Yes folks, it’s that time of year again – but your annual resolutions needn’t be destined for failure. If you’ve already given up on those you made on January 1, it could be because you’ve set the bar too high, or simply that you don’t have the right advice. You may not have even decided what to aim for this year. And that’s where we come in. We’ve taken a closer look at 15 resolutions – at least one of which probably applies to your dreams for Dubai.
Whether you have a share in the Dhs422 billion debt owed by UAE residents in mortgages or personal loans, or if you’re one of the 23 percent of men and 2.9 percent of women in the country who smoke, help is at hand. We’ve spoken to a range of experts, from hypnotherapists to life coaches, financial consultants to skippers, to provide accessible, useful advice on how to truly improve your life in Dubai this year.
Pay off your debts Statistics published in mid-2012 by the UAE Central Bank showed that UAE residents owed a total Dhs422 billion in mortgages and personal loans – more than triple the levels of debt in 2006. Meanwhile, bank credit to residents crossed the Dhs1 trillion line for the first time ever last February. No matter how large and insurmountable your borrowing may seem, Rashed Khatun, a Dubai-based financial and life planner, swears by ‘reversing the snowball effect’ if you want to pay off your debts. ‘First, put your debts in order of balance, starting with the smallest, with the shortest time left to pay. Focus on that one, and pay minimum balance on the rest. Overpay as heavily as you can afford to in order to eliminate this debt as soon as possible, before moving on to the next one on the list.’ Edwards Khatun Advisory Group, www.edwardskhatun.com.
Lose weight Losing weight and eating healthily can be a challenge here in Dubai. With numerous fast-food outlets scattered conveniently throughout the city, it’s often far easier and cheaper to go for the fattening options. According to Dubai-based nutritionist Rashi Chowdhary, there are a number of small changes you can make to your lifestyle to stay healthy, particularly during winter when the weather cools down. Minor changes, such as walking at a slightly faster pace, acts as a metabolic booster for your body. Rashi also proposes indulging in soup for at least one meal a day. ‘It fills you up, give you all the essential nutrients your body needs and doesn’t leave too much room for dessert.’ To stand a chance of achieving your resolution, Rashi has some simple advice. ‘Say no to the usual diet drama that all of us do to an extreme for the first few weeks, and yes to realistic changes that actually last all year.’ www.rashichowdhary.com.
Quit smoking You’re smoking a pack or more a week and want to give up the gaspers for good. Dr Leila Edwards, managing director of Transformations Institute, says the trick to being successful is making sure you really want to stop. ‘After that, it becomes a matter of understanding how habits are formed and how to change them with minimum of fuss or effort,’ she says. Studies show hypnotherapy is the most consistently successful method, while willpower alone is the least. ‘I ask people to reflect on the length of time they’ve been a smoker, how many cigarettes they’ve consumed in their life and how much they’ve spent on the habit. They also set goals for what they want to achieve as a healthy ex-smoker, and what it will mean to them to be smoke free: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.’ Transformations Institute (04 344 0115).
Negotiate a pay rise If you’ve proved yourself to be diligent and reliable at work, and have taken on more responsibility in the past year, you might feel it’s time to ask for a pay rise. ‘In salary negotiation, there’s one golden rule you must never break,’ explains Paul White, executive development coach at Dubai’s Sandpiper Coaching. ‘Never threaten to leave if your request is rejected. It’s foolish, unprofessional and could backfire. Bosses don’t respond to threats, but good bosses will listen to a reasoned argument as to why you should receive an increase.’ Paul suggests you first research whether the company is doing well enough to consider an increase, then consider how valuable you are to the company and whether they would be prepared to lose you to a competitor. He explains that negotiations often fail because people simply haven’t prepared their case well enough. www.sandpipercoaching.com.
