28 things I’ve learned

Hello! How are you? I hope you’re happy and well.

Earlier this month, I celebrated my 28th birthday – it was a good one! I had everything I needed: my closest friends, my favourite pizza, a gold party hat and a hilarious cake. A gal can’t ask for more.

But birthdays often get me thinking about my life – what I’ve achieved, what I want to do next, what I’ve learned so far.

And then I realised: ‘Hey, I can turn my overthinking into a semi-useful blog post!’. So, let’s go:

You have to tend all of the relationships in your life

I’ve always known romantic relationships need work (how many films have been made about that?) but took family and friendship for granted. They just magically work, right? Nope. To have successful, long-lasting relationships – in whatever form – you gotta put the time and effort in.

Tending my friendships has never really felt like work but I’m definitely appreciating the importance of arranging regular meet-ups despite the busy schedules, checking in, sharing the important things (and the silly little things too) and making sure I’m being the friend they need right.

Dont bother trying to be cool

You know that Chanel misquote: ‘Fashion fades, style is eternal’? I feel that way about coolness. Coolness fades, being yourself is forever.

I wish I’d known when I was younger that no-one really wants to be your friend because you’re cool (and I’m really not). It’s funniness, friendliness and loyalty that makes people stick around.

We all look at old photographs and cringe, but it’s the ones where you’re not really being you which smart the most. And yes, ‘University Years’ Nikki, I’m talking to you.

Thinking about making a positive change? Just do it.

My best decisions, like exercising regularly, just happened. I didn’t spend time planning or plotting. I just got going and used the momentum to keep it up.

I’d spent years wanting to get fit. Complaining I was getting chubby as I tucked into another chocolate bar. Finishing an exercise video and deciding that’d do me for the month. Doing one ab workout and getting frustrated my stomach rolls hadn’t evaporated.

If you’re looking to get fit, the Bloglates 100 Ab Challenge got me to exercise every day for a month – UNHEARD of. Ever since, I’ve exercised 3-4 times a week. It’s been a huge lifestyle change but I’m so glad I ‘just did it’. I’m not angling for a Nike sponsorship, honestly.

Always give yourself something to look forward to

I think this one is such a good mental health buffer – everyone needs hope and excitement in their lives. I’ve started a Note on my phone called ‘2019 plans’ where I list absolutely everything I have to look forward to. It’s essentially a calendar, but covering everything from a dinner date with my best friend to the new season of Queer Eye.

There’s always something good around the corner.

The Note in action: I look forward to pumpkin picking every year

Cultivate the little pleasures in life

Everyday joys, like a good bath, your famous sausage gnocchi dish or, in the case of my friend, the delivery of the latest Good Food magazine, is what life is all about.

I get more excited by the prospect of a relaxing evening in with good food and a funny film than I do about a holiday. I know, I’m weird. But embracing these little pleasures guarantees pockets of happiness every day.

Remember: we all make mistakes and that’s OK

I’m much more likely to avoid doing something in case I do it wrong than I am to shrug, smile and give it a go anyway. I forget that making mistakes is part of being a human.

I’d like to tell my past self not to worry about getting something wrong and looking silly. And to know I’ll make mistakes but that it’s all OK – it’s how we learn! (For more on making mistakes see How To Fail by Elizabeth Day.)

Channel your efforts into getting better at what you love

When I was in school, I was just terrible at maths. It made me so self-conscious. Luckily, I’d always found drawing easy and I loved art lessons when other people dreaded picking up a pencil. When GCSE exams rolled around, I put all my effort into not being terrible at maths (I was a C/D student). Guess what happened? I got an A in maths and a B in art. While I’ll always count acing maths as a personal achievement, I’d much rather have got an A in something I loved!

It’s still true when you’re a grown-up. If you hate baking, don’t torture yourself in the kitchen perfecting your pavlova. You don’t need to be good at everything. Life is far too short.

Don’t waste time on people who don’t make you happy

I once knew someone who’d flatter, charm, gaslight and ignore me, all in the same week. Because I thought they were interesting, earning their attention became something I craved.

Every time we got on well, I’d naively think I was happy. But I really wasn’t, I spent most of my time desperately trying to understand them, decode their messages, or feeling deflated when they were distant or mean. It took me a long time before I realised I shouldn’t waste anymore time on them.

If you have a pal who makes you feel sad or bad about yourself, maybe you shouldn’t be pals anymore. You deserve better.

It doesn’t necessarily mean this person is a cruel, uncaring beast. But if they compromise your happiness, they’re not the right person for you.

Learn to cook a few of your favourite dishes

Until a year or two ago, I couldn’t cook for toffee. But, one dish at a time (and with the help and confidence of my sister), I expanded my repertoire. Now I’m classifiably ‘OK’ at cooking!

Give yourself a goal of mastering five dishes – that’ll see you through.

