Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

A few years ago Alex Kane realised he was lonely. Now he's married with two daughters. So, how did he change his life?

He and two other writers reveal how you really can make your 2014 New Year resolutions come true

Alex Kane with his youngest daughter Lilah Liberty
Alex Kane with his youngest daughter Lilah Liberty
Una Brankin

The start of a New Year is the time when many resolve to change their lives. Some make very firm if rather traditional plans, perhaps to find a new job, give up smoking or to get fitter.

For others, though, it's a more general feeling of just, well, wanting to get more out of life. Perhaps it's not about changing jobs as such, but rather about striking a more tolerable work/life balance.

Maybe there is a vague sense of feeling lonely or unhappy or just an all-round weariness of the day-in-day-out drudgery of life.

The bad news is that for all of those who will be making a resolution as the clock chimes midnight tonight, apparently only 8% will succeed in keeping them.

Instead, 49% make a start but fail when obstacles get in the way while another 24% never get there at all. So how can you buck the statistics and give yourself the best chance of finding yourself in a different place -- mentally, physically, emotionally -- this time next year?

Here three writers who have made significant changes to their lives reveal how they made a lasting difference.

ALEX KANE: How to... seize the moment

I don't make New Year's resolutions as such: instead, I keep my mind open to any new idea or opportunity and remain ready to 'seize the moment'. And those moments can come at any time and in many forms.

Back in 2000 -- when I was in my mid-40s -- I had reconciled myself to the single life. I'd been married and divorced. I wasn't unhappy. I wasn't lonely. I read and wrote. I had enough to keep me occupied, and a small circle of friends for companionship. I was comfortable in my own company and never felt the need to sign up to dating agencies, evening classes or reading groups. Maybe it's something to do with my time in an orphanage, but I've never been afraid of being on my own.

In the summer of 2000 I met Kerri: circumstance had put us in the same place at the same time. She was a lot younger than me, but we shared the same sense of humour and the same cold-eyed, cynical view of the world. We liked each other's company -- but there didn't seem to be anything more to it than that.

Yet one Friday evening that November -- when I was watching a comedy at home and planning what book to choose for my weekend read -- I felt extraordinarily lonely: a loneliness I had never experienced before.

Worse, I realised, in a big thumping, blow to the heart moment, that I didn't want to be alone anymore. I wanted someone to talk to. I wanted someone to laugh with me as I watched the comedy. I wanted someone to discuss news with. I didn't want to be on my own anymore. My immediate thought, of course, was that I was just feeling sorry for myself and risked making an enormous fool of myself too (as well as ruining a friendship I enjoyed very much) if I told Kerri any of this. She was, as I said, younger than me and we worked together. It seemed to be the worst sort of combination.

Yet, it was one of those 'seize the moment' moments: the moments I believe should never be shied away from. Yep, the likelihood of embarrassment and humiliation was pretty high: but a life without risk-taking is always going to be dull and unfulfilled. And those who know my writing will know that I'm not afraid of wearing my heart on my sleeve, let alone saying what I think.

So a week later, in the work car park on a Friday evening, I told Kerri what I was thinking. Boy, was that a seemingly endless 'moment'! But a glorious moment too, because it was the beginning of a wonderful, inspiring, head-over-heels-in-love relationship.

We've just shared our 13th Christmas together, complete with our girls.

Don't get bogged down with resolutions or schemes to make you fitter, happier or wealthier. Just always be ready to seize the moment at any time. Never be afraid to follow your heart. Never give up. Happy New Year!

UNA BRANKIN: How to... find work in what you love

How on Earth did you get back into print journalism after being away from it for so long? It's a question I'm often asked, especially by pessimists who view newspapers as a dying industry.

But if I had listened to nay-sayers way back when I was a post-graduate student hoping to get into newspapers, I may never have seen my name in print.

I was told repeatedly there weren't enough jobs to go round and that I should just forget it.

I didn't let it put me off, but I remember a fellow student at Queen's University, Belfast, who would have loved to become a journalist, throwing in the towel at the first hurdle, when she heard the same thing from a major media shareholder. She went on to become a successful solicitor and is much better off than me, but I like what I do; she doesn't.

Anyway, I was lucky enough to get into national newspapers from the start and ended up in RTE in Dublin, where, ironically, the seeds of my departure from my chosen career were sown.

I met the sportscaster Bill O'Herlihy in RTE and went to work for his public relations company as an in-house journalist.

A few years later I was running my own PR company with a former RTE colleague. All of a sudden I was a business person, with my writing limited to press releases.

A brief dabbling in fiction was my only real creative outlet, but this was the Celtic Tiger era in the Republic and I thought I should make hay while the sun shone and concentrate on business.

I sort of sold my soul in the process and gradually became disenchanted with the whole game.

It was no longer challenging and my disillusion was setting in just in time for the recession.

My business partner and I split up but I ploughed on in PR, thinking newspaper work was just a distant memory for me.

