I need to make some lifestyle changes. I’ve come to the point whereby I’ve set myself a number of challenges to slowly alter how I go about spending money and improving my health.

It’s nothing too dramatic. I see it more as chomping at bite size chunks to achieve overall personal goals. It’s all about removing and changing minor things, that all added up will represent a much larger progress.

Before we go through my intended lifestyle adjustments I’d like to tell you a little story from my childhood that has stayed with me to this day. Are you sitting comfortably?

In the summer of 1994 I was 9 years old; I’m 28 now to save you doing any maths. As a family we went on a holiday to Italy visiting a friend of my Dad’s, Enrico. He always told us he had a castle and we didn’t believe it till we got to Campolattaro, south of Rome.

The memory of the holiday as a whole is hazy except for a few prominent things. There were the picturesque hilly surroundings, coated with the searing heat of the Mediterranean sun. Also there is a vague memory of an enjoyable yet unsuccessful fishing trip with my Dad and older brother. One specific thing I do however remember well is sitting down one evening to a meal of pasta with a thick, rich creamy sauce made by the host himself, Enrico.

Now both I and my brother were like most typical British kids when it came to cuisine and culture – very reluctant to try new foods, flavours and experiences. Our dinners back at home mostly consisted of readymade pizzas, pies, fish fingers and chips, all with lots of ketchup. As a child I was a very fussy eater and probably not very healthy either.

Yet that summer in Campolattaro changed me for good when I was sternly told by all adults to finish my bowl of the pasta and rich sauce before I was allowed to leave the table. I’m sure many of you as parents will know about this technique of putting your foot down when it comes to dinner time, and I support you in your pursuits for nurturing through discipline.

I continued to sob at the table for a while, and looked to anyone for sympathy in the hope that a plate of chips would magically appear. Nothing did. In fact the adults carried on with their evening of chatting and relaxing whilst poor little me (I was small for my age) grasped my spoon and trudged through the bowl with a sour face.

It is enough to say that today those very words ‘creamy pasta’ make my mouth water as an adult (close enough) and a keen cook. I now love all sorts of tastes and textures and will eat pretty much anything that’s put in front of me, although I’ve still managed to retain the fussy part of me when it comes to certain domestic and culinary duties.

What I’ve come to realise of late is that life itself is very much like finishing that plate of food you don’t want. You bite, you chew and you swallow whether it appeals to you as much as other plates do or not. I believe it works well as an outlook for many of life’s scenarios, but of course no one should ever really complain a single jot when a warm meal is placed in front of them. For me the point is that even when you feel you’ve been handed a bad meal you should try it before you complain, it may just turn out to be one of the tastiest things you’ve ever eaten.

It was a sense of accomplishment I felt back then as a child; after I gradually stopped whinging and respectfully finished the meal as asked. It is now significant in relation to what I’m trying to achieve over the next few months and years to come.

I was at that table in the summer of 1994 for over two hours after everyone else had mopped up their dish without a murmur of discontent.

In the end I’m glad I finished the dish. It taught me a valuable lesson I should have taken note of more often in life, and that is: it’s always better to go slow and steady than to not go at all.

So what are my mini-challenges?

I’ve chosen five challenges to be getting on with, but there are several others orbiting around my consciousness. For example, improving my knowledge about blogging is at the forefront. It is ongoing, as is life, but let’s get these lifestyle changes in check:

1. Drink tea without sugar for a whole week

If I’m to be naughty and consume occasional fast food products or snacks from shops like the bakery I need to make a decision. I would have to choose between solely having healthy options and cook everything from scratch, or I reduce the amount of sugar intake in other ways. As a man who’s always liked a large scoop of sugar in my tea I’m now hoping to cut this out. Too much sugar also hinders a good night’s sleep.

2. Go without alcohol for five days

To many this may be straightforward, but I’m half Irish. At least that’s my excuse. I’ve always enjoyed relaxing with a couple of beers in the latter stages of the evening, but not so much one for going out drinking (too expensive and too many people out there). If I can go for a whole week, or at least five days, without even having a single beer it can only benefit me physically and mentally. I have to admit this challenge is the one I fear the most, since some days it feels appropriate if not necessary to drown the sorrows a little. Regardless, the main objection is to attempt and complete the set tasks.

3. Make my own pizzas

My parents have very kindly given me a bread maker, and with it a truckload of flour. I only have limited kitchen space, but making the time and room to build my own pizzas from scratch will be rewarding and save money. The other argument is that when you do fancy pizza the options are either of overpriced ones from the shop that are poor quality, or expensive pizzas from the takeaway that are high in fat and sugar and always taste better in the menu picture than actually in your mouth. Maybe I’m getting too cultured, but I always feel slightly conned when I do buy a pizza as I know how they should look and taste.

4. Make my own soups

Homemade food seems the essence of new beginnings. By saving money and increasing taste it can only feel that you’re winning. Like with pizzas, most soups you can buy from a supermarket are not satisfying. By the time you’ve paid between five and ten times more than it would cost to make it yourself there is also the issue that there’s hardly a decent portion inside a small tin of soup. Thus, twice a week I shall attempt my own soups. If you are interested as well see Maria’s post for a few wholesome soup recipes.

5. Walk for at least 45 minutes every day

This could mean a pleasant stroll or a gruelling trek. In the winter days this may prove more difficult with icy roads, but if I am not busy I should at the very least take a half-mile detour on the way to the shops (there is a small park near where I live). This would also be imperative if I am to spend most of a day at home cleaning, cooking or writing. As writers we need to move around both with our bodies and our brains. Staying in the same room for hours on end limits your sight in more ways than one, and I have to admit on occasion I’ve barely left the house.

These challenges are good for starting out but there has to be progress.

An additional challenge I’ve set myself is to write down two things every morning – A new idea and a new challenge. It can be ideas to do with writing, cooking, exercising and so on. The challenges can be mundane things like achieving thirty press-ups each morning, or if it is a more significant challenge it can be added to the list above.

Please share what challenges have you set yourself; I’d love to hear of any bold attempts at something new and I’d appreciate the company as well.

Speaking of which, I need to go for a stroll. The weather is horrible out there but my legs still work the same, so it’s time to take some steps and the brain will follow.

photo credit: Jason A. Samfield via photopin cc