating is, thankfully, just television. And it works because it brought that pressure to be above-average to life. In the real world, the ranking of people only ever occurs amongst immature teenagers or in crap magazines like FHM (which, may I remind you, was closed down due to being completely irrelevant).

So to sum up: you can’t defeat an enemy that isn’t real. By calling BS on ‘average’ and refusing to be scared of something that doesn’t exist, you free up your time to do things that you like, because they’re worth doing in themselves. To exercise because it makes you feel great; not because you want to be a Size 8. To take on challenges because they interest you, not because they look impressive on your CV. To live your life by experiencing it, not just Bullet Journaling about it.


 

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Becoming post-debt (by someone who’s halfway there)

Back in July, I wrote a blog post about how I got into a crapload of credit card debt and had generally failed to reach the level of financial competence expected of a proper adult. To my pleasant surprise, the post went quite far. It got covered in the Daily Mirror and I received lots of lovely comments on Twitter. Several people were nice about how honest I was to confess something so openly that people don’t really talk about. To tell you the truth, I felt compelled to do it. This because when it comes to money, there just wasn’t much out there for me to read that I could identify with.

You see: there are two extremes when it comes to reading about how to spend and manage money. There’s your typical ‘lifestyle’ media, which is ALL about buying stuff. If a Martian anthropologist tried to learn about humans by reading magazines, it would conclude that our lives are all about purchasing. Clothes, holidays, beauty treatments, restaurant meals, bootcamp classes.. Seriously; find a magazine targeted at women and count the pages that don’t have either an ad or a PR-placed plug for something to buy on them.

The other extreme can be found in media that’s specifically about money-saving and personal finance. The content of this falls into three broad categories:

  1. MORE stuff to buy, but for discounted prices.
  2. Interest rates on credit cards, savings accounts and loans
  3. Tips on how to squeeze your outgoings until they scream for mercy

Honestly: most of this stuff is about as useful as Joey Essex in a theoretical physics exam. Firstly: buying more things is never going to save you money, even if it is at 75% off. Secondly, when you’re in THOUSANDS of pounds of debt, tips on how to save a few quid here and there just won’t do the job alone. You need revolution; not evolution. Using your tea bags twice and only flushing the toilet when you poo is not going to pay off your credit card. (Yes, these are real ‘tips’ I’ve read).

What’s more, lots of the advice out there may save you a little bit of money, but cost you something priceless: your time. Yes, maybe you can get a free £20 M&S voucher by doing 56 marketing surveys, opening a new credit card and buying a banana whilst standing on your head, but is it really worth the hassle?

Other ‘money saving’ tactics are dubious at best, harmful at worst. Some have the attitude that being ‘frugal’, ‘stingy’ and ‘tight’ should be seen as positive qualities. I read one book that told readers how to get free nights out – by constantly dodging your round in the pub and making your mates pay for your drink. Is this going to really help anyone to manage their money wisely or get them out of debt? And if it does – would a debt-free life be worth living if your tight-wad ways have lost you all of your friends?

I also found precious little about how to cope with emotional side of money: the fear that I’d never be able to afford to live in a flat that wasn’t mouldy, the shame of letting my debt get out of hand, the bewilderment that came from getting nowhere fast despite trying my best. All of these emotions led me on several occasions to make even more stupid mistakes. I would bury my head in the sand and put brunch on my credit card, because I hadn’t seen my friends for weeks and I was bored of staying in all the time. And what’s £15 more on a balance of thousands anyway?

I wanted to learn how to get as much life as I could out of the money that I had; rather than how to buy happiness with products or how to save money by sacrificing my will to live. But no matter how hard I looked for help with that, for examples of people who had done it, I could not find them. Instead, I found Jamie Oliver advising me in ‘Save with Jamie’ that I needed a crinkle-cut knife in my life, or posts from bloggers who were ‘saving money’ by posting ~hauls~ that cost a few quid less than RRP.

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As Sebastian the crab says in The Little Mermaid: You want something done, you got to do it yourself. So working out how to manage my money and lower my expenses whilst raising my quality of life has been pretty much my life’s mission for the last nine months. And – for the first time in years of trying and failing – I’m actually getting somewhere. I HAVE NOW PAID OFF HALF OF MY CREDIT CARD DEBT. Which, to give you an ideal of scale, equals a sum that could buy you a luxury holiday to somewhere far away. On business class flights. After all of those years of getting nowhere, after all those times I messed up, knowing that this time it’s WORKING… OH IT’S SO GOOD. I’M SO SMUG. I’M SO SMUG I CAN ONLY WRITE IN BOLD CAPS NOW. SORRY.

So: Here are five of the things I’ve learned along the way that have actually helped me. I want to note up front: it should be clear by now that I am not a financial expert, just a normal person who is learning from experience. If you’re in debt and concerned that it’s become a problem for you, seek proper advice from a professional.

1. A good budget is a plan to use what you have to get what you want

I used to think having a budget was about going on a financial starvation diet, with the goal of spending as little as possible. I was wrong. A good budget is more like a business plan – with the company mission being to have an enjoyable life both today and tomorrow. It’s about effectively allocating the resources you have. My budget now reflects what I want out of my life – perhaps not always in the quantities I would like, or at the speed I’d like, but it means I can now pay off my debt as fast as I can, whilst still having enough to socialise, go on holiday and occasionally buy stuff for the fun of it.