Do something more exciting on Fridays Stuck in the brunch rut? ‘Change your perspective and become more curious,’ says Dubai-based life coach Rawan Albina. ‘People should imagine themselves as children on a treasure hunt – remember that excitement when you found the treasure? Just like a child, think outside the box. Search for activities online, and look up interesting meet-up groups that share similar interests. Buy Time Out Dubai to learn more about what’s happening around town. Drive around your area and check out parks, hotels and coffee shops. Visit cultural spaces – there are plenty nowadays in Al Quoz and Downtown. Most importantly, if you want to get out of the brunch routine, you need to make new friends. Persuading your existing friends to change their routine and step out of their comfort zone might be harder than you think, unless you can find someone who is as curious and excited as you.’ Rawan Albina, CCM Consultancy, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Save cash According to wealth commentator Janelle Malone, there are different ways to go about saving money, whether you’re single, in a relationship or have a family. ‘If you’re single living in Dubai, it’s important that your social life is kept in check. Set a cash and clothing allowance each month to spend on social outings – put this amount in an envelope and when it’s gone, stay at home. Couples should check they’re financially aligned with their partners. Set a meeting in your calendar to discuss your finances, goals and values with your partner each month. Regardless of how good you’ve been with money prior to having children, your monetary patterns will also change once you have a family. Write down your own mission statement about what example you wish to set for your children about money. Live this reality as close as you can every day.’ Janelle at Women Money and Style (050 105 7623).
Get a cool qualification Most of us want something to show for our time in Dubai that will be with us for longer than a suntan, and there are some great opportunities right on your doorstep. Become a referee, earn your PADI diving qualification, get your RYA sailing certificate, become a competent powerboat driver, a yoga instructor – the options are endless. Local business owner Adam Ridgeway embarked on a skydiving course last year, which he describes as ‘an incredibly exhilarating hobby’, and a surprisingly quick learning process. ‘It’s a healthy investment compared to other sports, but you have to ask yourself how much you value life’s experiences. But once you’ve invested in the training, you’re good to go. When you prepare yourself to exit the plane for the first time, you think: Why would anyone do this? But by the time you land you’re thinking: Why isn’t everyone?’ Skydive Dubai, Palm dropzone (050 153 3222); desert dropzone (050 154 2992).
Make more time for your family Dubai is a work-hard, work-even-harder city, and the prevalence of smartphone technology means it’s getting increasingly difficult to switch off. But as the saying goes, no CEO ever lay on his deathbed wishing he’d spent more time at work. ‘You should never take work home with you,’ says Rawan Albina. ‘Once you’re at home, make sure your phone only allows calls and SMS messages – no emails. As hard as this may sound, our phones have become closer to us than our own families, and we must draw the line somewhere. Find an activity to do with your family on a regular basis. If your family is overseas, set a weekly or monthly Skype date – and keep it free. Remember, the fate of the world doesn’t rest on your shoulders. You don’t want your life to become a journey to the grave rather than a balanced one where you have time for family.’
Volunteer your free time and do more for charity There’s no shortage of volunteer opportunities in Dubai, from fostering homeless pets to organising recycling drives and taking part in beach clean-ups – anyone should be able to find a cause they believe in. But make sure you’re committed before signing up. Lola Lopez, founder of Volunteer in the UAE, which runs 15 different volunteer projects, urges people to consider the consequences if they can’t commit. ‘We have a 72 percent no-show rate for new volunteers. Not only does this not help, but it cripples the event and the project. We once organised a Wild Wadi event for children with special needs, and of 46 volunteers, 21 didn’t show up. When the children arrived on the buses, I had to send them back.’ Just two hours a year from each of her members (which number 25,000) ‘would be wonderful’, as it would allow the organisation to give 50,000 hours to the community.
Learn a new language Thousands of expats arrive in Dubai every year with the intention of learning Arabic, but find themselves several years down the line with just a few cursory phrases in their lexicon. If you want to learn, Moaz Khan from Eton Institute says it’s vital to make sure you’re using and thinking in the language outside of the classroom. He also recommends practising by visiting places where Arabic is spoken, such as Deira or Bastakiya in Bur Dubai – and don’t be scared of making mistakes. You could visit Dubai’s wealth of Arabic restaurants and order using the language, and take trips to more traditional emirates, such as Sharjah, Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah. It’s also recommended you team up with an Arabic-speaking exchange partner, and arrange monthly meetings at the Eton Institute to converse – check www.speakdating.ae.
