Archive December 2016

If you need proof that LEAP YEAR, the new book by Helen Russell, actually works, read on! Helen is the author of the bestselling The Year of Living Danishly (and the person who brought hygge to the UK!) – but her new book tackles a much bigger topic: when so many of us are filled with indecision and fear of change, what can we actually do to change our lives for the better, and for good?

We’ve been conducting our own experiments in-house, road-testing the theories from the book, and improving our own lives along the way. In today’s blog, Kate, Senior Editor and the person who has just published LEAP YEAR, takes you behind the scenes and shows you how this book has changed her life (and the life of her desk neighbour!)…

I have many, many character flaws, but if you asked a) my boyfriend and b) my boss/desk neighbour what my biggest flaw is I’m pretty sure they’d say, in unison, SHE IS MESSY. I am. It’s almost a talent; a kind of Midas touch for chaos. I’m Bernard Black in Black Books. When I walk into a hotel room everything I’ve packed leaps out of my suitcase and strews itself across the floor. My desk is a disaster zone.

So when I read the chapter on Home in LEAP YEAR (surrounded by piles of paper and empty coffee cups) I thought that maybe I could use it to try to sort of my desk. And then, possibly, the rest of my life. There are loads of great techniques in this chapter, but the one that I felt I’d be most able to implement was what Helen called The Danish Art of Decluttering. Long story short, if it doesn’t either have a specific function, or enhance your existence through being a Nice Thing, it goes. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a picture of a hedgehog little Horatio painted on a rock for you – unless you actually feel attached to it.

This was phase one and two of the desk clearout, anyway – and it was really freeing to stop worrying about what I thought I needed and just go, ‘Do I need it?’ or ‘Do I like it?’ Another thing that Helen notes in the book is that the longer you do it, the more ruthless you get! Half a day later, and my desk was as clean as a whistle. That’s when stage 3 comes in – putting back a few touches that either make a desk an oasis, or (as in the case of hygge), make a house a home. For me, this mostly consisted of edible things. Tea, vegemite (what? It’s an iconic piece of design.), coffee beans, biscuits…but you might have less food-centric tastes. From that point on I tried to instigate Helen’s ‘one in, one out’ rule’. Working away over the next few months, I felt remarkably…light. And, er, I knew where everything was. And I was less likely to spill coffee on my keyboard. And we all lived happily ever after.

…well, almost.  A few months down the line, I noticed that the mess had crept back. I say I noticed: mostly I noticed that my boss had built a wall of books between our desks so she didn’t have to look at mine. And this is where another of Helen’s techniques from elsewhere in the book came in – in the past, I’d have been tempted to just write it all off as a failure. But actually, I now had the skills to clear it again, and faster and more efficiently: so I did. It turns out, when you struggle to make changes, the only way to fix it is to go right back to the beginning and start again. It’s not the magic fix so many people promise us when it comes to improving our lives, but at the same time it’s not rocket science, and it actually WORKS.

This is our Day 3 in a series of blog posts celebrating Helen Russell’s new book LEAP YEAR. Helen is the author of the bestselling The Year of Living Danishly (and the person who brought hygge to the UK!) – but her new book tackles a much bigger topic: when so many of us are filled with indecision and fear of change, what can we actually do to change our lives for the better, and for good?

We’ve been conducting our own experiments in-house, road-testing the theories from the book, and improving our own lives along the way. In today’s blog, Assistant Editor Becky focuses on her mental health…

I pay a lot of attention to how my body feels and notice when something isn’t right: I feel tired, I have a headache, I hurt my leg while out training for that half marathon (whose idea was that anyway?). But when I got to the ‘Mind’ chapter of LEAP YEAR, I suddenly realised that I spend a lot less time thinking about my mental health. And it’s really something we should be thinking about a lot more than we do.

I sometimes feel a little anxious, a little jittery, a little stressed. I could sleep better. As I read, I realised I wanted to change all that. I didn’t want to feel anxious and jittery and stressed. I wanted a solid 8 hours uninterrupted sleep and I was enthusiastic about trying Helen’s techniques – and the things that appealed most were meditation, and spending less time on social media. I thought ten minutes spent sitting in quiet contemplation a day wouldn’t be taxing, and staying off social media after 8 p.m. would actually be a pleasure.