2. You need to build a buffer (especially if your debt is interest-free)

I was baffled by the fact that I was paying credit card bills of £100s a month, but somehow the balance never seemed to shift in the right direction. I’ve learned now: it’s because I was so desperate to kill off my credit card ASAP that I was paying more than I realistically could afford, so I’d end up using the card again next time I ran out of cash. So to deal with this, I did three things: Firstly, I cut back as much as humanly possible for a while, including the No Spend Month. Secondly, I cut back on my credit card payments and only paid the minimum for a few months. I have an 0% interest deal on my card, which enabled this to be an option. Finally, I took what I’d saved from those two steps and put the cash in an easy-access savings account that I’d just opened. Now I have a buffer of cash I can spend if I need it. Not only has having that cash been helpful on the odd occasion, it’s provided a psychological boost to know it’s there. It feels like a tangible achievement in a way that paying off the credit card doesn’t.

3. Learn to live with your debt, as it’s not going anywhere fast

Big goals take ages to achieve. AGES. If you are in debt to the tune of thousands, as I was (and still am), you need to learn to live with the fact it’s going to take you months, if not years. I used to be so anxious about paying off my credit card ASAP that I would fixate on the fastest possible ways in which to do it, drawing up endless unrealistic plans that would be about as successful as that time when Brian Harvey ate six baked potatoes and crashed his car.

It’s taken me eight months to get this far. Unless I get an unexpected inheritance from Aunt Birgid’s Luxembourg estate, it’s going to take me that long again to pay it all off. To tackle this, I’ve learned to notice the signs of when I am spiralling into debt-based obsessive thinking. I then either work to do something productive about it (such as writing this blog), or move my attentions onto something better, like eating cheese or watching Brooklyn Nine Nine (Gina is basically my hero.)

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4. Keep experimenting to find out what works for you

Trying new things both keeps you motivated and helps you work out what’s right for you. And it has to be right for you – life is too short to put yourself through experiences that make you feel deprived, miserable or bored. One thing I tried to see if I could get cool stuff for free was ‘Comping’, which is entering competitions as a hobby. It seemed like a harmless thing to try, and has apparently been both profitable and fun for members of MoneySavingExpert’s forums. So: I entered over 100 competitions, for everything from holidays to games consoles, and won nothing but an inbox stuffed with junk mail. Oh, and it was only marginally more fun than watching Trump win the vote to become President.

But on the flip side, there are things that I have enjoyed as part of changing my lifestyles, such as working out ways to cook better food at a lower cost. Which, you know, *could* be because my standards of fun have lowered whilst I can’t afford much *actual* entertainment. But I’ll take my kicks where I can get them…

5. Stop comparing yourself to other people & question EVERYTHING you ever thought about money

As human beings, we believe that we are in complete control of our actions and decisions. The more I learn about psychology, the more I find out that this belief is a delusion. We all know that we should spend less than we earn, and that most debt should be avoided. But despite this, there is £190 billion of outstanding consumer credit in the UK. What is wrong with this picture?

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What happened to me, as I’m sure has happened to many other people, is I stopped making financial decisions based on what was actually in my bank account and started spending my money in a way that I believed someone ‘like me’ was entitled to. Without realising, I formed a picture in my head based on what my colleagues were doing, my friends were doing, what advertising targeted at ‘people like me’ suggested. I thought I deserved to have daily burritos for lunch, a yearly holiday, a flat deposit, because that’s what professional people in London GET.

The good news is: by questioning your entitlement and learning to stop comparing yourself to other people, you can start to build your life based on what YOU actually want and what YOUR means are to do it. When your decisions are purposeful and based on what you know is right for you, cutting back stops feeling like deprivation. When you stop comparing yourself to other people, you stop placing your own happiness in their hands. And I can tell you from experience: learning to do these things is far more effective for your happiness and well-being than drooling over the latest ‘lust-have item’ in a magazine (vom) or attempting to become a ‘super-scrimper’.

Here’s to cutting up the credit cards for good in 2017 (and beyond)!


 

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The girl who life-hacked herself to death

This blog was born after I came to realise that my life had become A Bit Shit. I was staring 30 in the face, and I had none of the things I thought I was supposed to have: a fun, carefree lifestyle, a good career, a home of my own, a body I felt happy in. Instead, my life had become a miserable treadmill of credit card repayments, diets and dead-end jobs.

 

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Things started to change after I received some unexpected advice from a mentor. He encouraged me to think about what I wanted from life and work towards those things; rather than continue on with my usual tactic of trying to make the best of what I had at the time. What I wanted was to change my life in nearly every way, and I wanted to write about it. So I did. My idea was to continue following the advice of other people, given I’d done a miserable job at finding happiness myself.

Thankfully, there is no shortage of books, products and articles that promise to change your life. I put my hands in the hands of the gurus: I life-hacked, I self-helped, I positive-psychologied. I blogged about some of them. I failed to blog many more. I worked every single day at becoming happier, thinner, better, smarter, richer, more productive, more successful, more confident. Every. Single. Day.

