Well done on making it to 2021 – possibly the most anticipated and longed for year in history.
A brief look back at 2020 and a couple of things I learned about myself.
Also, an introduction to something I call The Expat Blues, which can hit many of us – expat or not, to be frank, around this time of year. A melancholia about the end of the holiday season. I’ll give you a couple of tips on how to shake off this rather flat feeling.
You may also feel a need; a somewhat self-imposed pressure, to make the ubiquitous New Year’s Resolutions.
I say don’t make resolutions! Make plans and set goals instead, which have a much better success rate. And I’ll share my top 10 goal setting tips to ensure success in a world then making plans seems a risky business.
Let's do our best to make 2021 as successful as possible for each of us!
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Welcome aboard the Expatability Chat podcast, helping expat parents navigate the challenges of moving and living overseas. With Carole Hallett Mobbs, Expat Life Mentor and Consultant and founder of ExpatChild.com.
Welcome back to Expatability Chat! And a Happy New Year to all of you. Well done on making it to 2021, possibly the most anticipated and longed for year in history. Even though there's a pinpoint of light at the end of the tunnel, life is still flipping hard for many people. For example, where I live in Northampton, England, we are back into the so-called tier 4 lockdown, meaning everything apart from food shops is closed again. Well, it's a hell of a lot more complicated than that, but that's the basic premise. There's a huge confusion about whether schools are going to be opening again. There's ridiculous bureaucracy making the rollout of vaccinations move at a snail's pace and all is generally still a little bit bleak.
2020 somehow seemed like the longest year ever that simply flew by. Setting up the Christmas tree felt like we'd only just put it away from Christmas 2019. It was very confusing and nobody knows what day of the week it is anymore.
For me, I think 2020 was the year of learning. I participated in loads of five day challenges run by fabulous people. I joined lots of new business groups and followed many new mentors and gurus. In retrospect, though, this wasn't a particularly good move, as I was bombarded with tons of information, completely different advice, opposing tips and methods, and I am now completely confused about which ones are going to work best for me! And yes, I do plan on moving in a different direction this year. I simply haven't quite worked out which road to take. Yet.
Another thing I learned in 2020 is that I need to be totally alone in order to think. And that, of course, hasn't been at all possible with family around all the time. All the time. 24/7. It's a miracle that we're still on good terms, really!
And something else I learned just last month is that even the most cynical, savvy, streetwise people can fall for a well executed scam. Yes, I mean me. Unfortunately, I was completely hoodwinked by someone who literally emptied my bank account of absolutely everything, savings and all. I am overdrawn badly for the first time in my entire life. Christmas was a bit lacking, but okay, overall, I mean, family are the main ingredient, aren't they? My stupidity torments me every day and I have to make a conscious effort not to think about it too much. There is an investigation underway. The police are involved and hopefully I will get my stolen money back at some point. But the wheels move slowly.
And I do truly, truly hate asking this, and it's making me cringe even as I speak. But if you could see your way to click the support the show button on the podcast and donate a few pounds, it will mean that I can pay for these episodes to stay online and I can upload more in the coming months while the investigation hopefully rolls to a satisfactory end.
Of course, my troubles are absolutely nothing compared to what so many of you have been through this past year. I don't know how many of you have lost friends and family due to covid or anything else, but I know some of you have. My deepest and most heartfelt condolences go out to you.
I do know that many of you had panicky unexpected moves and repatriations to deal with last year. Some of you had emergency repatriation flights to cope with; having to get out quickly with very little and leaving so much behind; not being able to say goodbye to anyone. Some of you felt like you were escaping from countries. And some of you are now living out of boxes and couch surfing with friends and family members. Some of you ended up kind of trapped in your host country when borders closed and heavy lockdowns happened. Pretty much all of us had to deal with our partners working from home or even losing their jobs altogether. And not forgetting home schooling our little darlings! And how much do we respect teachers, eh? I know that some of you actually completed planned relocations, which in the middle of a pandemic is an astounding achievement.
I do also know that what you're finding right now is it's really hard to meet new people because you simply can't get out and about. I'm working on ways to talk to you about this. And as I say, my brain isn't thinking properly these days, but I do know what you're going through and I'm aiming to try and find a way of helping or advising you on finding friends when you can't actually get out and about.
So the new year is generally a time that we start looking forward, maybe not too far ahead into the future as we now realise that plans can change in an instant, but plans and little steps forward are a good way to stay positive.
