Be honest for a moment: how often have you chastised yourself for not doing something? You’re probably doing it right now; there’s something else you should be working on, and you’ve snuck off from your day, for a moment, to indulgent in something unplanned. I know the feeling – we’re forever putting ourselves under pressure to “do” the right things, and get so caught up in the act of doing – being busy, planned, pressurised – that we lose sight of things we genuinely enjoy. Release yourself from a judgement for a second, dear readers, and stay with me, because I have a story to tell.

Life Retox

I was, am, forever living in the “should”. I should go to the gym, I should socialise more, I should dress smarter, I should get up earlier, I should eat less bread, I should eat more acai bowls. The truth is, for a large part of 2016, I’m not sure I was happy. I had everything I’ve always wanted: a job I absolutely adore, incredible girlfriends (the kind you call when you have literally nothing to say), a loving, supportive relationship with a man who I would literally do anything for, heck, I even had one tiny foot on the property ladder. But I still wasn’t happy.

You can live the most glamorous life around (accordingly to social media), but if you’re constantly guilting yourself in the “should”, your life becomes a stream of pressure, self-criticism and doubt. Rather than living in the moment, “should” demands that you focus your attention out of the present – either casting your gaze back into the past, looking at things you should have done differently, or forcing yourself to focus on the future, wondering what you should be doing more of. Don’t trust “should” – it’s not your friend, and it doesn’t want your happiness.

Life Retox

So, over Christmas, I decided to take some time out and lose myself in one of the most wonderful places in the world: Foyles bookshop. For days on end, I read self-help books, drank tea, took notes of the year that has passed, asked myself questions, and I realised all the pressure was coming from me, not anyone else. I had internalized so many social pressures, that I had become my own worst enemy. Take a moment to ask yourself where your “should” stems from, and you’ll be probably be surprised to find that it’s not from you. I made a conscious effort to analyse my own “shoulds” – when I asked myself why I kept thinking I should go to the gym more, I realised it was because I was spending too much time on Instagram, where other people’s abs and deadlifts were filling my sub-conscious. Instead of enjoying my down time, I was guilting myself with what others were doing.

The solution? I deleted the fucking app. Not completely, not the account, but I took the app off my phone for a week. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve been happier. I realised, in all honesty, that the gym doesn’t make me happy. I don’t think it ever did. I just lost myself, for a year, in everyone else’s lives and totally forgot my own – I actually much prefer gentle exercise, yoga, and walking outside in Primrose Hill, coffee in hand. And that’s totally fine, because while the gym might work for some, it left my soul parched.

Life Retox

Photo by mikerolls

And what about the food “shoulds” – that we should be eating a certain way, whether that’s cutting out grains, saying goodbye to sugar, going vegan, eating paleo, raw, protein-only, low-carb, whole, dairy-free. God, it’s exhausting. And again, how often is this what you actually want to? It’s such a confusing time for health; we have all these unqualified fitness stars on Instagram sending out messages about diets to thousands of followers, and each message is misleading, unproven and dangerous. I probably don’t need to remind you, but having abs does not a qualification make.

Life Retox

I actually love sugar, and I have a healthy, loving relationship to it – I have a couple squares of really delicious chocolate (current obsession: Galaxy salted caramel) every night before bed, usually in my PJs in bed, and it makes me very happy. It doesn’t scare me. I don’t feel “out of control” around it. The idea that we have to completely cut things out, because they are dangerous, is just another orthorexic message projected through social media, that is a rejection of your inner self.

Life Retox

Photo by schwazer

I realised, through my Instagram ban, that I had stopped eating so many things I really, truly loved, because they went against a brand identity I had carved for myself online. Like carbs. Man, I love carbs and I realised I was eating less and less of them as the message of gluten-free became gospel. Take Hampstead Crepes; there’s truly nothing more wonderful in the world than a spinach, mushroom and cheese crepe, eaten with frozen fingertips on a street bench, melted cheese oozing down your chin. Forget clean. Forget restrictions. Forgets diets. Eat what makes you happy, and if your online community don’t agree with it, forget them too.

Life Retox

So, what now? What happens when you realise that you’ve been living your life for someone else? Well, firstly, replace the “should” with “could” and you’ll find, in an instant, that your whole approach to the self, and your time, changes. Suddenly, the world becomes full of possibility, chance, hope, rather than, rules, regulation, structure. Things seem easier, more welcoming, flowing, and, ironically, the things you often force yourself to do are more within reach, too. It’s about taking the pressure off, and allow nature to guide you.

Life Retox

And next, most importantly, rather than starting the year with a New Year’s Resolutions list of things you’re going to force yourself into, I want you to write a list of 10 things that light you up. This idea is from Light is the New Black by Rebecca Campbell (a must-read) – find things that you really, truly love, whether that’s baking, walking, gymnastics, baths, hot chocolates or candles. Figure out the ones you can realistically do every week, and make a conscious effort to do something for yourself every day.

This is a life retox, not a detox; it’s about putting more into your life, not taking things out. And similarly, with food, what have you cut out and why? Write a list of foods you used to eat that made you happy; what can you eat more of that makes your heart sing. For me, I’ll be chowing down peanut butter and banana on toast whilst scrapbooking, because print stick and glitter paint is always fun. I want your life to be more abundant, not less, and be filled with more goodness, joy, fun and soul-quenching goodness than ever more. New year, same you, just a bit more you than ever before.

This is your life, dear readers, and you only get one shot. I don’t want to look back on my twenties, and think that I wished these amazing, fun-filled years away, because of a little app that tells us how everyone else lives their lives. I would love you all to write a list of things you want to do more of, not less, this year and share them on Twitter with me with the hashtag #liferetox. Get a pen and paper, drink a cup of tea in your favourite mug, and get planning: let 2017 be the year of the life retox, and let the light in.