By the time the summer of 2016 had rolled around, I had spent a year working on ‘Living My Best Life’. When I began the project, I thought that the worst case scenario would be that I’d have wasted my time. I was wrong. The treadmill was still running. All I’d done was make it go faster and faster until I collapsed and fell flat on my face.

 

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Some time has passed now, so I can talk about this with a bit of distance. I had a little bit of a breakdown. While I did make progress on various fronts, I felt no better for it. Ironically, trying so hard to be better made me feel worse. After a year of life-hacking myself to death, I came to realise that there are a series of toxic myths running through the world of self-development, even the most well-intentioned of them. Here is what I fell for after a year of life-hacking myself to death.

Myth #1: Changing your ways is simple, as long as you have the right knowledge

These days, we’re less likely to fall for snake-oil solutions. We expect anything worth achieving to be hard-won, and the modern gurus of self-help know this. Instead of effortless change, it promises simple ways to change, often using ‘science’. Just do this ONE thing – it might be hard, but you will change for good and feel great. (Usually because ‘Science!’)

 

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The truth: Change is messy, complicated, and often unsatisfying

No-one has ever found a simple, foolproof, scientifically backed way to help people change their behaviour. Experts from UCL’s Centre for Behaviour Change have described a book identifying EIGHTY THREE different theories. I have improved various habits in different ways and it’s never been a linear process. Sometimes it’s two steps forward, one step back (or three. When it comes to my diet, it’s often been three steps back). Sometimes, you know you’ve changed in some way, you can see the proof, but you don’t *feel* like you’ve changed.

Myth #2: The key to happiness is self-improvement

Ever since I started this blog, I’ve kept an eye out for anything described as ‘life-changing’. Nearly everything I’ve found has been about changing yourself as a person. Happiness, apparently, is the byproduct of fulfilling your potential as a healthy, successful and self-disciplined person.

I bought into this. I bought into this BIG TIME. I thought that if only I was better in every single way, I’d finally be happy. I just needed to reach my goal weight, find my passion, land my dream job, run a PB, write a book, get a distinction in my degree and pay off my credit card.

The truth: There probably is no key to happiness, but accepting yourself as you are is a good start

The undertone of all of this is that you’re not good enough unless you’re the ‘best’ version of yourself that you can be. Trying to become your ‘best self’ in every single way comes at a huge cost: you run the risk of becoming a boring, anxious fun-sponge. Let’s face it: nights in the pub with your friends don’t help you save money or get a flat stomach. You don’t get promotions or a first-class degree by prioritising fun. You cannot achieve ‘perfection’ without extreme sacrifice.

If your well-being relies solely on reaching goals and fulfilling your potential, as mine did, you’re also effectively locking your happiness away in the future. It’s not possible to *actually* reach your potential. Once you reach a goal, you then set a new one, and the process begins again. This is known as the hedonic treadmill: where you are constantly striving for happiness but never actually reaching it.

Myth #3: You have complete control over your own happiness

Both positive psychology and self-help gurus alike push the message that we have control over our own mindsets and happiness. This is positive… right? Isn’t good to have control over your life, right?

The truth: unless you have god-like powers…
 

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I think it’s true that you have a degree of control over your mindset and your happiness. But believing that you have total control is dangerous. It implies that if you ever feel anything other than fantastic that it’s somehow your fault. Which leads you into a spiral of feeling even worse.
 

I recently read a book called The Happiness Industry which gave me a different perspective on all of this. It describes the pervasive influence of neoliberalism, an economic philosophy where competition in the marketplace is king. As individuals, we are taught to compete in the marketplace of people. We have swallowed the idea that we if we are not competitive, we’re worthless. If we’re not performing in some way, we’re faulty goods. It ignores the influence of circumstance, of wider society, of the hand you have been dealt in life.

As a result, we get ‘self-help’ which places your failures squarely on your own doorstep. We get judgey articles such as ‘If this CEO can read 100 books a year, why can’t you?’. We get judgey emails entitled ‘The seven diet mistakes you’re probably making’. We get judgey gurus dishing out ‘real talk’: giving up sugar isn’t as tough as having cancer, so put down the cake, you greedy bitch!

BUT: I am seeing signs that the tide might just be turning against the cult of perfectionism which had recruited me as a member. We have body positivity movements, mums embracing imperfect parenting, and have given ‘staying in and achieving sod-all’ a sexy Danish makeover. However, I’m still followed around the internet by ads for bullet journals, work-out regimes and words of ~wisdom~ from 27-year-old YouTube ‘creators’. It’s not gone yet.

Now, rather than trying to change my life, I’m now trying to focus on enjoying it. I’m unfollowing and unsubscribing from social media feeds and emails that pedal judgemental crap in the name of self-improvement. I’m deliberately spending time doing things that do nothing to improve my body or my mind. There are still things I want to achieve in life, but I’m trying now to focus on the substance of what those things are, rather than fixating on the end goal. It’s a process – as I said, change isn’t simple or linear – but I am getting there, one unproductive, enjoyable Netflix binge at a time.

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My week as a semi-professional Pokémon trainer

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In July, I became a Pokémaniac, along with the rest of the world. Going out to catch Pokémon in ‘real life’ felt like a childhood dream come true. Every journey became twenty minutes longer so that I could hit up Pokéstops and add to my Pidgey and Drowsee collection (why are there so many Drowsees? The eternal Pokémon Go mystery).