There's always a kind of flat feeling after Christmas and the new year. It happens to all of us, but is more pronounced when you're living away from your home country. I call it the 'expat blues'. They catch us all at some point, and most particularly when the holiday season is over. I mentioned in my previous episode about why Christmas is so important for expats, because it's generally the time that we get to travel and see our families all together. The traditions and family cosiness is something we look forward to and miss when they're over. Or miss when they can't happen because we can't travel anywhere.
And now, after all the Christmas and New Year minuscule celebrations, life is getting back to some kind of normal. School may start again. And the last piece of tinsel has been packed away. And for want of a better word, you start feeling a little bit blah. I've got a few tips to help cheer you up and to shake off those expat blues.
Snapping out of it all can be difficult. And I hate using that phrase because you may be suffering from real depression, real anxiety, in which case you need to look back at my episode on expat mental health. But in this instance, I am purely referring to a minor slump in mood, a flat, a kind of a 'What now? What can I do to look forward? What can I look forward to, as holidays and travel seem to be off the menu for quite a long time ahead?' Here are some experienced tips that have worked well before and will undoubtedly work again.
Laughter is the best medicine. You might not feel like laughing right now, but the truth is that it is one of the most effective things when it comes to immediately switching your mood from one track to the other. Take the time to find some funny videos online, or find one of your favourite comedy movies or stand up comedians and just devote your full attention to it. I've been really enjoying on television, 'QI XL' with Sandy Toksvig, and I've literally been laughing out loud at that programme. I can highly recommend that! You learn something, too. As I say, my year of learning. I also can always find a bit of Billy Connolly on YouTube and he is somebody that never fails to make me laugh. My daughter is also very good at finding Tik Toks and Instagram funnies for me, so short and sweet. If you have a teenager in the house, you can get into their world in that way. Try it - It's interesting and a little bit scary! But laughter - it's really important.
The next thing is to not neglect your connections. Your friends, past, present, future. They're really important. Make sure to keep in touch with old friends, either through the wonderful invention of the Internet or even the old fashioned telephone. As we know, making friends in a new place can be really tough and is almost impossible right now as we're not allowed to go out. So for now, join some online groups, chat online. Even though you can't see people in real life, we can have conversations over the Internet and it's really helping.
Now, the new year tradition is to launch yourself into all kinds of new exercises and diet regimes. It's the top money making time of year for gym memberships and resolutions to stop doing this and to start doing that abound. People make resolutions to stop drinking so much, to run marathons, to start that diet - again, and so much more. Just don't! Don't make resolutions. I'm going to talk more about why you shouldn't make New Year's resolutions in a moment. But for now, just understand that your physical health and mental health are linked. A bad diet contributes to low mood as well as to a poor metabolism, which can then affect your sleep. Poor sleep leads to an increased production of cortisol, the stress hormone that makes your body feel all tense. So you want to drink more and you want to eat the wrong food. It's all a bit of a vicious circle, really. So keep an eye on that but don't launch into anything new and majorly ambitious right now. Just try to focus on taking regular exercise, eat as good a diet as possible and sleep as much as you can, which I think is a really good idea, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. Hibernation looks very attractive right now!
Don't deny yourself at the moment. The expat blues are a low mood, it's a difficult time of year; it's a difficult global pandemic year, so you need to treat yourself kindly. Self care is vital to your mental and physical health. So if you fancy a bar of chocolate, go for it. If you feel like binge watching something on the telly instead of going for a run, do it. It's more important to keep your mood up right now and to get over those expat blues before taking on something new. Remember, I'm focusing here on the expat blues, just an occasional swing of the mood, the temporary blip that is normal for anyone at this time of year and one that you will get through.
However, if you find yourself dipping further and not coming back up after a few weeks, then it may be time to seek professional help. Depression can hit anyone at any point, even if you've moved to a fantastic place that you've always dreamt of living in. Similarly, loneliness and isolation can affect us no matter where we are, particularly in these unprecedented times. Tell others how you're feeling and don't try to ignore your own emotions in a rush to get better. It doesn't work that way.
So back to the New Year's resolution thing. Surely making resolutions will help you feel better? The whole New Year, new you thing? Doing all those things that you either think you should do or other people are telling you to do or keeping up with the Joneses kind of thing. Isn't this the time when you make all those promises to yourself about how you'll go to the gym every day at 5:00 a.m., run that marathon, go vegan, stop drinking, just be an all round better person?
Well, stop! Don't do it. Don't make New Year's resolutions.
