In Pursuit Of Nothing (or why New Year’s Resolutions are bollocks)

Who was it who decided that January was a good time to start a new year? It’s dark, cold, miserable. We’re feeling skint and unhealthy. And we are forced back into commuting armpit-to-nose with strangers again.

But hey! A new year has begun, which means it’s time to stop thinking about the grimness of the present and start planning what you want to do and who you want to be in 2019.

In other words, it’s time to project ourselves into the future that we want. A future in which we are more productive and smarter and richer and fitter and thinner and happier. Where our inbox is at zero, our houses are spotless and our minds are serene.

Our culture, economy and shared belief system is a majority shareholder in the business of individual achievement. In addition to performance objectives at work, we are encouraged to set and reach targets on our own time too.

A profitable side-hustle. 10,000 steps. More followers on Instagram. 5-a-day. A faster 5k. A BMI of less than 25. Find The One. Take a course. Get a promotion. Meditate daily. Run a marathon. Write a book. Buy a house. Learn French. Finally get round to reading Kafka/Tolstoy/Joyce. Become your own boss.

What happens when you achieve these goals? You are rewarded by a fleeting moment of feeling good about yourself. An hour or two if you’re lucky. Once it fades, you set new goals and start again as if nothing ever happened.

What happens if you don’t achieve these goals? You feed the voice inside of you that tells you that you’re actually a bit worthless. That you’re quite possibly a waste-of-space failure who will amount to nothing. You get ‘FOMOMG‘ (fear of missing out on your goals)


Early psychologists established that our behaviour can be shaped by rewards. They studied this by putting pigeons in boxes, training them to peck a bar to receive pellets. By changing the timing and schedule of when the pigeons got the pellets, they were able to influence how quickly and how often they pecked the bar.

These days, we create our own boxes by believing that we can achieve our way into feeling good about ourselves. That we are not a failure as long as we are progressing in some way. We set the bar with our goals. We tap, tap, tap at the bar in the hope that we will achieve the goal.

Setting a goal and working towards it makes our dopamine levels rise. This keeps us striving for distant rewards.

This is all fine if it works for you.

But what if it doesn’t?


2018 was an amazing year in which I achieved a long list of life goals. This included finishing my postgraduate diploma, starting a great new job, and folding 1000 origami cranes for my wedding (oh, and getting married, obvs).

I pretty much levelled-up at adulthood. It wasn’t just for the sake of it. I wanted to do everything that I did. I even enjoyed it (turns out getting hitched really is the best day of your life).

But I didn’t feel a lasting glow as a result of all of the achievement. In truth, I was stressed and exhausted much of the time. Too many weekends were spent on my sofa in a depressed, hungover heap.

If I were a protagonist in a Shakespearean tragedy, my fatal flaw would be believing that happiness lies in achieving things.

Unfortunately, knowing this hasn’t changed my behaviour much.

This is how it tends to go: I find myself having bad feelings, so to make myself feel better I set ambitious goals and steamroller towards them (hello dopamine my old friend).

I then find myself overstretched, stressed and depressed.

Then I realise I’m self-destructing, so I clean my slate for a fresh start.

I feel amazing. Until I don’t.

So to make myself feel better: more goals!

New Year Resolution Fever leads me to suspect that I’m not alone here.

We all know the quotation about how the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing and hoping to get a different result.

In fact, I’ve even written this post before. It did sink in for me that self-improvement makes you worse. I stopped consciously believing that I had to constantly work to make myself a better person. But I kept chasing the high of achievement. It’s like I quit smoking but kept chomping on nicotine gum.

This needs to change.

I’ve started to wonder…

Are you even really living if your life is measured out in SMART goals?

What if every day was a blank canvas, rather than a pre-set to-do list?

What is it like to be guided by what you feel like doing, rather than what you feel like you should be doing?

This is why in 2019 I’m going to pursue nothing. No personal goals, objectives or pipe dreams.

Instead, I’m going to do things that feel rewarding in and of themselves. Even if these things will impress precisely no-one or teach me nothing new.

I’ll do them when and how I feel like doing them.

And I’ll stop if I can’t be bothered with them any more.

Let’s see what happens.



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By talking about this one topic, you could save lives

One of the most dramatic, life-changing moments happened to me in the most mundane setting possible. It was a bog-standard weekday afternoon in March 2012. I was about to eat an M&S sandwich at my desk when I got a message from my brother: my mum had gone into cardiac arrest and had been taken into hospital by paramedics. She was on life-support. I needed to get down there now.

Two agonising weeks followed, in which I sat next to her bed, knowing that she probably wasn’t going to wake up. A neurologist confirmed this, using words I didn’t understand. A nurse translated it for me. During the cardiac arrest, my mum’s brain had been damaged beyond repair. She was gone.