I’d been playing purely for the fun of it, like a schmuck, until I spotted an article about Britain’s first full time Pokémon player. Sophia, from High Barnet, spotted a money-making opportunity to play the game and sell levelled-up accounts on eBay. Apparently, accounts above level 20 were going for £1000+.

I wanted a piece of that action. After all, Pokemon Trainer is in many ways a dream job description:

  1. You’re self-employed, with no bosses to answer to (just Pokémon)
  2. It gets you out of the house
  3. You get more exercise than you do whilst sat at a desk
  4. The real world has been horrible lately. Who wouldn’t prefer to work in Pokéland?

There was one flaw in the plan: quitting work to catch Pokémon was not an option for me given that I have bills and stuff. So I decided to take it on as a side-gig, and Pokémon-train as a second job instead. Could this be lucrative enough to put a dent in my dreaded credit card bill?

I knew that time was of the essence: Pokémon Go accounts weren’t going to be a saleable commodity for long. So I immediately registered two new accounts and set out to catch them all.

For the following week, I spent every spare second playing. Here is what it is like being a semi-professional Pokémon trainer.

 

Yes, that IS a Nintendo t-shirt. I was committed to the role, what can I say?.
Yes, that IS a Nintendo t-shirt. I was committed to the role, what can I say?

 

The good:

If you pay attention, you can use Pokémon Go to notice a lot of things you’d never have seen otherwise. It turns out that there IS a park in Tufnell Park. I spotted a woman pushing a tiny dog in a full-sized pushchair. Every piece of street art, every landmark, every plaque, seems to be a Pokéstop. Who says video games aren’t educational?

 

There were no Pokémon in this bush.
There were no Pokémon in this bush.

 

You walk an absolute fuck-ton. I got 180,000 steps in a week (and some enormous blisters).

My first day of steps
My first day of steps as a Pokémon trainer

 

The bad:

A cornerstone of my strategy was to find rare Pokémon to make my accounts more sell-able. I failed. You’d think consistently playing for hours and hours and hours would turn up some good stuff. Despite every gym on the block having a high-level Vaporeon or Snorlax, I found nothing of the sort. Zilch.

 

Like any normal job, Pokémon training has copious amounts of boring admin. I spent hours evolving Pidgeys for points and sending crap Pokémon back to the Professor. HOURS.

 

The Pokémon theme tune got stuck on repeat in my head. It would not budge. No matter what I did. I WANNA BE, THE VERY BESSST! THAT NO-ONE EVER WAS!

PokemonTheme

 

 

Apparently, if you find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. I can tell you for a fact that this is BULLSHIT. It turns out that forcing yourself to do something that you once enjoyed for hours at a time is an ideal way to destroy your soul. By the end of the week, I thought I would vomit if I had to spend another second staring at my phone.

 

The result…  

Having reached Peak Pokémon, I listed my accounts on eBay in a 24-hour auction and waited for the cash to roll in. By the time I went to bed, I had £25 worth of bids. That night, I dreamt about becoming a Pokémillionaire.

 

The next morning, my dream had been shot down in flames. eBay had sent me the following email:

IMG_4053

My listings had been removed. All the steps; all the blisters; all the fucking Pidgeys and Drowsees: all for fucking nothing. £0. NOTHING. I suppose some things are just meant to remain as dreams.

(and if anyone is interested in buying a top-quality Level 17 Pokémon Go account with a bonus Pikachu, please do let me know…)

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How to cycle to work (without causing a traffic accident)

Before I start this post properly, I want to say a HUGE thank you to everyone who read and responded to my post from last week. Publicly confessing that your finances are in a state was always going to be nerve-wracking and a little bit risky. So it was a relief to get so many lovely comments. And as a bonus, my story was covered in the Daily Mirror. That’s my fifteen minutes of fame covered for this week…

In case you missed what I wrote last week, the TL;DR version is this: I tried not to spend anything for a month apart from food and bills. I missed some things, like the pub. Other things I was glad to be rid of: public transport being a case in point.

Let’s face it: Tubes and buses are can be awful. Especially during rush hour. Cycling is a great way to escape from being trapped in a tin-can stuffed with other people, whilst saving money, whilst fitting in some exercise. It’s a triple win.

However, there is a certain amount of preparation and organisation required to make it work. I started in August 2014 but never managed to really nail the habit until this year, after a lot of trial and error. And it’s something that really has changed my life for the better.

It took me half an hour longer than it should have, but I was unscathed.
This is me about to cycle to work for the first time. The look of fear on my face was unfounded.

 

When I started out, I found that there was a lot of information out there about cycling in general, but nothing much that covered my key concerns at a basic level. So here is my guide for everyone who is curious about cycling to work but hasn’t taken the plunge yet.

To avoid this post becoming War and Peace with Bikes, I’m going to cover the basics today, with more to come later.

Getting started

Getting the skills: Unfortunately, cycling in London comes with an element of risk, which makes it a daunting prospect for most people. There are many cyclists on the road who look like they were born in Lycra. If you’re not as confident, it’s easy to believe that riding in the city is not for you.

