Certain points in the calendar bring out our urge to self improve, whether it’s a long list of resolutions to mark a new year, overambitious to-do lists penned ahead of a milestone birthday, or job targets established during performance reviews. But why wait for an official ‘fresh start’ to make positive changes?

October is an ideal time to pause for thought – a new school term has started, the new season’s fashions have hit the shops and the summer heat in the UAE is finally letting up a little.

“While you are likely to let some habits slide a bit during the summer holidays, it will be much easier to get things back on track by January if you have already established a habit throughout the autumn months,” mental health expert Brooke Randolph recently told the US’s Shape magazine.

UK-based leading therapist Marisa Peer agrees regular reevaluation is key to achieving our aims. Peer, who wrote You Can Be Younger, says, “It’s very important to take stock of how we are progressing at this time of year. Any goal of significance will require you to put time into reaching it – so set yourself realistic goals so you won’t feel like a failure within a week.”

Getting into a positive mindset, explains Peer, is the first step to achieving long-term positive changes that can then trigger a ripple effect across other areas of your life.

If you prioritise getting better sleep, for example, you might tackle this and naturally find that you’re more motivated to eat a healthier breakfast, go the gym later on, or be in a better mood and therefore get on better with your family when you get home from work.

Here is our guide on how to hit the refresh button, right now…

Fitness

Regular exercise is one of the single best ways to boost our health and well-being. We all know about those feel-good endorphins that flood our system when we’re physically active, leading to lowered stress, increased alertness and better moods. But there’s also strong evidence regular exercise can help prevent heart disease (the leading cause of death in the UAE), strokes and type 2 diabetes.

Major research by the International Prevention Research Institute in Lyon, France, earlier this year, which involved four million women, found regular physical activity reduced women’s breast cancer risk by up to 12 per cent.

“When we’re bombarding our daily lives with the stress of work, family, finances and illness, we can get in a flatspin and have no real way of gaining stability or control,” says Tom Woolf, head coach for Nike Middle East and Founder of PTX Performance Training (www.ptxdubai.com).

“It’s important to step outside of our daily regime, look at our life as objectively as possible and put structures in place to make the change.”

With exercise, it’s easy to fall into the trap of setting drastic and unrealistic goals, notes Tom.

“You have to make it easy for yourself, so that you don’t find excuses to avoid exercise,” advises Dubai-based personal trainer Duaa Anwar (www.

fitnesstrainerdubai.com). “Join a gym that’s close to where you work or live

and don’t make the sessions too hard,” she adds. “If you end up too sore, you’ll

skip workouts.

Start easy. Walk on the treadmill and build it up so you’re jogging for a couple of minutes. Trust me, no one is watching you!”

Duaa understands time constraints can be a problem. “New mums are busy with their babies, working people putin 10-hour shifts. I suggest exercising first thing in the morning so you don’t skip it later when you’re tired. Just 20 minutes of yoga when you get out of bed can do wonders.”

Tom agrees: “Get up an hour earlier and run, skip, dance, cycle or lift [weights]. Do whatever works for you, but do it and enjoy it.” He also suggests buddying up with “someone who personifies the active, healthy lifestyle you want to achieve to make the transition from rundown, stressed and tired, to stronger, lean and healthier more enjoyable.”

Sleep

Improving our nightly snooze sessions is an important place to start to improve our lives. Half of UAE residents have trouble sleeping, according to a recent YouGov survey.

It found that 89 per cent said they ‘wish they could sleep better’, and 62 per cent said that it affects their ability to function each day. Among the most common disruptions reported were worrying about daily life and stress (84 per cent), bedroom temperature (77 per cent) and noise (74 per cent).

Not only can a lack of sleep make us irritable, overly emotional and less focused, but studies have linked longterm insomnia with increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

“We definitely underestimate the power of sleep,” says Noora Kobty, a sleep counsellor at the German Neuroscience Centre Dubai (www.gncdubai.com). “Unfortunately, minimal sleep can take a toll on your mood, energy and ability to handle stress.”

But Noora notes the more stressed we are under, the less likely we are to have a good night’s sleep; a tricky cycle we know too well. “We are so busy making a list of things to do each day we neglect the most obvious one: sleep,” she says. “If you want to feel your best, stay healthy, and perform to your potential, sleep should be top of every list.”

Noora’s top tips are to avoid caffeine after 5pm, exercise daily and make sure your bedroom is a tranquil slumber-inducing haven. Your bedroom should be dark, quiet and cool, and a screen-free zone. So ban smartphones, tablets, laptops and turn off the TV to prevent the invisible blue light emitted from these devices from triggering the brain activity that hinders sleep.

“Developing a regular bedtime routine that involves meditating, relaxing music, reading or taking a bath also helps,” says Noora. And if you don’t see any improvements after a few weeks?

“Schedule an appointment with a sleep specialist, your family doctor or a psychologist,” Kobty advises. “If sleep problems are a regular occurrence and interfere in your daily life, you may be suffering from a sleep disorder. ”

Diet

Losing weight is one of the most common goals we set ourselves – and it’s also the one thing most of us fail at. With takeaway deliveries available 24 hours a day and dining out big on the menu for socialising in the UAE, it’s easy to see why we slip up.