Keep on top of your life admin

Sort out the insurance, email so-and-so, return these packages, phone the bank. If you don’t keep on top of these niggling little tasks, they grow into an overwhelming mountain.

For me, it’s health stuff. I am just terrible with health admin. I cannot bring myself to book a doctor or dentist appointment for the life of me (and eventually it will be for the life of me!).

It helps to make a list of everything floating around in your head and make a point of ticking off one or two things each day. Before you know it, it’ll be done.

Invest in good quality shoes, coats, mattresses and … pans?

You don’t need top-of-the-line stuff most of the time. We’re all on budgets. But when it comes to things like non-stick cooking, your ability to walk properly and the quality of your sleep, do some shopping around and making sure you’re getting the best you can afford.

This is coming from the girl who bought one too many pairs of New Look boots in her past, wearing the heels down immediately and having no support. It would’ve been much cheaper to buy one nicer pair.

My motto? Buy your shoes from Clarks and your pants from M&S. You’re welcome, babes.

Tell people how you feel

I’m famous for sitting on my feelings. Or saying: ‘Well, I really don’t want to make things awkward!’ as an excuse to keep quiet.

But there’s so shame in being honest with people. Whether that’s ‘I like you!’ or ‘I don’t like that!’ or ‘I miss you!’. As my friend Queenie once told me, it’s better to be honest about how you feel than forever wonder ‘what if?’.

Buy fewer clothes

I fall into the trap of ‘if only I had this bag’ or ‘I need these shoes’ all too often. But aside from that initial buzz of the purchase, it doesn’t make me any happier. Bloody sneaky capitalism, eh?

Wearing a great outfit does make me happy – but I don’t need a lot of clothes to look good. Just a few things that are decent quality, fit well and suit my style.

See my capsule wardrobe challenge for more inspiration!

Or buy a suit and wear it every week

It’s absolutely OK to be ‘fussy’

When you’ve been single as long as I have, people are likely to throw around the F-word. But I don’t mind. I’m not a ‘settler’ and I’m happy about that. It’s OK to wait for the right thing, whether that’s a person, a flat or a pizza. (It’s hard to go back to Dominos when you know Baffi and Franco Manca exist, y’know?)

Be more mindful about what you eat

Oh, junk food. My old friend. There’s the momentary sugary thrill but then what? Nothing.

I have a massive sweet tooth and I’m still learning the true meaning of ‘everything in moderation’. But I’m getting there! Actually, one of the most helpful things I did was switching to dark chocolate. I couldn’t binge that like I do a packet of buttons or a huge slab of Cadbury’s.

Think about what you’re eating, slow down, and savour your food.

I like to mindfully munch sourdough pizza from Baffi

Your needs are just as important

When I was younger, I sighed and rolled my eyes at everyone who described themselves as a ‘people pleaser’. Like, just don’t be? Where’s your sense of identity? Have some bloody backbone.

It’s ironic that at 28, I’ve realised I’m a people-pleaser. I worry a lot about other people. And it’s nice that I care – and I’m glad being considerate of others is one of my traits – but people-pleasing comes at a cost.

I try to be conscious of myself now. Am I doing something just to be polite? Will it make me unhappy? How can I avoid that?

‘You can’t pour from an empty vessel’, as the saying goes. Don’t give everything, you need to save some of your energy for yourself.

You need time to recharge. That’s how you work

I’m a bit of an introvert. This means that after being social, I need some time to myself. To sit watching Killing Eve. To journal. To draw. I avoid scheduling too much in the space of a week now, so I have those precious evenings in (or Nana Nights, as I call them). Everyone’s different, find out what works for you.

Don’t worry so much about your body

So many celebrities say they wish they hadn’t worried so much about how they looked in their early 20s. ‘I’ve never looked that good since!’ they say.

When I was younger, I’d read that and cringe. I hated the idea that from here, it’s just downhill. But actually, that’s not true! At 28, I’m probably in the best shape I’ve been since I was a teen! That’s down to exercising regularly and working out how different foods make me feel.

But the fact that I’m maybe a little bit thinner or more toned is neither here nor there. I feel stronger. I feel better. I feel like I’m looking after myself. And that makes me feel good about my body. I no longer viciously pinch my belly rolls or worry about back fat. I’m proud of my body and I’m happy it works (most of the time!).

And, most importantly, I wish I’d known the way my body looks doesn’t matter that much. Not as much as I thought it does, anyway. I’m not going to pretend there isn’t a massive stigma around being overweight. Or that being on the smaller side doesn’t give you an unfair advantage in life. But most of us are probably worrying about a matter of pounds. We’re the only ones judging ourselves on that. What’s the point?

My life is better because I feel good about myself. And I feel good about myself because I know I’m trying my best to look after myself.

