It’s not too late to res­cue the year – and, with our ex­pert-led seven-day work­shop, you can trans­form every­thing from fi­nances to friend­ships


hell’s bells, what a year we’ve had. Is there any­one out there who hon­estly wouldn’t like to re­set 2020? Nope, didn’t think so. And Septem­ber, with its ‘back to school’ feel, is the per­fect time for a re­boot. ‘Septem­ber brings that feel­ing of freshly sharp­ened pen­cils and note­books full of blank pages ready to be filled,’ says be­hav­iour change ex­pert Dr Heather Mckee. ‘It’s a great time to cap­i­talise on that in­dus­tri­ous en­ergy to make some changes. None of us can con­trol what’s go­ing to hap­pen over the rest of the year, but we can fu­ture-proof our lives so we’re in the best pos­si­ble po­si­tion to cope.’ Dr Mckee is just one of the ex­perts we’ve en­listed to help you with a seven-day life au­dit, de­signed to bol­ster your re­silience in key ar­eas so that you’ll be bet­ter equipped to ride out the pan­demic roller-coaster and stay fo­cused on what mat­ters.


Dr Chris­tian Busch teaches at New York Univer­sity and the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics and is the au­thor of The Serendip­ity Mind­set: The Art And Sci­ence Of Cre­at­ing Good Luck (Pen­guin Life).

Dr Heather Mckee is a be­hav­iour change spe­cial­ist who uses ev­i­dence-based health pro­grammes to help peo­ple make long-term, healthy changes.

Janet Bray Attwood is the co-au­thor of The New York Times’ best-seller The Pas­sion Test: The Ef­fort­less Path To Dis­cov­er­ing Your Life Pur­pose (Si­mon & Schus­ter).

Reg­is­tered psy­chother­a­pist Richard Ni­cholls is the au­thor of 15 Min­utes To Hap­pi­ness (Bon­nier Pub­lish­ing).

Brian Jef­frey Fogg is a Stan­ford Univer­sity be­hav­iour sci­en­tist and the best-sell­ing au­thor of Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Every­thing (Vir­gin Books).

The Fe­male Money Doc­tor, Dr Nikki Ram­skill, is a money coach and host of the Money Medicine Clinic pod­cast.

Viv Groskop is the au­thor of Lift As You Climb: Women And The Art Of Am­bi­tion (Ban­tam Press) and is the host of the pod­cast How To Own The Room, fea­tur­ing in­spir­ing women such as Hil­lary Clin­ton.


‘Keep­ing a jour­nal is a great way of keep­ing things in per­spec­tive,’ says psy­chother­a­pist Richard Ni­cholls. ‘Mov­ing your thoughts on to pa­per helps you sep­a­rate your­self from them and feel calmer.’ Re­search has even shown that jour­nalling has sim­i­lar ben­e­fits to coun­selling. ‘If you’ve ever writ­ten an email or text to some­one then not sent it, you’ve al­ready used this process,’ says Ni­cholls. You can then oc­ca­sion­ally look back over your jour­nal to see how far you’ve come.

TRY THIS: Sim­ply grab a notepad and pen and get writ­ing (an elec­tronic de­vice doesn’t seem to have quite the same ef­fect). Don’t worry about spell­ing and gram­mar, the point is to get your feel­ings down and dump every­thing that’s in your head on the page. But jour­nalling isn’t about wal­low­ing in self-pity; in­stead, it should be a means of find­ing al­ter­na­tive ways of view­ing things. Write down what made you un­happy and what lay be­hind that feel­ing, for in­stance. Then look for an al­ter­na­tive way of view­ing it. Write about how you’d pre­fer to feel if it hap­pened again. Or ask your­self: ‘How do I feel right now?’ Ac­tu­ally write the words: ‘To­day I feel…’ Write quickly. Pick spe­cific days of the week to jour­nal and stick to them.


The Covid-19 pan­demic has been wake-up call for so many of us who live from pay cheque to pay cheque. Dr Nikki Ram­skill, aka The Fe­male Money Doc­tor, sug­gests we use this mo­ment to ‘fu­ture-proof ’ our fi­nances.

If you’re still work­ing, start to build up an emer­gency fund, aim­ing (even­tu­ally) to put aside £1,000 for un­ex­pected costs, like emer­gency den­tal work, or a bro­ken boiler. Ex­perts rec­om­mend sav­ing 20% of your monthly in­come, be­tween a pen­sion and other sav­ings, such as ISAS. ‘Yes, re­tire­ment seems a long way off, but could you live on the Gov­ern­ment pen­sion of £175 a week?’ says Dr Ram­skill. ‘Think of your pen­sion as your “free­dom fund”, the thing you are go­ing to rely on, which will free you up from work.’ And don’t worry if that sounds like a very tall or­der. Start with 1% and build up from there.