If it’s been a while since you’ve taken a spin on a bike, or if you’re totally new to riding in the city, help is at hand. If you live or work in London, you can get free cycling training funded by TFL. It’s a great way to sharpen up rusty skills and learn how to cope with rush-hour traffic, in a quieter environment. I would highly recommend it.

 

[insert tenuous gif here]
[insert tenuous gif from Giphy here, #1]

Getting a bike: I was completely clueless about bikes when I started cycling. Here’s what I’ve since learned, in a nutshell: for commuting you probably want a hybrid bike or a road bike.

Hybrid bikes are supposedly a cross between mountain bikes and road bikes. The plus side of a hybrid is that it feels familiar to ride; more like the bike you had as a kid or a teenager. They tend to be cheaper. Also, you can get a variety of styles. I’ve noticed more and more ‘pretty’ bikes like this one on the road lately, if that’s what you’re into:

This is a Pashley bike. Image from Evans Cycles.
This is a Pashley bike. Image from Evans Cycles.

 

Road bikes are faster, lighter and slimmer. If you’re new to cycling, or rusty, they might take a bit of getting used to as the brakes, gears and handlebars are different. You also ride in more of a hunched-over position that feels a bit weird to start.

This is my new road bike
This is my current bike, a Pinnacle Dolomite 2. It’s practically one of my best friends.

 

old bike
My first London bike

 

My first bike in London was a £125 hybrid I impulse-bought from Halfords. I upgraded to a road bike later through the Ride-to-Work scheme. If your employer offers this, it’s worth doing – the paperwork is a faff but you get the bike much cheaper, and you get to spread the cost over the year.

Getting other stuff: The essentials are a lock, lights, pump and a helmet. If you’re feeling super self-sufficient you’ll probably benefit from having a spare inner tube and tyre lever so you can sort yourself out if you get a puncture. But to be honest, I didn’t bother with those at first.

 

What to wear

The great thing about London is that you can wear whatever you want and no-one cares. The same is true for cycling. I saw someone riding in stilettos last month. I wouldn’t personally recommend it, but I appreciated her commitment to impractical shoes.

 

[insert tenuous gif from Gipgy here, #2]
[insert tenuous gif from Giphy here, #2]
Unless you cycle like a maniac or it’s a hot day, you generally won’t sweat as much while cycle commuting as you would any other form of exercise. Some people do ride in their work clothes. If your commute is very short, you could probably get away with it.

If you’re going any further than 2 miles or so I’d recommend wearing some form of Lycra. You don’t need to buy specialist cycling clothes – whatever you wear for exercise is probably fine as long as it’s got nothing flappy that’d get caught on your bike.

You don’t need padded shorts unless your bike seat is particularly hard, or you’ll be riding a really long way (I’m not sure if this still applies if you have testicles to deal with. Answers welcome).

If you’re going to be cycling in the dark, it’s worth getting some fluorescent or reflective kit to help you be seen. It can also double up as daywear should Nu Rave ever come back in fashion. 

This post is part of a series. I still have lots more to cover, including: how to make the cycling habit stick, how to not get lost in your office’s basement and how not to forget your pants. If you’re not already signed up to my mailing list, add yourself today to make sure you don’t miss it:

 


 

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The No Spend Month

I’m going to come straight out and admit it: my personal finances are not where I’d like them to be. I had hoped that by the age of 30, I’d own my own flat and have savings of more than £1.99. Instead, I have a credit card balance that never seems to shrink, no matter how much I pay into it. On the bright side, I’m on track to pay off my student loan… by the age of 110.

gif from giphy
The Student Loans Company in 80 years from now

 

There are both explanations and excuses for why my finances are f*cked. There were the factors that I couldn’t change. I graduated into a recession. My local branch of the Bank of Mum & Dad had collapsed. The field I wanted to get into was competitive, and doing unpaid internships was the only way in. I couldn’t live at home, so I interned in the daytime whilst waitressing at night. For a while, I struggled to pay rent. I paid for food with old-school cheques to cover up the fact there was £0 in my account.

There were also the factors that were pretty much my own fault. I ended up specialising in digital engagement for not-for-profits, which wasn’t exactly a path to endless riches. Once I’d managed to get to a stage in my career where I could afford rent and food, I began to feel entitled. I worked hard and told myself I deserved to have things. This is where I really started to dig myself into a shitpit. I wish I could tell you that I pissed all my money away on frivolous things: luxury travel, designer clothes, £20 notes to wipe my bum with. The truth is far more petty and boring: I compared myself to people with similar jobs and lives, and felt like I should have the things they had. Everyone else I knew seemed to be able to afford to go on holiday every year, to go out to restaurants every week, to buy lunch every day. Saying ‘no’ when you want to say ‘yes’ is never fun. My head became buried firmly in the sand. My ‘just-for-emergencies’ credit card became fixed in my wallet.

My family didn’t have much money when I was growing up. I was raised with a ton of cultural capital instead. I was taught to aspire. To embrace learning. To believe that I could achieve anything I wanted to, as long as I worked hard. I took this to heart, believing that an Oxford education and a professional career would mean I’d never have to worry about money like my parents did.