Do you still count as an orphan if you’re 26? (I still had a Young Person’s Railcard, so I’m going to say ‘yes’). I am the oldest of three and my dad had already died, seven years before. So, suddenly, it was down to me to think about things like ordering death certificates, cancelling bank accounts and notifying authorities. I had some (much valued) help from extended family, as well as the support of my partner and friends. But in many ways, I was completely alone and entirely responsible.

Out of all the complicated paperwork and difficult decisions I had to make, one thing was relatively simple.

When someone in your immediate family dies in hospital, an organ donation nurse will have a chat with you about what your loved one wanted to do, and how you feel about it. Even if they were on the organ donor register, you will have the final say.

I can’t imagine what this conversation is like for people who are unsure of their loved one’s wishes. At a time when your whole world has been turned upside down, when you are painfully aware that you can no longer ask this person what they want to do, you’ll be more likely to pick the safest option. Which, if you’re uncertain, is probably ‘no’.

Thankfully, I knew what my mum wanted, because we had talked about it before. I double-checked with my brothers, just to be sure, and we were all agreed. She had wanted to donate. So we gave our blessing for the process to go ahead.

Once everything had been wrapped up, I returned to my life in London. Everything felt like it had been picked up, shaken and put down in a slightly different place.

Months passed. One day, I received a handwritten letter. It was from the wife of a man that had received my mum’s kidney. Her husband had suffered from a long-term condition that meant he needed frequent dialysis. It had drained him and meant his whole life had become smaller. It had affected his whole family. But after he had received a transplant, he had recovered. ‘I’m so sorry that you have lost someone you loved,’ she wrote, ‘but thanks to their gift I’ve got my husband back’.

My mum was many things, but being a carer was one of the roles that defined her. At 18, she had emigrated from Ireland to train as a nurse. She specialised in the care of paralysed people. When it came to me and my brothers, she was entirely selfless. She gave everything to ensure we were healthy and happy. And I am so proud that even after her death, she managed to save lives and care for others.

This week is Organ Donation Week. NHS Blood and Transplant is campaigning to raise awareness of the fact that thousands of organ donation opportunities are lost every year, because families are uncertain about their loved one’s wishes.

86% of people support organ donation, and most people would accept a transplant if they needed one. But only 37% are on the register. New opt-out legislation in 2020 will help close this gap, but it’s still important that people register now, and inform their families. This means that every box will be ticked and more transplantations can take place.

So please: sign the register, then have a conversation with your family this week about whether you’re happy to donate your organs.

Don’t just do it for the people whose lives you could save with a transplant. Do it for your own family, to make their lives that little bit easier if anything happens to you.

Believe me, as someone who has been there. Talking about what you want after death might be painful in the present, but it’s an act of love that will live long into the future. It was the last act of love that my mum was able to give to me. And I still cherish it today.


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Why money diaries need to go bankrupt

The ways in which we millennials spend our money is a hot topic these days. Past-it pundits love to spout off about our reckless spendthrift ways. It’s easy PR for businesses: all it needs to do is drop a press release claiming that we’re spending too much on frivolities such as eating food or breathing and BANG! Instant Twitter outrage.


The different ways in which we drain our bank accounts has such traffic-driving power that the ‘money diary’ has become a staple on sites such as the Guardian, ipaper and Refinery29.

We love to read them. We love to judge the people who write them. Have you ever read the comments on Facebook when the Guardian posts one? Some of them are so abrasive they could give you a blister on your brain.

If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know I have prior experience in airing my financial dirty laundry in public. I was at a point in my life where my money situation was far from ideal. I realised that I had to do something differently. So I decided to challenge all the received wisdom I had around money. I did a lot of research. I tried and tested all sorts of tips and techniques.

In the process, I came to see that there are two dominant views about money that seem to exist in the world.

Both of these views have an element of truth to them. But they’re so simplistic it’s like comparing a stick drawing to a documentary.

The first dominant view is: ‘It’s easy, just spend less than you earn, stupid!’. This is the view that leads people to post judgey comments on the money diaries of people who are poor. Commenters pick at the person’s tiny ‘indulgences’, such as the odd bottle of wine or even turning on the heating. ‘Why are you saying you’re struggling when you can just walk everywhere and entertain yourself by looking out of the window?’

The second dominant view: ‘The more you earn, the easier it is to manage your money.’ This is the one that leads people to post judgey comments on the money diaries of people who are well-off. Commenters bristle at any suggestion that cutting back or saving is an effort. ‘I too could save £1500 a month for a house deposit if it was as easy as cutting out caviar and pedicures!’

I have come to see managing money as a bit like sport or athletics. Part of it is skill and hard work. Most of us could run a 5k if we learn how to do it by training. But how easy we’ll find it, and how fast we’ll go depends largely on your circumstances. Mo Farah wins medals because of the skills he’s developed through training and hard work, but also because of his circumstances, such as his genes and having access to world-class coaching.