It helped that I’d just come back from a holiday to Cuba where internet is almost non-existent and where my phone couldn’t even get signal for half the holiday. Did I miss not being on it, did I miss out on any crucial news while I was away from Facebook and Twitter? No. In fact, I didn’t miss out on anything and I didn’t miss it at all. But when I came back home I was right back on my phone, wasting my time, scrolling away. But I knew I could do it and this experiment gave me the incentive to not be on my phone before bed or first thing after waking up. I’ve found that I’m happier the less time I spend online.

As for the meditation side of things, the only prior experience I’d had of this was when, at the end of a particularly hard yoga class, we lay down on our backs and our teacher asked us to meditate on what it would be like to be an amoeba. Obviously it wasn’t the best of starts. But a few minutes of quiet contemplation? That’s actually been quite nice amongst the hectic pre-Christmas mayhem. I’ve only been doing it for a few days but I already feel calmer. I think it’s easier to stick with a new resolution when you don’t make it at the start of a new year and this will certainly be one I’ll be keeping.

We are so happy to be bringing Helen Russell’s new book LEAP YEAR into the world! Helen is the author of the bestselling The Year of Living Danishly (and the person who brought hygge to the UK!) – but her new book tackles a much bigger topic: when so many of us are filled with indecision and fear of change, what can we actually do to change our lives for the better, and for good?

We’ve been conducting our own experiments in-house, road-testing the theories from the book, and improving our own lives along the way. In today’s blog, Assistant Editor Federico finds inspiration on how to change his relationship for the better…

2016 has been a year of big changes for me – and no, I’m not referring to the puzzling events that have changed the world: a few weeks ago I started living with someone for the first time. It’s been a long time coming – my boyfriend and I have been together for just over three years – but it still feels like a big (and I mean BIG) move. So what better time to try and learn new ways of making our relationship work? After all there is nothing more intimate than sharing a relatively cramped space with someone you think you know well… I devoured the chapter in LEAP YEAR devoted to re-charging your relationship, all the while making mental notes on how to apply some of those lessons to my own life: by the end of it I had a plan. Now I only needed my partner to come on board.

The one thing you need to know about Basi (that’s him) is that he’s the quintessential English gentleman: loving and affectionate and incredibly thoughtful, but not exactly accustomed to the idea of talking about his feelings. That’s why experiment number 1 felt particularly promising: following Helen’s words in the book, we both drafted a list of 30 things the other person does that make us love them more. It was somewhat difficult to begin with (30 is a deceivingly large number), but ended up being quite fun, like free therapy.

We both particularly loved focusing on the positives: too often we get upset by small, annoying things and take the good stuff for granted. A random sampling of both our entries includes:

  • Baking dessert for the other person’s friends (“especially since they always come out looking like the book”)
  • Letting the other person sleep until the very last minute (and making sure there’s a mug of hot water waiting for them when they eventually leave the warm comfort of our duvet)
  • Choosing a silly rom-com for our Sunday film night (“so not what I would go for”)
  • Organising short weekends away complete with walks and pub meals (“mostly the pub meal”)
  • Bringing the Christmas spirit home every year by insisting we buy a tree and decorate it while listening to Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas
  • “When you listen to me talking non-stop about the latest office gossip and you actually care”

Some of the things on Basi’s list I expected, others were a complete surprise. And most of them were small, simple things which made me feel surprisingly relieved: no need for grand gestures, just bake more often!

We’ve also tried to have an imaginary houseguest. And let me tell you: this was FUN. The idea is simple: every time you are about to have an argument just imagine you’ve got someone staying with you. You’d want to be on your best behaviour, wouldn’t you? The best bit was choosing our guests. After a number of unsuccessful combinations (Elton and Britney? Morrisey and Celine?) we settled on a British classic: (Dames) Maggie Smith and Judi Dench. Now every time we are about to discuss my tendency to make a bit of a mess every time I open the fridge to cook dinner, we can just picture Maggie in her best Dowager clothes disapproving of the “loud, bickering help” or lovely Judi looking at us like a slightly disappointed aunt. Works a treat…

Overall I think the greatest thing about the LEAP YEAR experiments was that they focused on the positive things in life, and that they added a bit of fun. Writing that list was hard work, but it would have been even worse had we been forced to write the things that we hated about each other, or the small habits we found irritating. Maybe that’s the key for our life together (and – let’s hope – for 2017 in general): stay focused on the good.