Every day, I’m grateful that I have enough money now to pay for rent and food. But I’m also angry with myself. I was deceived by an illusion: I thought that getting a good job would be my ticket to happiness, with a cushy lifestyle and financial security. My expectations were set too high. I chased the wrong things. And now I am 30. Many of my friends are getting married, having children, buying property. I would like to have the same things one day, but the £1.99 in my savings account just won’t cover the costs. I need to do something drastic if I am going to kill off my credit card and start saving for my future.

The solution?

In my attempts to discover the secret of money, I’d noticed a trend: the money-saving challenge. Bloggers and forum members have embraced periods of frugality, banning themselves from non-essential spending for a fixed period of time. Some of these periods are short: Members of MoneySavingExpert.com’s forums challenge themselves to have as many ‘No Spend Days’ as possible. Penny Golightly leads Tenner Week.

Other people have taken a longer-term approach. Anna Newell-Jones is an American blogger who put herself on a ‘Spending Fast’, severely restricting her spending for fifteen months to pay off her debts. Journalist Michelle McGath has quit spending for a whole year to get ahead on her mortgage. Her commitment is the strongest I’ve seen: as I write, she’s been over six months without spending anything at all. 

Perhaps the most inspiring story I’ve seen is from a blogger called Mr Money Mustache. He and his wife retired at 30 as a result of saving and investing the majority of their salaries. Not investment-banker or corporate-lawyer salaries, but the income from ‘standard tech-industry cubicle jobs’. They now live a happy life doing whatever they please.

Frugality had never looked so appealing. The issue was: I had lived on a low income before. It was no picnic. In fact, it was awful. Why would I choose to go back there? Was I romanticising the concept just because of a few success stories I’d read on the internet? Rather than embrace full-on frugality, I decided to dip my toe into the water by doing a No Spend Month.

 

The rules:

Things that were allowed:

  • Spending on food, bills and rent
  • Spending on things I’d committed to before June (a holiday payment and a hen party payment)

 

Things that were not allowed:

  • Spending on transport, eating out, booze, clothes or beauty products
  • Taking the piss by squeezing luxuries into the grocery shop
  • Accruing psychic debt by scrounging from my friends and boyfriend  
  • Becoming a hermit and being miserable

 

What I learned:

Alcohol and frugality don’t mix

I was determined to spend the month doing fun things with other people. So on the first day, I went to a free quiz night being held at work. The winning prize was a £100 bar tab for the team. I hadn’t told anyone at work about what I was doing, so only I knew what it really meant: not just free drinks, but probably the only drinks I would get to have out for a while.

When the quiz masters announced a tie break, which my team then won, it seemed like validation: the universe had my back. There WOULD be beer for me in June! Then, my hopes were dashed. It turned out that the tie break was for second and third place. Alas. Screw you, universe.

At a leaving do a week later, loosened up by free booze, I fell off the wagon and bought a couple of rounds. I ended up enjoying myself a bit too much that night. Woe was me. On the plus side, at least being too hungover to move stops you from spending.

 

Free culture comes at a cost

As London is full of free things to do, I resolved to take advantage of it. So my boyfriend and I went to see the new Yayoi Kusama exhibition at Victoria Miro, which had just opened. When we arrived, there was a queue of over 100 people. If we wanted to get into the exhibition, we faced an hour’s wait outside. It was grey and cold, so we turned back. The only thing we saw that day was the grim sights of the Holloway Road.

 

The ups and downs of frugal lunchtimes

Bringing my lunch to work felt hugely gratifying. There’s nothing to make you feel smug like knowing you’ve saved at least £5 a day on your lunch. Having your leftovers explode in the office microwave feels less gratifying. And your smug glow disappears once you’ve realised you’ve brought in something so inedible you have to choke through it. Who knew that twice-microwaved salmon could be so disgusting?

I saw this dude whilst running to the library. Added bonus of not spending money: you get additional joy from the small things.
I saw this dude whilst running to the library. Added bonus of travelling by foot: you see cool things

The ups and ups of ditching public transport

Getting around on your own steam is a total game-changer. If you are lucky enough to be able to cycle, run or walk to work, DO IT. Leave behind the annoying people playing shitty music on their leaky headphones. Avoid the social awkwardness that comes with being squished into a small space with 55 people you’ve never met. Save a fortune and get fitter at the same time. It’s a win all round.

 

Toughening up

The No Spend Month made me realise what a slave I was to cravings. Hunger was my default mode. It used to be that every time my stomach growled, a battle would begin in my head. I always knew that buying a second breakfast in the canteen at work was a bad idea. But at the same time I was hangry, and the thought of having to restrict myself PISSED ME OFF. The No Spend Month made it made it a non-issue. I just dealt with being hungry. It didn’t kill me.

 

Changing the plan

On day 17 of No Spend Month, I decided to ‘pivot’. (That’s tech company speak for ‘changing your mind’, by the way.) Some Really Bad Shit had been going down in the world at the time. The referendum campaign had become poisonous, stirring up fear and hate. Jo Cox MP had been tragically killed. I’d had a tough week at work. I needed to spend time with the people that I cared about.

Me, about to walk to work in torrential rain.
Me, about to walk to work in torrential rain.

I’d previously thought that because it was summer, I could see my friends for free whilst doing outdoorsy things: a picnic in the park, a walk down the South Bank. My daydreams did not account for the fact that it would be the wettest June on record. I couldn’t face becoming the person who sits in the pub drinking water whilst her friends pay for drinks. So I changed the rules to account for one socialising session every week.