TRY THIS: If you have debts, as many of us do, stream­line your fi­nances by us­ing Ram­skill’s traf­fic-light sys­tem. Go through all your trans­ac­tions from Au­gust (print out a state­ment if you find this eas­ier) and take a high­lighter to them. Use a green high­lighter for every­thing you CAN­NOT stop pay­ing – mort­gage/rent, elec­tric­ity bills, etc. Use a yel­low/orange high­lighter for things you’d be will­ing to stop for a short pe­riod of time: gym mem­ber­ships, TV subscripti­ons. Then use a pink/red high­lighter for every­thing that you can stop spend­ing on im­me­di­ately to re­lease sav­ings – sub­scrip­tion boxes, cloud stor­age for pho­tos you don’t use, ran­dom amounts of money spent on shop­ping with­out plan­ning, flower de­liv­ery. If you need to save money, be ruth­less. Re­mem­ber, this doesn’t have to be for­ever; you can rein­tro­duce things later.


Count­less stud­ies show that those who track their habits are much more likely to achieve long-term success. Say, for ex­am­ple, you want to stop mind­less snack­ing. Keep track of your eat­ing habits over the next few days.

‘Most of us quickly for­get un­planned snacks,’ says be­hav­iour change ex­pert Dr Heather Mckee. ‘The odd hand­ful of Dori­tos here, a cou­ple of bis­cuits there. I’m not a fan of count­ing calories, but they can quickly add up. The av­er­age per­son lapses 5-10 times a week and the av­er­age lapse is around 150 calories (a hand­ful of crisps, or two bis­cuits). That’s an ex­tra 840-1,500 calories a week.’

TRY THIS: There are two sep­a­rate el­e­ments to this. First is emo­tional track­ing, sec­ond is nu­tri­tional track­ing. ‘Track the dif­fer­ent emo­tions that come up for you; are they re­sult­ing in un­healthy cop­ing be­hav­iours, such as overeat­ing?’ says Dr Mckee. ‘Or are your trig­gers more en­vi­ron­men­tal, for ex­am­ple see­ing the cheese/choco­late/ beer when you open the fridge?’

Track three week­days and one week­end day. Note the time of day you were tempted, why you were tempted (eg, bore­dom, stress, en­vi­ron­ment), and what the temp­ta­tion was (eg, beer, choco­late, tak­ing an ex­tra por­tion of some­thing). At the end of the week, take a mo­ment to re­flect. Did any pat­terns emerge?

Don’t rely on willpower. ‘It’s bet­ter to build an en­vi­ron­ment or daily rou­tine that re­places a bad habit with a health­ier one,’ says Mckee. ‘If you eat when you’re tired or stressed, what can you do in­stead that could give you a sim­i­lar “re­ward”? Could you make a cup of tea, go for a walk, or call a friend?’


‘Our hap­pi­ness is di­rectly linked to the qual­ity of our clos­est re­la­tion­ships,’ says Stan­ford Univer­sity be­hav­iour sci­en­tist Brian Jef­frey Fogg. ‘We need at least one close friend, but can only man­age about six close re­la­tion­ships.’ So fo­cus on qual­ity over quan­tity. What can we do to strengthen the qual­ity of re­la­tion­ships? ‘Tell that per­son what you ap­pre­ci­ate about them,’ says Fogg. ‘It’s tempt­ing to talk about all the bad stuff at the mo­ment, but try to say some­thing pos­i­tive and up­lift­ing; that way they will want to be close to you.’ If you feel that some of your friend­ships have drifted through the pan­demic, make a real ef­fort to get back in touch.

TRY THIS: Fogg sug­gests play­ing the fol­low­ing text game to re­con­nect. Get out your phone and scroll back through your text/what­sapp his­tory. ‘Scroll all the way back to De­cem­ber to find a friend you haven’t con­nected with in a while. Check in with your emo­tional re­ac­tion un­til you find some­one who makes you feel: “I re­ally want to re­con­nect with this per­son” – no­tice what it was about them that makes you want to re­con­nect. Then send them a brief text. Some­thing like “I was just think­ing about you” or “How are you do­ing?” Pick three friends this way.’ If they re­spond, ar­range to call or Facetime. ‘The hu­man voice car­ries our per­son­al­ity and will bring you closer than tex­ting,’ says Fogg.


Wouldn’t it be won­der­ful if luck was al­ways on your side, if chance op­por­tu­ni­ties fell in your lap left, right and cen­tre? Well, ac­cord­ing to Dr Chris­tian Busch, au­thor of a new book, The Serendip­ity Mind­set, luck is a skill we can all learn, we just need to ‘ex­pect the un­ex­pected’ and look for sil­ver lin­ings.