Today at Two Roads we are very excited to be publishing Helen Russell’s new book, LEAP YEAR. Helen is the author of the bestselling The Year of Living Danishly (and the person who brought hygge to the UK!) – but her new book tackles a much bigger topic: when so many of us are filled with indecision and fear of change, what can we actually do to change our lives for the better, and for good?

We’ve been conducting our own experiments in-house, road-testing the theories from the book, and improving our own lives along the way. In today’s blog, Editorial Assistant Louise Richardson embraces the re-invigorating power of hobbies. Over to her…

 

I’ve wanted to do more stuff in my spare time for a long time. Living in London I could easily blame it on lack of funds or time, but to be honest, it’s my own head that’s the problem. I’m often deafened by my inner monologue which always kicks in just when I’m about to start something for fun, making me veer off and onto something far simpler but definitely more important. Something like tidying my sock drawer or washing up a fork, for example. What if I end up wasting my potential?, it goes. Or what if I’m just straight up awful? It’s nails-down-a-blackboard intrusive.

When I read the hobbies chapter in Leap Year, and the bit about using NLP to quieten your mind long enough to start something for yourself, I thought it sounded pretty great. One of the ideas behind NLP, Helen Russell explains, is that we shouldn’t focus on why we can’t do something – that’s not useful. Instead, you should focus purely on how: how are you going to move on from a situation? There are loads of other interesting techniques to try in the book, but this was the one that resonated. If Helen could use NLP to distract herself from her own inhibitions long enough to pretend to be a clock in a truly odd exercise class, I could try to put the chattering part of my mind in a corner and focus on doing something fun.

My housemate happened to be hosting a life drawing class at his comic shop, Orbital Comics, and invited me along. ‘It’s going to be great!’ he enthused. ‘It’s a themed class, completely clothed. The theme is ‘Tokyo Creepshow’!’ What, like Godzilla? I thought. Turned out the models would be dressed as Harajuku dropouts and gothic Lolitas. This sounded brilliant for my experiment – the less serious the class, the less seriously I’ll take it (I hoped). I signed up with my friend Max. Strength in numbers.

When we arrived the main table was already stuffed full of artists with enormous pads of paper and fancy brush pens.  Oh help, I thought, before remembering Helen’s distraction technique. I’m only here for fun. I’m here to see what happens and to try something new. I grabbed a glass of wine.  There was a slumped pink bear in an eyepatch on stage and people were drawing it intently. Max and I were told we could sit at a tall table off to one side. We perched on the stools, unpacked pencils and biros and started some tentative drawings. Mine looked like a melted turnip and we both fell about laughing. We were like Statler and Waldorf up there.

Then the moderator put a J-Pop record on and the first model came out. He was a slender guy in a pink tartan jacket, matching miniskirt and a spiky bubblegum wig. We did a couple of 5-minute drawings to loosen up. OK, I’ve got this. Totally comfortable and not at all intimidated by this yawning blank page. Argh.

And then…

I was ok. I remembered what Helen said about distracting myself from my inner monologue and picked up my pencil. I wasn’t there to listen to all the reasons I couldn’t do it. I drew one figure and then the pose changed and we went again. Another model came out, this one a woman in a dead bunny mask and bandaged corset. They moved through more choreographed poses, each one allowing slightly more time than the one before. I had gulped down a whole glass of red wine before we started but we were hallway through the second half of the class before I realised I hadn’t touched my second.

An hour later I was thrilled with what I’d done. When the moderator said we could leave drawings out for the other people and the models to look at, I didn’t think twice and spread them out. I felt great – light and confident. So this is why people do things for fun! There’s a whole heap of reasons why hobbies are great for you (see Leap Year) but for me, this sensation of floatiness is what I’d needed.

Derailing my train of thought for long enough to actually do several drawings is a huge win. Since the Tokyo Freakshow class I’ve found another life drawing class near home and I’m feeling pretty relaxed about going. Thanks, Helen!

Things I’ve learned about taking up a new hobby:

  • Listening to all the reasons something is frightening isn’t very useful
  • NLP techniques are great for distracting yourself from your inner monologue just long enough for you to get stuff done
  • Extra-curricular pursuits really do leave you feeling invigorated
  • Guys look every bit as cute as women in pink tartan miniskirts

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