Life is too short to deny ourselves foodie delights, but there’s a serious side too; the UAE was the fifth most overweight nation in the world according to a 2012 study published by the BMC Public Health journal. The average UAE adult consumes more than 3,000 calories a day, significantly higher than the recommended 2,500 calories for men and 2,000 for women – so it’s important to be mindful of portion control.

“Taking a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and examining the way you eat as part of your lifestyle is the first step to becoming a healthier version of yourself,” says Dalia Shukri, Dubai-based head nutritionist at Nutridiet (www.nutridiet.ae). In order to make lasting positive progress, Dalia says we should focus on sensible, lifelong changes, rather than extreme quick-fixes.

“Skipping breakfast, for example, will lead to an exhaustion of energy by midday and make you crave sugary, carbohydrate-rich foods,” she says. “The ideal breakfast is rich in oats, or multigrains and fresh fruit.”

And she says a healthy lunch containing protein will help prevent the munchies and stop you from overeating at dinner. “Have a good source of lean protein with each meal. This includes skinless poultry, lean meat, fish, beans, pulses and nuts… they provide the energy you need throughout the day.”

She also recommends eating small, frequent meals throughout the day, rather than leaving long gaps and getting too hungry before lunch or dinner.

Dalia notes upping your fruit and veg intake shouldn’t be underestimated.



“Fresh fruits and vegetables are the most nutrient-dense foods in the diet, providing more nutrition per calorie than any other kind of food,” she says. “Superfoods will also boost overall health and immunity - berries, chia seeds, linseeds, spirulina, goji berries, salmon, soy, oats, pumpkin and spinach are all jam-packed with vitamins and anti-oxidants.

And, of course, it’s not just food but drinks that count. Cutting out soft drinks will help you avoid empty calories. And getting the recommended two litres of water a day could also help keep your metabolism in check and aid weight loss. H2o also gives energy levels a natural boost, without the need to reach for caffeine or sugar, meaning your sleep patterns may benefit too.

Clear out your cupboards and plan your weekly meals before you go shopping. Find nutritious, healthy foods you enjoy – it shouldn’t feel like torture.

Life balance

There’s no rule as to how much of our time we should devote to our work/family/social lives. Instead, it’s a question of striking a balance you are happy with. UK-based therapist Marisa Peer suggests dividing your tasks into ‘musts’ and ‘wants’. A must might be completing a work assignment, and a want might be a trip to the cinema.

“The wants usually come after the musts, so if you want to spend the weekend reading, shopping or hanging out with friends, make this a reward for doing the other stuff,” says Peer.

“Successful people delay gratification by doing what must be done first, so they

enjoy their down time more.” It also helps you stay motivated to get tasks done, and also banish any guilt because you’ve earned your time off.

Australian nurse Bronnie Ware’s book, The Top Five Regrets Of The Dying, which she wrote after spending years caring for patients during their final weeks, reveals some interesting truths.

The most common dying regrets included people wishing they’d had the courage to live the life they really wanted rather than the one expected of them. So while working hard is important to most of us, knowing when you’re working too hard is important too.

If you want to make more of your leisure and family time, but are struggling to make it happen, could your time management improve? At work, this might mean being strict over how often you browse the web. Talk to your colleagues about how meetings can be made more efficient, and focus on completing tasks, rather than flitting from one thing to the other.

And learn to say ‘no’. “If you’re doing too many things for others, try using words like, ‘I would like to help you but I can’t, I have other commitments’,” suggests Peer. “Don’t overdo the ‘I’m so sorry, I wish I could’, as that invites the other person to push you. Learn to put yourself first at least sometimes; if you always please others that won’t make you happy.”

When you’re letting yourself be happy, you’ll have more of your ‘better self’ to share with those around you.

If juggling work and family means time is tight, consider combining activities, Peer says. “Do your shopping or cooking with your kids, share chores and do them together. If there’s a film you want to see, watch it together.”

Careers

When seeking a new job or taking the leap into self employment the chances are you’re likely to face uncertainties and fall back into the comfortable rut of familiarity. There is however, a way out.

Sanjeev Verma, career counsellor and director of Dubai-based consultancy Intelligent Partners, says, we should use motivational ‘spikes’ during the year to draw out a plan for the coming year. “Once that’s done, you will find it much harder to fall back into a rut and you will actually achieve your goals.”

Speaking of motivational spikes, Sanjeev says: “The busiest time in terms of job applications are post holidays and events such as Eid.”

And a perfect CV is a myth he says. “For your resumé to truly shine you must look inwards rather than outwards.

“The simplest way to do this is to be true to yourself when you are writing it, ensuring it portrays who you are clearly and confidently and includes your skills and traits that are relevant to the job you want.”

Another important tip is to avoid applying over the weekend or around holidays. “The last thing you want is for your application to get lost among myriad emails that the HR department may receive.”

Stress is a double-edged sword to advancing in the workplace explains Sanjeev. While good stress gives you motivation to perform and deliver, bad stress can be detrimental. “The simple rule to converting distress to eustress (good stress) is to change your perspective. When you are assigned a task, don’t react negatively and complain – view it as an opportunity and a welcome challenge to get you noticed by your boss.”

How does one navigate the corporate jungle and without coming across as overly confident? “It is important that you’re assertive about your achievements and convey them to your boss by building a good rapport,” says Sanjeev. “Drop hints about work and how you are taking charge of your responsibilities, speak up if you notice someone else taking credit for your work – claim it where it is due.