I think it’s a similar story with money: It’s a balance of skills and circumstances. Sometimes an imbalance, if circumstances are particularly tough. Someone on benefits needs to develop serious skills to manage on a small amount of money. They need to work far, far, harder than most to make it last, in far tougher circumstances. Someone on £100k will find it so much easier. But if they don’t have the skill to manage their money, or if they can’t be bothered to think about it, it doesn’t mean they’ll still effortlessly glide through in a life of luxury. Think about celebrities: they go bankrupt all the time! Lady Gaga, Meatloaf. Boris Becker. At least one member of every pop band you loved in the 90s. Even Marilyn Monroe was in debt when she died.

Why does this matter? I’m not trying to apologise for privileged people or make you feel sorry for them. What I’m saying is that our response to other people’s money diaries tells us a lot about our own perceptions of money. It also says a lot about who we are as people. And I’m worried that the attention we spend on money diaries is bad for our financial and emotional health. Here’s why:

They bring out the worst in us

Money is an emotive topic. Some moan about how poorer people spend their money because of fear. Prejudiced people invent stories about how poor people would be fine if only they cut out their feckless spending, because they can’t face up to the idea that they could have bad luck and find themselves vulnerable because of it.

We bitch about the rich because we’re jealous and their wealth makes us feel insecure about our own worth. We think their money gives us a free pass to be mean, ignoring the fact they’re just as human as we are. The woman on a £69k salary whose money diary was published yesterday didn’t moan or complain about her circumstances, yet she was dragged across Twitter, mocked in the Daily Mail and has apparently had to delete her social media profiles. Does she deserve that?


They solidify simplistic money myths


If you truly believe that having a higher income will instantly make your life easier in and of itself, this could lead to behaviour that doesn’t help you. I know I secretly harboured a belief that once my income reached a certain level, then I’d be able to pay off my debt and live the life I wanted without having to worry or think about it very much. This serene state never arrived. It’s easy for your expectations to grow with your salary. If you want healthy finances, you need to think clearly and put in the work to manage your money, no matter what your take-home pay is.


They lack context

Money diaries are popular because we get a glimpse of something that we never usually see. Talking about money is still a bit taboo. The thing is: they are only ever a glimpse. They might look like warts-and-all accounts, but they still lack a lot of context and detail. Your financial health is intimately linked to everything from your family and your education to your physical health and personality. This means that the figures on your paycheck will mean something different to you than they might to your neighbour, or your mum.


They encourage comparison


Comparing yourself to others will only make you feel one of two things: shitty or smugly superior. Neither is good. And because of the lack of context, you’ll only be comparing based on your perception, not out of any objective reality.

The comments encourage a social norm whereby we are only ‘allowed’ to talk about how we manage our money if we are at the very bottom of the barrel – i.e. needy because of circumstances that are perceived to be 100% out of our own control. Otherwise, we are fair game to be shamed.

This is, quite frankly, bollocks. Yes, people who whinge when they seem to have a lot of good things in their lives can be tedious. But being honest and open about the struggles you face in life, about anything, is an important way to overcome those struggles and heal. You’re allowed to be sad or stressed or worried, even if your troubles are never going to reach Number 1 in the Billboard Chart of Woes. You’d never say ‘at least you don’t have cancer’ to someone who expresses the view that it’s annoying and a bit painful to have a broken leg. Suppressing and repressing your own and other people’s experiences through shame is a fast track to a breakdown. Take it from someone who used to relentlessly judge themselves for every non-positive, non-productive thought or feeling.


They close our minds to what we can learn


The £69k saving-for-a-deposit article got lots of flack because people got hung up on the fact she was cutting back on luxuries. The behaviours she described were sensible and were some of the things that helped me sort out my own finances, despite the fact I was on a much smaller salary. Things like asking yourself ‘do I actually need this?’, looking at your regular monthly expenses and cutting out the excess, taking action to monitor how much you spend in certain areas. It’s not rocket science but it works.


They make us miss the wood for the trees

Why are we so pissed off about somebody on a high salary saving for a house deposit when the real problem is that home ownership is a distant dream for those of us on average wages? We’ve had eight different housing ministers in eight years; it’s obvious this is not seen as an important position. And most of our elected politicians don’t give a shit about the issues that affect our finances. They’re too busy staring at themselves in the mirror (Boris Johnson), scratching their balls (David Davis), filibustering (Philip Davies), looking at porn on their work computers (Damian Green) or ignoring their Opposition duties in favour of throwing pop concerts (Jeremy Corbyn).