 

What I learned…

My month of frugality was a surprisingly educational experience. I expected it to be uncomfortable. I expected to save money. What I didn’t anticipate was the sense of clarity it gave me. My emotions about money were a tangled mess. If I spent, I felt guilty. If I didn’t spend, I felt resentful.

Technically, I failed the challenge because I slipped up on socialising. But once I had allowed myself to spend on seeing my friends, something clicked in my head. In the past, saving money had felt like self-deprivation. It made me miserable. But by working out what made me happy and allowing myself to have it, I changed the rules of the mind-game I used to play with myself. Having enough money to spend on the things that make you happy is a privilege. I feel grateful for what I have, now that I know what to do with it.


In total, I saved £420.12 on top of my usual credit card repayment. I’m still a long way from where I need to be, but that’s OK. I’m on a mission now. I’m on a search for the secret of money, and I will try everything. I’ll leave no stone unturned until my debt is dead and my savings are sorted. Wish me luck.
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I’m not great at keeping secrets. If I find a way to rescue my finances I will almost certainly blog about it. Make sure you don’t miss a post by signing up to my mailing list:


 

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In search of miracles with Gabrielle Bernstein

It’s a fact of life that things aren’t brilliant all the time. Sometimes things are great, and sometimes things are a bit shit. As someone who puts a lot of effort into trying to be happy, it’s doubly disappointing when life isn’t coming up with sunshine, rainbows and glittery unicorns. At Easter, I hit one of these bad patches. Ground down by coursework and job-work, I felt like I was dragging a weight around on my back. I needed a miracle.

Therefore, I turned to Gabrielle Bernstein. She’s described on her website as a modern day spiritual leader. Bernstein’s best-selling books include May Cause Miracles and Miracles Now. Her photographs gleam with happiness, health and serenity. Just look at her! LOOK!

IMG_3076

 

She was the kind of woman I instinctively felt happy to follow. I signed up to her mailing list and eagerly started on May Cause Miracles. The introduction tells Bernstein’s story. By becoming dedicated to miracles, she became a best-selling author, improved her relationship with food, made a ton of money and found true happiness. I wanted a piece of that action.

Embracing miracles is about releasing fear and choosing love instead. I didn’t really know what that meant, but decided to roll with it anyway. Apparently, your ~ing (inner guide) will emerge to show you the way. The 40-day program takes you through a new theme each week, with a daily affirmation and a meditation or journalling activity. Here’s what happened to me, spiritually speaking:

The good:

Starting the day with a reflection and a minute of meditation was quite nice. It was like a little warm hug for your psyche.

Saying ‘I love you’ to the mirror was good for a laugh, once I’d got over feeling like a buffoon.

The bad:

I tried programming the day’s affirmations into my phone to go off every hour as Bernstein suggests. The problem came when I left my phone sat on the table at work. Without context, the affirmations could suggest to the uninitiated that you have joined some kind of weird cult.

As the days went on, I found myself forgetting what the affirmation of the day was. I realised that it was because I just wasn’t finding anything meaningful in them. So I abandoned May Cause Miracles after three weeks.

 

Miracles Now

Despite the fact that May Cause Miracles didn’t do much for me, I wasn’t done with Gabby. I was grimly determined to find a miracle, somewhere, somehow. Thankfully, she had another book! Perhaps Miracles Now would be the book to give me the hit I needed. Rather than giving you a structured programme, it provides 108 bite-sized ways to live a more miraculous life.

So I attempted to bust out a miracle on a Wednesday morning. It was humpday, I was a bit hungover, and I had been put into a bad mood by the tedious pundits arguing about Brexit on BBC Breakfast. I flicked to Miracle #46: Measure your success by how much fun you’re having. I thought about it. Truth be told, I had not been having much fun. When you work four days a week on your day job and three days a week on your MSc, there’s not that much time for it. Over the following few days, I let my hair down. It felt good. One of my bad habits is getting grimly wrapped up in my to-do list, to the exclusion of actually relaxing and enjoying my life. The idea of measuring my life by how much I actually enjoy it was something I needed to hear.

On a Sunday night, I needed a new and different miracle. It was 1am, my alarm was due to go off in five hours, and I had been trying to sleep since 10pm. Thankfully, Gabby has few miracles for that. Firstly, a Kundalini yoga breathing technique. Sleep still eluded me. Secondly, a Yoga Nidra meditation. I was too wound up to focus on it, and still could not sleep. Thirdly, another Kundalini practice which involved pointing your toes back and forth. My bed squeaked as I did this and I still didn’t sleep. Miracle fail.

At its worst, the book is ineffective (see sleep ideas above) and verging on silly (jumping on a trampoline without wearing a bra helps your lymphatic system). But at its best, the book is like a self-help Rorschach test: you see bits of advice in it that you want to see, that you may well be better off following. And a lot of the things in here make sense: true that happiness does not lie in how much you weigh, that if you want something; you should ask for it, and that doing a headstand can help bust you out of a bad mood (I tried it. It worked).