*I’m not going to use the phrase ‘body positivity’ because, as Sofie Hagen pointed out, it’s powered by slim, white cis-women who are doing that movement very few favours. I’ll leave that to someone more qualified.*

YOU ARE ENOUGH

Thanks to social media, we live in an age of comparison. It’s inescapable.

‘She dresses better than I ever will’, ‘I wish I had that many followers’, ‘OMG their living room!, ‘I want a holiday like that but I’ll never afford it,’ ‘why is she so pretty? God, I feel hideous,’ can all go through your head before 7.15am on a Monday morning. Ugh.

You’re not your job title, your follower count, your clothes, your haircut, or even your achievements.

Right now – this very second – you are enough. Just as you are. I promise.

‘You’re your actions, not your thoughts’

I first read this a year or so ago, and it was really comforting. I can beat myself up about a lot (see ‘it’s OK to make mistakes’) and adding ‘because of this thing I thought’ to that list is just ridiculous.

I don’t know you (probably) but I’m sure you do good things. You help friends – and even strangers sometimes. You’re kind. You pick people up when they’re sad. You tell funny stories. You make people smile. Remember that. That’s who you are.

Don’t ask for so many opinions you start losing your own

I’m indecisive, so I ask friends’ opinions on a lot.

I went through a phrase where I’d ask for several opinions on just about everything. That didn’t help – it actually made it harder for me to make my own decisions until I felt quite cut off from my own feelings.

‘Well, how do you feel?’ a friend would ask.
‘Oh…,’ I’d say, embarrassed. ‘I don’t actually know.’

This year, I’ve been trying to resist asking for opinions. I want to sharpen my own gut instincts. At the end of the day, my decisions are my responsibility alone. I have to know how I feel. It’s my life!

When it comes to progress, little consistent actions are the best method

We’re very goal-oriented people, aren’t we? Get fit. Lose weight. Get promotion. Learn this. Run that.

I’ve realised that to achieve my goals, it’s best to have these little actions (i.e. exercise 3–4 times a week) rather than one big one (i.e. lose a stone). My bullet journal has been super helpful for this – more on that later.

It’s OK to ask for help!

‘Actually, I’m struggling with this. Could you give me a hand?’
‘Things are tough at the moment. Can we chat about it?’

I’ve learned that telling people when things go wrong is super important – especially when I’m naturally a massive ‘nope, everything is fine!’ kinda gal.

It’s hard to do at first. But it gets easier. When I went through my slightly agoraphobic anxiety phase last year, I had to be honest with dear ones that I found it hard to get out and about. But because I’d honest, my friend would suggest coming over to me for dinner and boardgames, so we could still spend time together without me feeling awkward or embarrassed. Imagine if I’d tried to hide it by making excuses? She might have thought I was ghosting her!

And if you’re honest with people, they’ll be honest back. It’s amazing how many people have told me about their own struggles with anxiety. It’s taken out a lot of the shame and stigma – and gives you a much better support network.

Surround yourself with good people

Throughout my twenties, friendships came and went until I formed the pretty wonderful group of people around me today. People who make me laugh, support me, listen to me, encourage me. And I hope I do the same for them too!

I’m safe in the knowledge that these are good people who want the best for me. And that’s a pretty good foundation for life, I think. If there’s one thing to find in your twenties, it’s people who’ll make you happy and help you develop into your best self.

Bullet journalling is a saviour

I’m so glad I started bullet journalling in 2018. It’s a creative outlet that helps me reflect, organise and develop.

My mood trackers help me recognise how I’m feeling, my habit trackers encourage me to do the things I keep putting off (reading, exercising, going to bed on time) and my weekly spreads ensure I never forget an event.

Last year, I got into the habit of writing down three good things each day – and it’s surprisingly easy to think of them. Now, if I’m having a bad day, my sister simply demands: ‘tell me three good things!’ and I remember to be grateful about the many good things in my life instead of whinging about the one or two bad things. Well, most of the time.

Make social media your haven

Is there an Instagram account which bugs you for some mysterious reason? Unfollow it. Do you ever find yourself hate-watching an influencer’s videos? Don’t click on them. Know someone who posts things which make you feel crappy? Mute them.

Instead, follow positive accounts (my favourites are @chessiekingg, @i_weigh and @MorganHarperNichols) who make you feel good about yourself. Follow accounts with beautiful artwork. Inspiring quotes. Cute pets. Whatever it is that makes you happy.

That way, social media will be a nice, comforting place for you to be – not somewhere which makes you feel inferior, inadequate or attacked.

Send the elevator back down

‘Sending the elevator back down’ is a phrase I heard from Laura Jane Williams recently, and I loved it. It means ‘paying it forward’ or helping someone else. So, when you achieve some success, you’re pulling someone else up with you.

For example, if you learn a new skill, teach someone else who wants to know. If you go to a conference, tell someone who’s interested about what you learned.

And this is what I’ve learned in my 28 years on the planet. I hope you’ve found it useful!

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned? Do let me know!

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