We can even ‘seed’ more lucky en­coun­ters. When meet­ing some­one new, ‘In­stead of the usual au­topi­lot ques­tions, such as “What do you do?”, try ask­ing, “What did you find most in­ter­est­ing about…?”’ says Dr Busch. ‘Dig deeper with a cou­ple of “why’s?” or “how comes?”; th­ese will open up the con­ver­sa­tion and might lead to in­trigu­ing – and of­ten serendip­i­tous – out­comes.’

TRY THIS: Grab a notepad. Now, when­ever some­thing un­ex­pected hap­pens – a train is de­layed, a work pro­ject is can­celled, your friend is late to the pic­nic so you end up chat­ting to some­one you don’t know – ask your­self, ‘What’s the up­side here?’ At the end of the week, look over your ‘lucky note­book’. How do you feel about th­ese op­por­tu­ni­ties? Lis­ten to your gut. Cross out those that no longer ex­cite you and ask what you can do about the rest.

It’s not too late to send that new ac­quain­tance from the pic­nic, say, an email about their ex­cit­ing new business. ‘Send a non-pitchy mes­sage about what ex­cited you and how you’d like to be in­volved – be pre­cise,’ says Busch. You can cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties by speak­ing to new peo­ple. Ev­ery time you go to an event or jump on a group con­fer­ence call, pick a colour and chal­lenge your­self to speak to a per­son who is wear­ing it. Work your way through the rain­bow.


‘I would cau­tion against set­ting your­self the tricky goal of “get­ting no­ticed” at this time,’ ad­vises Viv Groskop, au­thor of Lift As You Climb. ‘That’s a huge pres­sure to put on your­self in an un­cer­tain cli­mate. That said, you can eas­ily im­prove how you come across on screen com­mu­ni­ca­tions, es­pe­cially if you’re start­ing to get jaded or you have a lot of th­ese screen meet­ings to get through.’ Aim to have more mean­ing­ful in­ter­ac­tions but be kind to your­self – with the re­ces­sion and many of us still work­ing from home, this is a tough work­ing en­vi­ron­ment for those of us still lucky to have a job.

TRY THIS: The best prac­ti­cal tip for Zoom? ‘We con­nect best on video­con­fer­enc­ing plat­forms when we look di­rectly into the cam­era rather than look­ing at the screen,’ says Groskop. ‘Make sure the cam­era is point­ing down at you slightly by rais­ing up your screen (rest it on a pile of books) and tilt it slightly for­ward. Lis­ten care­fully and look at the cam­era in­stead of star­ing at the screen. Don’t stare and look va­cant, though; imag­ine some­one you love or who in­spires you be­hind the cam­era. Zoom seems like a video com­mu­ni­ca­tion tool but it ac­tu­ally works best if you use it for lis­ten­ing: a lot of the vis­ual cues are dispir­it­ing – peo­ple look­ing away, not mak­ing eye con­tact, look­ing down to make notes.’

Prac­tise lis­ten­ing hard on video con­fer­enc­ing calls as if you were on an au­dio call: it makes a mas­sive dif­fer­ence to your abil­ity to con­cen­trate. The vi­su­als use up a lot our emo­tional band­width with­out con­tribut­ing much in the form of mean­ing­ful in­ter­ac­tion (other than be­ing able to see your col­league’s new hair­cut).


Mean­ing is a fun­da­men­tal hu­man need. But we’re of­ten so caught up in the-day-to-day of life that we rarely step back and think about what re­ally mat­ters to us. Or whether we’re liv­ing by some­one else’s val­ues. If you’ve lost your job, or are cur­rently fur­loughed, this could be a good mo­ment to think what you want out of life and to con­sider a new di­rec­tion.

TRY THIS: The Pas­sion Test by Chris and Janet Attwood. You start by fill­ing in the blanks 15 times for the fol­low­ing state­ment: ‘When my life is ideal, I am ___.’ The word(s) you choose to fill in the blank must in­clude a verb. For ex­am­ple: When my life is ideal, I am do­ing great cre­ative work, en­joy­ing close friend­ships, ex­plor­ing a new coun­try – or what­ever it is that lights you up.

Once you’ve cre­ated 15 state­ments, iden­tify the top five choices. To do this, you com­pare state­ments 1 and 2 to iden­tify which is most im­por­tant. Take the win­ner of that com­par­i­son and de­cide whether it’s more or less im­por­tant than state­ment 3 and so on.

Once you’ve iden­ti­fied your top five pas­sions, cre­ate an ac­tion plan and start de­sign­ing your life to in­clude more of what mat­ters to you. A life with pur­pose is a life well-lived.

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