above: Photograph by © Drazen – stock.adobe.com
A journey begins with a single step. While a time-worn phrase, it’s important to realize the “journey” can apply to just about anything. Home organization, finance, business, exercise and nutrition are some of them, but there are many others.
Many people start the new year—and their journey—with grand plans to improve their lives. In most cases, however, those well-intentioned lifestyle improvements peter out quickly. Changes are too radical, frustration mounts and the quick fix that looked good in the online program turned out to be a colossal waste of time. The determination that springs forth in the new year melts like a snowball in the warm sun.
“Most people think they have to do everything, and they end up doing nothing. They get overwhelmed,’’ says Inessa Makdulina-Nyzio, a Stamford-based dietitian and nutritionist. “It’s important to think of the big picture and what it can look like at the end, but you’re not expected to look at the end vision. Yet if you’re not sure of the end goal, it’s not important enough to make sustainable change. The why has to be there, and it has to be important enough to make a change.”
Whatever change you’re planning to make, it’s important to remember there are going to be peaks and valleys, rises and falls, and days where you see progress and others that make you feel like you’ve gone nowhere.
“One of the challenges we have as humans is that we are inherently impatient,’’ says Fran Pastore, CEO of the Women’s Business Development Council. “In reality, do everything in moderation; it’s something I’ve learned from my mentors. Getting healthier is important. Developing habits for a career with longevity and passion is also important. It’s a perfect time to think about the career and lifestyle you want and set bite-sized goals. Create a path to get there with reasonably achievable goals that are smart, measurable and realistic.”
Stamford magazine asked five experts to offer their input to help you improve your life in 2023. Let your journey begin here.
1 START AT HOME
People spend most of their time at home, so it makes sense to start there. “Self-organization helps every individual create harmony and balance, and reduce stress and tension,’’ says Masha Alimova, director of marketing and trade for California Closets. She recommends decluttering as a good first step to put you on a path to organization. “What works best for me is a ten-day challenge,’’ she says. “Every day for ten days, I get rid of some stuff. In most cases, I’ll find a new home for it.”
Similar to other wellness objectives, it’s easy to fall off the home organization track. Alimova says personalization will help maintain momentum. “You need a good system that is designed for you as an individual,’’ she says. “Once you have the system, you are there. The system will not allow you to fall into the traps, because there will be no traps. The organization system will direct you to stay organized.”
Unlike other self-improvement measures, organization is a visible metric. Alimova knows from experience. “As long as your inner self-organization works in harmony with your acts, you can see changes right away,’’ she said. “I wasn’t always an organized person. I am a clean freak. One big benefit from working at California Closets is I learned to be an organized person, and that behavior helped me improve my life, and balance work and personal life.”
2 INVEST IN CHANGE
An often overlooked self-improvement aspect is financial investing. Like home organization, changes can often be done at home and measurable results can be evident quickly.
“Changing financial strategies is not usually prioritized like diet and exercise,’’ says Martin Maffei, a financial advisor with the Maffei Wealth Management Group at UBS. “Over the last two years, there has been a shift and bigger focus on improving yourself financially. The pandemic had a lot to do with that. It made investing more accessible to more people, and the additional free time drove people to take a bigger interest in their investment strategy.”
Residents of Connecticut, known as the “Land of Steady Habits,” should pay particular attention to their finances amid volatile markets and bleak financial forecasts. Maffei says many investors mistakenly try to time the market but advocates a disciplined approach. “It’s important to stick to your strategy, especially if you have a longtime horizon,’’ he says. “Many investors, old and new, are sifting through a plethora of information that is often contradictory. Who do you listen to, and not listen to? It can be paralysis by analysis coming up with a game plan for a lot of investors.”
Maffei recommends periodic investments. Maintaining discipline, avoiding the temptation to panic sell and working with a finance professional to analyze the market—and who has the intellectual capital to help make smart decisions—could be a way boost your family’s bottom line. Joining an employee-sponsored savings plan is a first step to consider, along with automatic investing on a monthly or quarterly basis.
Results for improved financial strategies are also evident in black and white. “You can compare what you’re saving or investing compared to what you were doing a year ago,’’ Maffei says. “It’s very quantifiable, and you will be able to see where you are versus your goals.”
3 ALL BUSINESS
Fran Pastore, founder and CEO of the Women’s Business Development Council, says mentors can help people achieve business and career improvements. “You are inevitably going to hit walls and challenges,’’ she says. “You may not possess every skill necessary to get to that next level, and a mentor can help you identify areas where you can make progress. I also recommend looking to that business or that person with the career you admire and learn how they overcame those obstacles and achieved their goals. If you’re employed, have an honest conversation with your supervisor to find out what they think you need to do.”
Setting realistic expectations is important in any self-improvement process, and Pastore says celebrating small successes along the way is important to keep moving forward to larger goals. “Make sure to celebrate those small successes,’’ she says. “I think we need more of those small celebrations in life and in business. As coworkers, colleagues, mentors and executives, we need to point to those small successes more often. You have to always find something positive when you’re giving feedback to people.”
4 FIND YOUR FIT
One of the most challenging improvements for people is sticking with fitness goals. Suzanne Battinelli, founder and CEO of The U, a Stamford-based virtual gym offering private and group athletic training, nutrition coaching and massage, warns clients that any measurable success requires time. “We expect to see results very quickly, and that’s unrealistic,’’ she says. “Having that mindset can set someone up to feel defeated.”