Then towards the end of 2011, my seemingly healthy fresh-faced mother was diagnosed with a serious illness (from which she has thankfully recovered). There is nothing like such scary news to make you reassess your priorities.

I moved from Dublin to Carlingford and spent part of the week in Dunmurry to help out with the hospital runs and housework at home.

I have two far more attentive sisters, but I took my turn when I could.

That meant scaling down on work in Dublin but I didn't care.

I had no idea what to do career-wise at this stage, though, until I met the mystic Lorna Byrne in the Westbury Hotel and impulsively asked her for an interview.

I sent the piece, half-heartedly, into this newspaper, not hopeful for a response.

But lo and behold it led to regular contributions and last year I was able to turn down PR work in favour of what I have really wanted to do since I was a child.

The how-to was easy for me: I believe that if you approach anything in life from a well meaning and genuine standpoint, and work hard at it, things will fall into place. Maybe not the way you envisaged, but the way it was meant to be.

MALACHI O'DOHERTY: How to... get healthier

I was two stone heavier than I am now. For a man of 10-and-a-half stone that means I was nearly 20% heavier. I had been adding a little bit more year by year to the block of fat that sat on my stomach.

I was appalled by the sight of it in the mirror. It looked like something wholly extraneous to the rest of me but I could look around and see that other men my age and some younger were as fat as I was, and even fatter. The figures said I was obese. A nurse suggested I'd be a lot better off if I could lose a stone, but I reasoned that I was about normal.

I wore waistcoats to disguise the sharpness of the angle at which this block of fat protruded from my middle and the one person who got to see me with my clothes off made no complaint, perhaps even found me more cuddlesome.

I was unfit, breathless after a short walk and I had aches and pains which I attributed to ageing but which were caused by congestion in a body that was stuffed, which provided less and less room each year for organs to function in and for digestion to proceed.

So I was often at the doctor with niggly complaints that might have been my gall bladder or might have been my heart but, in fact, were symptoms of being too fat.

I enjoyed my food too much to give it up. The price of weight loss seemed too high. I like spuds and butter; I like chocolate. But I was eating to excess without knowing it. I thought that having to open a button after a meal was the perfect acknowledgement of how good it had been. If I burped that proved I was well fed and fully satisfied.

I changed my mind about all of this when I got a diagnosis of type two diabetes. I was at the early stages of it but I was clearly on a trajectory that would lead to a shorter life. And the advice was that I could get off it.

I was approaching 60 and I did not want to go into decline.

The medical advice was not to plunge into a drastic diet but to change my lifestyle, eat less, eat sensibly and exercise more; and not think of this as a temporary remedial measure.

If I was losing, on average, two pounds a week, that was fine. That would work out at half a stone a month, even allowing for a slight backslide: two stone in four months.

I did this by eating smaller portions and walking more and it was about as hard as giving up smoking had been. For temptation has guises and guile.

But there were instant rewards, in feeling better, less stuffed, more nimble. Even at this low level of progressive weight loss, friends got anxious and thought I was getting sicker rather than getting better.

Many would have talked me out of this if they could, afraid that I had an eating disorder.

Though I had thought of my fat block as concentrated at my middle, my face and fingers were also thinning. The fat was all over me and all through me.

I learnt to enjoy meals that were smaller, and even to feel a little peckish after them, trusting that to pass quickly.

When I recovered my shape and fitness sufficiently to be able to ride a bicycle, I started cycling everywhere rather than using the car.

Three years on, that routine of exercise helps keep the weight off and my blood sugar readings normal.

So it can be done. But if you are resolving to lose weight in 2014, do it gradually.

* On My Own Two Wheels by Malachi O’Doherty, Blackstaff Press, £8.99

WHAT DO WE PLAN TO DO THIS YEAR?

1. Exercise more

2. Eat better

3. Cut down on alcohol

4. Stop smoking

5. Spend less time on Facebook/Twitter

6. Learn a new language

7. Learn a musical instrument

8. Spend less money

9. Secure dream job

10. Average eight hours of sleep a night

11. Improve qualifications

12. Spend more time with kids

13. Get a toned body like Beyonce

14. Have cosmetic surgery

15. Get a pet

16. More bike rides

17. Watch more news & documentaries

18. Dump partner (and find better one)

19. Improve cooking skills

20. Do more for charity

21. Get a promotion at work

22. Stop watching trashy reality TV

23. Have more sex

24. See more of friends

25. Sponsor a child in Africa

26. Eat less chocolate

27. Drink less coffee

28. Improve personal hygiene

29. Drink more water

30. More live music/entertainment

31. Learn to bake a cake like Mary Berry

32. More outdoor activities

33. Take up a new sport

34. Learn to knit

35. Swear less

36. Introduce a date night once a fortnight with the other half

37. Have a baby

38. Take up a new sport

39. Go to church more often

40. Take the stairs rather than getting into the lift

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