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Find a better you

There are areas of your life – career, money and relationships – that can be improved, making you feel back on track again…

 What makes up you? Your partner, your children, your job? The one thing many women forget about, while trying to keep on top of the daily rush that is their life, is themselves.

You are the most important person in helping yourself to be the person you want to be. Some easy changes to your life, such as taking control of your spending, learning how to appreciate your partner or getting better job satisfaction, can turn next year into your best year yet and can change things for the better – now and in the future.

Your love life

  1. Don’t come across as desperate
    If you’re insecure and constantly finding fault with your partner as a result, there will come a point when he will tire of trying to placate you and will prefer being with someone who is confident and comfortable in her own skin. ‘Overcoming relationship insecurity is partly about becoming less controlling,’ explains Mike Tyrrell, a relationship therapist and creative director of www.uncommon-knowledge.co.uk ‘Feeling that your relationship is not how you think it should be is a form of over-control. A sign of insecurity in relationships is when the desire for certainty becomes too strong.

    ‘Having to know whether your partner really loves you puts a lot of unnecessary strain and tension into the relationship. Self-assurance comes from starting to relax with uncertainty. Wanting to know for certain that someone will be with you forever prevents you enjoying the here and now. Nothing in life is certain.’ Keep your dependence and independence in balance. Tell and show your partner how much you need him, but don’t cling, as that can make your partner feel trapped.
     

  2. Learn to be a team player
    Hidden resentments poison a relationship; so if something bothers you, say it. Remember that while men are wary of emotional conversations, they love to find solutions. Express your problem and then ask him to help you find the answer. Many couples spend a lot of their relationship battling with each other and this creates constant tension and stress. ‘Learn how to negotiate,’ says Susan Quilliam, relationship psychologist and agony aunt (www.susanquilliam.com).’Each of you state what you want, then work together to find a way forward.’ It’s OK to argue, too – as long as you do it well. ‘The trick is to never say anything that you wouldn’t want to hear said to you,’ says Susan.
     
  3. Know him before you love him
    Realise that the two of you will shift and change over the years. So, even if you think you understand him, or believe you have agreements sorted, check regularly – at least once a year – to make sure that neither of you has changed your mind. Some characteristics about your partner are there for life – and you have to face that. Remember, those subtle quirks that first attracted you to your partner can, with time, turn around and become toe-curlingly annoying habits. Learn to love him, warts and all.
     
  4. Get your sex life in order
    The sex may ebb and flow over the years, but if sex starts going downhill, don’t just accept it. As soon as you notice a slide, question why and then work at bringing the passion back. Encourage him to listen to you, by showing appreciation when he does. By the same token, show interest when he talks to you. Most men aren’t mentally programmed for conversation in the way women are – they need more silence and internal time. Make him appreciate you. Don’t wait for a compliment, but say something good about yourself and ask for his agreement.
     
  5. Live in the real world
    Don’t assume you won’t be tempted to have an affair. ‘You need to learn to resist’, says Susan Quilliam. ‘If you do stray, don’t feel it spells the end of your relationship. Most couples recover, particularly from a one-night-stand, and often find that unrooting the cause of the affair helps them to get even closer. Don’t think that an affair is the end of everything.’

Your career

  1. Find your passion
    Having a job you enjoy is critical to being happy – after all, most of us spend more time at work than we do anywhere else. Counsellor David Burkle says: ‘If you can turn a hobby into a job, without the work becoming so stressful that it spoils the hobby, then that’s the secret of a really enjoyable profession.’
     
  2. Strive to be the best you can
    Doing a job well makes you feel good – you’ll get a much higher sense of satisfaction from your work if you know you’re doing your best. If there’s an area you feel you need help with, request some training – most companies respect pro-active employees who want to better themselves as they understand it will benefit their business, too.
     
  3. It’s not always about the money
    Money doesn’t have to be the be all and end all. If you’ve got the six figure salary but you’ve got no job satisfaction, it might be time to think about that career you’ve always fantasised about and to sit down and do some serious calculations.
     
  4. Be productive
    According to Tony Schwartz, author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working (£12.99, Simon & Schuster) the key to productivity at work is to take more breaks. ‘Breaks don’t need to be long, but you need to change the type of thinking and activity you’re doing.’ Tony believes that productivity is not all about time management but about energy management.
     
  5. Learn from other people
    ‘Learning and development is broader than just training,’ says David Liversage, founder of Blue Phoenix, a learning and development consultancy. David says: ‘Think about a job swap or shadowing somebody, so you learn a new skill. This appeals to companies because you’re not taking time out to have training – you’re actually applying it to the job while you’re doing it.’
     