Why? Well, studies show that well over 80 percent of these resolutions fail and they fail very soon after you make them. When you go in too hard, too fast, you'll fail quicker. And then, of course, you beat yourself up for failing, which isn't a great way to start a new year. And we don't need any extra stress and angst in 2021. So don't make resolutions, make plans.
The New Year traditionally and naturally focuses the mind on the year ahead. What plan do you have? What to look forward to? What shape your life is taking? What changes you want to make to your life? And so on. Planning how you want your new year, your new you to pan out is important. It's time to turn over a new leaf to create something new, better and more worthy. Well, that's what everyone starts the New Year thinking anyway.
So instead of making resolutions, make plans. Referring to plans and not resolutions is the way to go here. Making plans and setting achievable goals is a much less pressurised way of going about it all and therefore is ultimately more successful. When you're living overseas, New Year can be a time of excitement and a time of hope, perhaps even more so than if you were living in your native country. There are lots of new experiences to look forward to and the whole wonder of exploring and integrating into a new culture.
But if you're not particularly happy where you are, it might be that the New Year fills you with dread. And this year I think that could actually apply to all of us, regardless of where we're living, because let's face it, we simply don't know what's around the corner with new strains of the virus appearing all the time.
Now, planning is important, but we have to weigh up making fixed plans and then potentially having to cancel them. A minor example; I planned nothing at all last year, but for the first couple of weeks of January, I fixed two appointments of lovely self care to look forward to. One was a much needed visit to my hair salon, which was cancelled suddenly due to the new unexpected lock down. In a fit of pique, I cut my own hair and now a visit is needed more than ever. Oops!
So why is it important to plan your year? Well, it gives us much needed tangible things to look forward to, and looking forward to something gives us positivity. Putting plans in place will give you something to look forward to. And that is the key point here - to look forward, to look ahead, to plan ahead. Set small goals for yourself and take steps to reach them. Small steps! For example, leaping into a new regime of diet and fitness when you've been a couch potato for years is simply not going to work. Take it slowly. Don't run before you can walk!
Now making goals and planning ahead isn't going to be as easy this year as it would be in the past. It will be hard to plan a holiday, for example, unless it's within the same country that you're currently in now. So make plans that stay within the rules of your country, are potentially doable, and ones that won't devastate you completely if they have to be cancelled at short notice.
So what is the best way to make the most of your year ahead? How do you set goals and make plans when the world is making life unplannable?
Try a new approach to making your resolutions. I mean, goals, of course. Following these ten goal-setting rules will increase your chances of success.
Number one, don't repeat old resolutions. If you find that you make and break the same resolutions each year, then it's highly likely you'll continue to repeat this irritating cycle. So don't put yourself through it. Change it up somehow. Is there something different in your outlook or situation this year that might make your usual resolution, your usual goal, more doable? There is no point repeating the same mistake every year. So try to look at why you haven't succeeded in previous years and then make changes to your mindset.
Number two, identify your motivation. Be clear about what you want to achieve rather than making plans based on what you think you should be aiming for. Do you really want to start jogging because everybody else seems to be doing it in your circle. If you loathe running and have dodgy knees why would you just do that to yourself? Brisk walking may be better for you. Or swimming or yoga or whatever. Your goals must be meaningful and relevant to you, rather than to others. They must be what you want to do, not what you think you must do.
Number three, be realistic. Instead of producing a long over ambitious wish list of goals like get fit, give up alcohol, write a book, start a masters degree, learn to bake bread, etc, etc. identify just two or three goals that you truly want to achieve. Is this the year that you'll write that book that you've been thinking about for years? Yes. Why not go for it? Start with small chunks, just start writing out chapter headings, for example, and then write out an outline and then set aside time each day and just write. Being realistic will allow you to put all of your energy into making this happen.
Number four, be specific. Rather than declaring that you want to get fit it's far more effective to set very specific goals, such as I want to get fit enough to be able to run a marathon next year. Or I want to get fit enough to be able to run for the bus without dying. By being specific in your goal it's more likely to happen. Vagueness isn't your friend here. It's too easy to back out of your goal due to the vagueness. "Well, I am a bit fitter after two weeks of walking a few more steps, so I've done that. Well done me. Now back to the couch for the rest of the year."