If you take ‘miracle’ in the literal sense, Miracles Now and May Cause Miracles both fail to deliver. However, this doesn’t make me angry in the same way that I was about I Heart Me. Bernstein does make it clear from the outset that when she talks about miracles, she means it in a slightly different way to you or I. My life hasn’t cosmically shifted, but I have picked up a few new helpful tips. I still don’t know what it means to choose love over fear though.

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I’m on summer break from my course; which means more posts. I may actually discover something revolutionary, and you wouldn’t want to miss that, right?! The good news is that I have a mailing list, so please make my day and get on it:


Also: this post contains Amazon Affiliate links, as I have a credit card bill to pay and I’ll pretty much try anything. I’ll never actively endorse anything I don’t genuinely like because I’m not a Kardashian. Thank you!

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I Heart Me: The Science of Self-Love

No matter how hard you try, not everyone in life is going to like or appreciate you. Other people’s opinions of what you do and who you are will always vary. Sometimes you’ll put everything into a piece of work and it’ll be trashed by someone whose opinion matters to you. When this happens, it can sting. I’d love to tell you that I always take criticism in my stride, but sometimes bad feedback shakes my opinion of my abilities to the core. This is not something I’m proud of.

After all, self-belief is important. If you believe in yourself, other people believe in you. It can make you famous for something as useless as taking selfies. It can make you the front-runner to win a Presidential race despite having no compassion or brains. Perhaps ramping up my own self-belief could do magical things for me as well.

I Heart Me: The Science of Self Love

Enter: I Heart Me: The Science of Self-Love. Written by a man with a PhD and promising to deliver the topic through a scientific lens, I presumed I would be in good hands. As a MSc student, I’ve been learning about the scientific method and now have decreased tolerance levels for fluffy crap. This is a problem when your blog is about self-help books. So bring on the science! Make me love myself using empirically based, peer reviewed studies! I AM READY!

Alas, it turns out I was duped. Here are some examples of ‘science’ from the book:

‘I asked my good friend Kyle Gray about it. He’s a highly accurate medium… Kyle asked his angels about my experience.’

‘Each of us is made of atoms. That makes us quite a large expression of love. Technically speaking, we’re made of love…. kind of.’

If self-love means believing this sort of stuff, perhaps I’m better off being insecure. I wanted to find something nice to say about this book. I tried, but I couldn’t. It recycles tired ideas from other self-help books, bunging on a ‘scientific’ label to try and disguise the fact there’s nothing original in it at all. For one thing, he claims doing the exercises in this book will work because they’ll ‘rewire your brain’. Not that he has any actual evidence for this, such as fMRI scans. I’m guessing he thought that ‘neuroplasticity’ was more exciting than plain old ‘learning’. Other scientific evidence in the book is scraped from TED talks that we’ve all seen before, such as Amy Cuddy’s ‘power pose’ work. Given that 32 million people have watched her TED talk, and the fact that it’s so famous it’s been parodied on Brooklyn Nine Nine, it’s a waste of paper to cover it again.

Unfortunately for me, the whole point of this blog is that I actually *do* what the self-help books I read tell me to do, even if the author is confused about atoms and does wee dances in his spare time. (I’m not kidding. There’s a whole section about the benefits of silly dancing, and describes how he once did a wee dance in an underpass). I decided to put Hamilton’s ‘self-love gym’ exercises to the test.

‘Blame the parents’

Hamilton’s first exercise asks you to think whether your parents had self-esteem issues. I have no idea whether mine did. They have both passed away, and as I don’t have any friends who are mediums, I can’t get in touch with them to ask.

The ‘I am enough’ pose + ‘love thy selfie’

Do you suspect that this exercise may be an appropriation of Amy Cuddy’s Power Pose research? You would be right. I decided to go for Kanye in the Power video, given he’s a man not short of self-love. Here are the results. Magnificent, yes?

KanyePowerPose kanye-west-power-video

‘Be a self-love Olympian’

This has nothing to do with sport, sadly. In this exercise, you visualise a situation where you would normally have low self-worth and imagine acting as if you didn’t. I imagined winning the Nobel Peace Prize despite the fact I’ve done nothing with my life apart from watch a lot of Netflix. It was a nice way to spend two minutes, but I didn’t feel any of my neural pathways changing.

‘Set them free’

Apparently, identifying the people you judge and the people you feel judged by helps you to set them free! I tried this on the Tube, because I am VERY judgemental of people who breach Tube etiquette. Sadly, identifying the people who behave antisocially on public transport did not set them free of the carriage. Probably just as well, given the dangers.

‘What do you like about yourself?’

I quote: ‘Most of us feel unhappy about some aspect of our body image; whether it’s our weight, […] breast size (women), hip size (women) or penis size (men).’ I’m glad he’s cleared that up for me. I’ve always been unhappy about my penis size and now I can be free!

Apparently the key to turning around poor body image and resisting the pressure of the media is this: focus on three things you like about your body and keep telling yourself why you like them. I choose my hair, my brain and my liver. All of them work bloody hard for me, after all.

Sadly, I cannot say I have felt any difference to my self-love levels after reading this book. I am the same as I have always been: a person who is sometimes unsure of herself, and who sometimes takes things to heart. I’m OK with this, so perhaps I’m richer in self-esteem than I thought I was. What I have learned is this: science sells; and scientists who write should never abuse the power and authority that the scientific label brings.

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