She finds that people often set overly ambitious goals and frequently gauge their progress with unreliable metrics. “Creating a sense of accomplishment, setting more tangible goals and allowing that to propel momentum to take you to the next step is smart,’’ she says. “Weight loss is not the only way to define being successful. I encourage people to ditch their technology, which can be a blessing and a curse. You can get obsessed with the wrong metrics. We want people to focus on how they feel.”
Fitness can be much harder to evaluate if the changes are impactful. Battinelli encourages people to find their fitness in the mirror, their mood and sleep patterns. “The quality of sleep is one area that tends to be positively impacted by a fitness routine,’’ she says. “We’ll also often see an improvement in moods. Exercise helps regulate our hormones and can combat some of the erratic mood swings we feel throughout the day. You’ll see changes in your skin and the whites of your eyes. Aches and pains start to go away. Any positive change in how you’re feeling should be a marker of progress.”
Like nutritionist Inessa Madulina-Nyzio of Dietitian for All, Battinelli encourages people to find their why. “If you’re dreading it, that should be your red flag,’’ she says. “If you hate it, then stop. You’re not going to magically grow to like it. I see people struggle with identifying why they want to improve. The more specific you can get about it, the deeper you can go.”
5 FLAWS WITH FOOD
Besides exercise, diet and nutrition are often a yardstick where people measure their self-improvement success. Nutritionist Inessa Makdulina-Nyzio says besides determining why they want to make changes, they should also be prepared to be consistent.
“It’s very fundamental,’’ she says. “What I do in practice is super complicated, and it can get elaborate and kooky with lifestyle changes. But you have to do the day-to-day things. It doesn’t have to be done perfectly. You do have to be consistent. Start eating right consistently, and every time you do that, give yourself a pat on the back. It’s like a dopamine hit to the brain.”
Makdulina-Nyzio says simple steps, such as putting vegetables in clear containers in front of the refrigerator, can help get people to eat the right things. “If you have a specific, actionable goal, put it in a fifteen to twenty point font and hang it in your fridge,’’ she says. “If you get a super clear objective, you’ll become unstoppable.”
Changing nutritional habits might be the most significant change people can make to improve their lifestyle. The benefits of improved nutrition are numerous. “The minute you change, you change your microbiome with every bite,’’ she says. “You might not notice it, but the change happens immediately. You improve your blood sugar regulation and your genetic expression. Every single time you are doing well with what you put into your body, you are helping increase your longevity.”
She says improved bowel movements and sleep, enhanced mood and more energy are signs dietetic changes are having an impact. “Start every meal with a serving of vegetables,’’ she says. “That is the smallest thing someone can do in stabilizing their blood. That will make a huge difference and sometimes, that is all that needs to happen.”
Whatever change you want to make, the themes in each area remain constant: Start small, stay disciplined, look for reliable metrics, don’t expect miracles and remember why it’s important to you. “Many people begin with the attitude of a new year, a new me,” Makdulina-Nyzio says. “It’s the same you. But the why was never addressed. How is this going to make your life better? You have to be clear on that. Any performance coach will tell you that, and you have to be passionate.”
STEPS TO TAKE
Getting started can be hard and overwhelming. To make it easier, we asked 5 EXPERTS to suggest 3 CLEAR, SIMPLE and SPECIFIC ACTIONS to take that will get you moving toward the changes you want to see in your life.
Nutrition & Diet
Registered dietitian and nutritionist, Dietitian for All; dietitianforall.com
1 // Make sure you eat vegetables first.
2 // Don’t sit down to a meal if you’re upset. Your hormone cortisol could be elevated due to stress, and that meal can cost you more in terms of potential weight gain.
3 // Sit down and eat slowly. Chew your food, and avoid having lots of fluids with your meal. You don’t want to dilute your digestive enzymes, which may cause bloating.
Exercise & Fitness
Founder and CEO, The U; morethanjustagym.com
1 // Get to bed a half hour earlier at night, and try as best as you can to maintain a similar sleep schedule throughout the weekend.
2 // Everyone can benefit from drinking more water. I’m constantly dismayed at how little my clientele drinks. Drink a glass of water before the morning coffee.
3 // Get outdoors for some movement two or three times a week. It’s easy to get stuck indoors. The benefits of nature are endless. It’s free, yet unfortunately, easily overlooked.
Financial advisor, Maffei Wealth Management Group at UBS; ubs.com/team/mwmg
1 // Given the environment we’re in right now, with inflation being a very real concern, create a budget of your necessary expenses versus discretionary spending. Take into account what you’re spending versus what you’re taking in.
2 // Set a savings goal of how much you want to save or invest each month and stick to it.
3 // Consider paying down your high-interest debts or variable-rate loans because of what’s happening with interest rates.
Founder and CEO, Women’s Business Development Council; ctwbdc.org
1 // If you’re employed, have a review and share some of your successes and challenges. Ask for what you need and have a transparent conversation with your manager.
2 // Set your own intentions for the year, such as: “I want to be more positive” or “I want to make more connections.” Set them on the desk, make sure they are reasonable and things you can do in the first quarter.
3 // Practice self-care. Take care of yourself, and take stock of yourself and your livelihood.
Director of information technology and marketing, California Closets; californiaclosets.com
1 // Schedule a consultation with an experienced organizer who will take care of you and your belongings.
2 // Take the ten-day challenge: Every day for ten days, get rid of a few things or find a new home for them.
3 // Personalize your habits and routine and belongings. I believe it is the most important aspect—to have a system that works for you.
Photographs: Makdulina-Nyzio by Natasha Miller from Tashography; Battinelli and Maffei, contributed; Pastore by Aviva Maller Photography; Masha-Alimova By Stefan Radtke