Number five, plan ahead, your resolutions, sorry, goals don't have to start on the 1st of January. What can start then, though, is starting the process that will ensure that you achieve your goal. The planning. For example, if you want to stop smoking, consider the steps that you need to take to make this possible, such as booking a session with a hypnotherapist. If you want to take up running - and I don't know why I keep using this as an example because I don't run. I wore all my joints out back in my teens as a rather good athlete, and they're almost nonfunctioning nowadays. Anyway. Running if you've never run before, you really need to plan rather than just shoot off for a five mile run one morning. Start by getting good running shoes, properly fitted. Take baby steps. Start slowly, otherwise you'll do more damage than good and then you won't be able to run at all. I've heard that the program 'coach to 5K' is a great way to start. I've never tried it, obviously, but you never know - maybe one day I'll open the book!
If this is the year that you want to launch your journey to expat life for the first time then planning is everything. Just get in touch with me and I'll share the steps that you need to take. And it's never too early to start planning that.
Number six, write it down. Write down your goals and give them sensible deadlines. Also keep a victory log of every successful step that you take on the road to achieving your aim.
Number seven, devise a strategy. Many resolutions come unstuck because little thought is given to how you'll cope in trigger situations. So if you want to lose weight, but know that you'll struggle to keep to your diet when you eat out, devise methods for surviving this situation rather than just avoiding it altogether. Or what often happens is that you give up completely. No willpower. This is me. Eat everything in sight and then say, well, what's the point? I may not bother continuing. Just remember that a little of what you fancy is fine. It is not going to harm your overall diet for just one evening. Don't deprive yourself to prove a point, to yourself or to anyone else. You can always start again the next day.
Number eight, and this is an important one, go public. People are generally quite outspoken about their New Year's resolutions and then they laugh wryly when they fail. However, many people keep their goals under wraps. Keeping your goals a secret means that you don't feel any pressure to actually do what you say you're going to do, whereas most people actually expect New Year's resolutions to fail. It's a strange contradiction, isn't it? So tell people your goals. It gives you accountability and encourages you to keep on track. If you've been honest with yourself and have followed these steps and you're already halfway there. This means you should have nothing to fear by letting others know how serious you are about improving your life.
Number nine, get support. In most cases, this is crucial and can mean anything from making a pact with a friend to regularly attend exercise classes together, or joining a weight loss group. If you prefer, why not join my Expatability Chat Facebook group and share your goals with me there? I'll hold you accountable if you like!
And finally, number 10. Celebrate your successes. I recommend celebrating every successful step that you've taken towards your goal. And when you actually achieve your goal, you need to reward yourself as well. Achieving your goal will be a reward in itself, but why not go one step further and celebrate properly? Treat yourself to something lovely, whether that's a bottle of bubbly, a piece of jewellery, a new car, or whatever your preferred treat is. You deserve it. You've done it!
Remember, rename your resolutions as plans and goals and take one step at a time to give you a better chance of achieving them. This time next year, you could be fulfilling your dream and having that book published or running twenty six miles in one go. Or perhaps even living overseas for the first time.
Whatever your 2021 looks like, you can make the most of it by having something, however small, to look forward to. So set yourself some goals and celebrate your achievements. Remember, keep looking forward. That is the aim of this year. Try not to look back at how awful 2020 was, we don't know if 2021 is going to be fantastic, awful or somewhere in between. We do know that it's going to be up and down.
Try and keep on track by keeping going with your small goals, you're achievable goals.
I just want to take a moment and give a special shout out to some people who have left some lovely comments about Expatability Chat podcast. They've certainly lifted my spirits, which have been quite squashed down recently, if I'm honest.
Louise Glennon says "got the first minute of your expat Christmas episode and it made me laugh already!"
Claire Chelton also "thoroughly enjoyed the expat Christmas podcast". That makes me so happy.
Kristin Evans said, "Thank you. I'm really enjoying your podcast. It's very comforting".
And Laura Marjorie Miller says, "Every time you post a new episode, I am always in awe of how emotionally intelligent they are, how honest and how often you answer questions I hadn't even thought to ask yet. My goodness, your podcasts are gold."
Well, Laura, I am going to print that out and pin it to my notice board because that is the nicest thing anyone has ever said. So thank you so much and thank you so much to Louise and Claire and Kristin, your words all mean so much to me.
If you'd like to receive a shout out on a future episode, please leave a review for my show in Apple podcasts. Every review helps. Or you could just send me a message or leave a comment on my social media somewhere. It truly helps motivate me when all around is chaos and confusion.
Thank you so much for being with me at the beginning of 2021. I hope you'll stick with me and I look forward to chatting with you again soon.
Happy New Year, folks. Take care.
Thank you for listening to the Expatability Chat podcast, please check out ExpatChild.com for more free information and resources and follow me on your favourite social media. Don't forget to join me next week for another episode. Until then, bye bye..