Be less stressed and more positive In a fast-paced city such as Dubai, a lot of us feel the strain. But you can beat the blues with a positive attitude, says Yvette Franzos, an instructor at BreatheBelieveLife. ‘Stress is the one thing that disconnects us from our true selves, and the true self always wants to be zen,’ she says. Her top tips to reconnect with the inner zen are to exercise regularly – 30 minutes a day is enough to release endorphins – and achieve a carefree attitude by singing and dancing to your favourite music. Deep breathing for two minutes in moments of anxiety will calm the body. Yvette says it’s also important to reconnect to nature by heading to the park or desert. BreatheBelieveLife, www.breathebelievelife.com (050 849 3239).
Watch less TV and spend more time outdoors For a start, ditching your TV package could save you a minimum of about Dhs250 per month. And if you’ve nothing to watch, it will encourage you to get out and about to appreciate the great outdoors. ‘There is no better feeling than the freedom of being by the sea,’ says Ian Walker, skipper of Abu Dhabi’s Azzam yacht, which has twice competed in the Volvo Ocean Race. ‘Whether by swimming, sailing, paddling or taking a leisure cruise, I would encourage everyone to discover the waters of the UAE. Sport is crucial to living a happy and healthy life – combining it with discovering more about your city is wonderful.’ As a bare minimum, life coach Rawan Albina suggests committing yourself to regular outdoor activities with a friend. ‘If you promise each other you will do something, you won’t want to let each other down.’ Put the money you save from your TV subscription towards more expensive outdoor activities instead.
Travel more The vast majority of the time, you can make sure you get the best holiday deal by booking early. Otherwise, most airlines also send out regular newsletters, so sign up for alerts from all airlines that fly in and out of Dubai. Checktimeoutdubai.com/travel for the latest hotel deals in the UAE and further afield. Sri Lanka has been voted one of the must-visit spots for 2013, and a number of the UAE’s airlines fly to Colombo, including FlyDubai, which will also launch its new route to the Maldives in January. According to a FlyDubai spokesperson, Beirut continues to be one of the airline’s most popular routes. ‘Istanbul is also popular with those jetting off for a weekend getaway, while expats in the UAE regularly visit their friends and family in Hyderabad and Ahmedabad.’ www.flydubai.com.
Hold more dinner parties In Dubai, cookers often go underused (it took one Time Outer two years to remove the plastic from her new oven. Shameful). Eating out can be as affordable as eating in, and this, combined with the city’s fast pace, means it’s easy to lose one’s domestic impulses. In 2013, however, Dubai dinner parties may well become more popular: two episodes of UK show Come Dine With Me are being filmed in the city as we speak, and will be screened later in the year. See facebook.com/comedinewithme for updates. Inspired? If you’ll only brave a cooking class with a partner, have a stab at Scafa’s couples’ cooking classes, which cost Dhs500 per duo. These alternate between different types of cuisine, and are designed for couples or friends. Call 04 379 4044. Alternatively, try a culinary experience at Miele Gallery. The schedule changes each month, but adult classes typically cost Dhs400: email email@example.com or call 800 64353. See page 61 for more options.
Nail that promotion According to the latest quarterly business survey by the Department of Economic Development (DED), 95 per cent of businesses surveyed were expecting either improvement or stability during the last three months of 2012, with large companies expressing interest in expanding. Want to make the most of the city’s growing career opportunities? ‘The number one thing to do is exceed the expectations of your employers,’ advises Paul White, executive development coach at Dubai’s Sandpiper Coaching. ‘Keep yourself current in terms of industry qualifications and knowledge. The big natural crossroad in Dubai for any job is visa renewal time,’ Paul continues. ‘So six to 12 months before your visa is renewed is the time to think about how you might position yourself for promotion. You may also consider moving companies for a fresh start.’ Best of luck! www.sandpipercoaching.com