  6. All work and no play
    Latest figures from the Trade Union Congress (TUC) indicate that over five million Brits regularly work unpaid overtime, ‘giving employers £27.4 billion of free work every year’. In 2010, Work Your Proper Hours Day fell on 26 February – every year, this day, set up by the TUC’s WorkSmart, marks the day the average person finishes the unpaid days and starts earning for themselves. That’s something to make you stop work and take stock, isn’t it?

Your family and friends

  1. It’s not your fault
    If a friend or family member is feeling negative, remember that you’re not responsible for their lives and you don’t have to feel guilty for them being unhappy. Let go of trying to help them. That’s not what they want anyway. But what they do want is your energy, so be strong and don’t let them bring you down with them. Judy Orloff, author of Emotional Freedom (£16.99, Crown Publishing Group) suggests the best way to deal with draining family or friends is to mention that you have work to do and you can only listen for a minute. ‘If after a few minutes, the person is still going on about the same thing then either change the conversation or politely but firmly end the conversation,’ she says. Your friends and family have to take responsibility for their own lives and they won’t do so if someone is always there to fix everything for them. So, let go of the idea that you owe everyone a solution.
     
  2. Focus on your own energy
    If you can have high energy and are more upbeat and enthusiastic than your negative-feeling friends and family, then your energy will most likely start to rub off on them, instead of the other way around. Also, the less attention you pay to them, the less they’ll affect you.
     
  3. Parent with an end in mind
    If your style of parenting is to get any situation under control as soon as possible, this often results in children who feel overpowered. But if you keep in mind how you want your child to be as an adult, you’ll be more thoughtful in the way you parent. For example, if you smack your child, he will learn to use acts of aggression to get what he wants when he grows up. Remember to be consistent though – don’t give in your child’s tears, pleas or pouting.
     
  4. Learn to say ‘no’
    Why do you find saying ‘No’ to friends and loved ones so hard? Social psychologist Susan Newman says the best way to turn down a friend is to be firm and don’t offer explanations and excuses, which will open up room for the person to keep pressuring you.

Your finances

  1. Budget yourself
    If you’re always short of money, then drawing up a budget – a plan for how to spend your money – can help. At the end of the month, draw up a list of categories – like food, clothing, household bills, and savings, then allocate your expenses accordingly. If you know you have certain areas of weakness, like eating out, break those down into more detail (meals out, breakfast at a coffee shop, etc). When calculating a one-off spend like Christmas, birthdays or your summer holiday, spread the amount over the year, advises money expert Martin Lewis. If you can put all the details on an Excel spreadsheet, it will make this process even easier. Now you’ve got a handle on how much money you spend each month, you can divvy it up in ways that are more satisfying. If you need to make spending cuts, trim the things that don’t matter to you, while preserving things that you really care about. You should end up with a list of all your expenses. Use this list as a guideline for your future spending.
     
  2. Pay off any outstanding consumer debt
    It’s important that you pay off any outstanding consumer debt, advises independent financial advisor, author and television presenter, Alvin Hall. ‘Always pay off debts with the highest annual percentage rate (APR) first because these are costing you the most in interest charges.’
  3. Control your impulse spending
    Alvin Hall has these easy tips to controlling your spending:

    • Compare something that you’re about to buy with an essential expense. It will stop you cold. For example, a dress might cost you £35, but you could use that to pay your phone bill.
    • Go to a cashpoint just once a week and take out only what you need for that week. You can divide the money into seven envelopes and use each day. Eventually, your daily spend will become a default behaviour.
    • Tightening your financial belt can feel a lot like dieting. At times you’ll wonder if you’ll be able to eat pudding again? Yes! Allow enough in your budget for a little treat every month, as a reward for keeping on track. Choose something you enjoy, but only buy it if you’ve kept within your budget for the month.
       
  4. Be a savvy saver
    Once you’ve freed up some extra funds, open a savings account and set up a direct debit for a set amount each month,’ suggests Alvin Hall. ‘Don’t worry if it’s only a small amount, the most important thing is to get yourself into the savings habit and make it a top priority.’A recent survey for the Post Office revealed – somewhat alarmingly – that one in six people in the UK have a bank account that they keep secret from their partner, with the average person having around £2,000 secretly saved! Incredibly, one in 20 has more than £10,000 stashed away in secret. While we’re not advocating the secrecy element of saving, it is important to save – both for the unexpected events in life, say losing your job or illness, as well as the expected ones, such as a a house deposit, wedding or your children’s university fees. Financial security in today’s economic climate is even more vital than ever.

Photograph: Getty Images

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