Let’s resist the lure of clickbaity money diaries. Let’s ignore the the latest Daily Mail columnist who blames our struggles on how we buy too many luxurious feather dusters. Let’s live and let live; and lobby those who have the cache to make a genuine difference to our fortunes in life.

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Calling bullshit on ‘extreme frugality’

Imagine this scenario: You are on your way to work, minding your own business, when you suddenly spot a strange item on the ground in front of you. It’s an ornate gold lamp. You pick it up. POOF. A genie emerges. ‘You’ve saved me! To say thank you, I will grant you three wishes, here and now. What would you like?’

Obviously, you’re a nice person so you’d use one or two of your wishes to help others. Put an end to war; impeach Trump; make the Kardashians go away forever; that kind of thing. But what would you like for yourself? I’m willing to bet that on your list of options, you’d probably ask for something along the likes of ‘I wish I never had to worry about money again’. Right? I know I would.

Well, I have good news: there’s a growing movement of people who have found the secret to financial security, early retirement and eternal control over your cash. No genies required. No fairy godmothers or magic spells. Freedom can (and should) be yours. THIS IS NOT A JOKE! Everything you need to know has been covered in the Guardian:

There’s only one thing you need to do to get to this state of financial freedom and control: give up spending money. Any money. You can buy basic groceries, you can pay your bills, but that’s about it. Do this for a few years and you’ll be able to retire. Take back control of your money and your life. Yay!

What’s more, living without money is actually not that bad. It’s quite fun, really. The best things in life are free, amirite? We should all be rescuing our furniture from skips! It’s eco-friendly and guarantees your interiors will be unique. Doing absolutely everything for yourself is character-forming. Plus, it’s like totally enlightening. I know this is true because the Guardian’s ‘I chose a life of extreme frugality and it’s awesome’ articles told me so!

Genies and sarcasm aside: I am here to call BULLSHIT on self-imposed austerity as a lifestyle choice. Not just because I theoretically disagree with it, but because I have tried it myself.

Nearly two years ago, I had started to notice this no-spend trend. Something about it appealed to me. Yes, it was extreme, but my credit card debt had become a beast I couldn’t tame. I was desperate to get it under control. So I decided to try quitting all non-necessary spending, for a month.

This experience taught me that hardcore money-saving is neither enjoyable or enlightening. The ‘frugality is fun’ myth must die, right now, and here’s why:

‘Frugality is fun’ is just not true. Yes, some of the best things in life are free. But some of the other best things cost money, and they’re worth every penny. A takeaway ordered from Just Eat can provide a positive end to a shitty, exhausting day. A round of beers in a pub helps bring people you love together, in a location that’s cosy and convenient. A beautiful pair of boots can help you walk tall when you’re feeling small. These things may not be bare essentials, and you can ‘live’ without them. But you are deluding yourself if you think that denying yourself everything results in an enjoyable life.

‘Frugality is fun’ is just not helpful. Let me be clear: my month of not spending did serve a purpose for me. I ended the month a bit richer, plus it helped me develop some good habits and taught me a few things. But there was no way in hell that I could live that way forever. I couldn’t even make it through the entire month – I had to bend the rules mid-way through as socialising without money was near-impossible and it had isolated me.

If something is unsustainable, it’s NOT a good strategy for long-term behaviour change. It’s a bit like recommending a weight-loss programme that involves chopping off bits of your body. Yes, it’ll work if you can make yourself do it, but would you really want to?

Plus, not spending is only going to be helpful for you if you have a job that pays well enough to give you a surplus. And the truly life-changing stuff – like retiring early – will only be possible if that surplus is fairly big. Which leads me to…

Promoting ‘extreme frugality’ as a lifestyle is just not right. It is tasteless to promote extreme frugality as a way to gain ‘financial freedom’ when poverty is an inescapable trap for millions of people. At best, this approach is useless advice. At worst, it wrongly implies that everyone’s financial problems can be solved with a little bit of willpower, discipline and self-deprivation.

I don’t regret having tried it for a short time, but with perspective I wouldn’t recommend it as a solution for anything. The money I saved in the 30 days equaled 6.1% of my credit card debt. Had I kept it up, I’d have been debt-free around four months faster. I would also have lost the will to live. And I’d have learned absolutely nothing about how to live a good life on the budget I have.

Extreme approaches are popular because they promise extreme results. They are like catnip for people who are scared that their lives – and their finances – have spun out of control. If you feel this way, as I too felt for a long time, please know that it is entirely possible to get on top of your cash flow and learn to become good with money, without resorting to a permanent financial starvation diet (or even a temporary one). It takes time, experimentation, practice and a bit of work, but you will get there. No dumpster diving necessary.  



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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:


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).


giphy (1)


‘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.


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.



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?



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.


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:


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

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.


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.)



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?


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.




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.




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!’)




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…


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


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!




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:


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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