How To Make A Success Out Of (Almost) Every Situation
Illustrations by Mr Thomas Pullin
Breaking up is hard to do. So is changing a tyre. And what about ending a Zoom call? Or choosing just the right bottle of wine? The modern world is full of more problems than you can squeeze into a suitcase (although, as it happens, we can tell you how to do that). With this handy guide, we unpack 19 everyday dilemmas and explain how to deal with them calmly and efficiently, so you can get on with your life with the minimum of fuss. You’re welcome.
Get a good night’s sleep
Stress, alcohol, your neighbours’ 68in surround-sound TV – the triggers for a poor night’s sleep are many. A Ball State University study found that 35 per cent of adults are sleeping less than necessary with poor posture a root cause. If counting sheep or writing down what’s on your mind doesn’t help, get out of bed and have a stretch. “Stretching your spine, arms, shoulders, then legs will work out any tension that can make getting comfortable in bed an issue,” says chiropractor Ms Catherine Quinn. Still struggling to get some shut-eye? Read a book (but don’t read off your smartphone or tablet) in a softly lit room while eating a banana, which nourishes a sleep-inducing hormone in the body called tryptophan.
Order wine from a sommelier
It takes years of practice to get confident ordering from a wine list, so make friends with your sommelier. They are key to getting the right bottle from the cellar, says Mr Dan Keeling, co-founder of Noble Rot restaurants in London. “Engage them, tell them how much you want to spend and they might find you an extraordinary wine you never knew existed,” he says. The other thing to bear in mind is that there are no wrong moves here. Ordering the second wine down is fine, for example, but if in doubt, ask your friend the sommelier.
Exercise in restricted time
“Not having time is the number one reason people give for not exercising,” says Mr Joe Warner, fitness trainer and co-creator of the New Body Plan. “But in just 15 minutes you can execute a full-body circuit to burn calories and produce a feel-good endorphin blast.” Warner suggests these moves, in any order, but resting only after the sixth exercise: squat (12 repetitions), lunge left leg forward (6), right leg forward (6), squat jumps (12), press-ups (6) and burpees, from press-up to jump on the spot and back in one movement (6 reps).
Tell the kids the dog’s died
It’s difficult to make a success of talking to children about death, but you can if you think carefully. “Children under the age of four don’t get death at all,” says clinical psychologist Dr Linda Blair. “To them, death is not permanent. It’s difficult to grasp. So first, do you really need to tell them? Volunteering information that you find upsetting will lead to the child thinking they’ve done something wrong to upset you.” If they do ask about Fido’s or Grandma’s absence, use what best suits your family set-up. “You can say, ‘Fido isn’t going to be with us any more, because when things grow old or very sick they often go away,’” suggests Blair. “Or you can say, ‘Grandma’s gone to heaven,’ if you’re happy with that.” Avoid euphemisms such as “gone to sleep”. That just makes the kid fearful of sleep, too.
Make your life greener
You can’t live an entirely sustainable life in one fell swoop, but you can easily make a success of greener living. “Switching energy supplier to a renewable tariff could slash your carbon footprint by up to a quarter,” says Ms Jen Gale, author of The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide. “It’s one of those things that we put off because, let’s face it, it’s super dull, but it’s much easier than we might think and it could save you money.” In the UK, search bigcleanswitch.org for energy comparison information. Mr Paul Greenberg’s book, The Climate Diet, is also a valuable resource for advice on changing supplier.
Salvage dinner when it goes wrong
“It is very easy for a well-planned meal to go pear-shaped,” says Mr Jaume Biarnés, head chef at Yondu Culinary Studio in New York. “Overcooked the rice? Spread it on a tray and let it cool. Stir-fry some vegetables over a high heat, add a few drops of seasoning and add the rice. Don’t stir too much. Let it get crunchy and golden brown. This also works well with overcooked pasta.” Made a stew or soup too salty? Biarnés, a former culinary director at Alícia Food & Science Lab and chef at El Bulli, has a failsafe solution. “Add a potato and a little more water. This will soak up the extra salt and leave your guests none the wiser. And if it’s just looking a bit bland, some chopped fresh herbs sprinkled on top will liven up any dish both taste-wise and visually.”
Manage thinning hair
Talk to your stylist to see what they can do to make the most of what you have. “You’ll want to hear them telling you that it’s all about the shape,” says Ms Julia Despot-Olofsson, founder and creative director at Blade Hairclubbing salon in Soho, London. “Tell them you don’t want sharp lines through the back and around the ears. Keep it soft and natural and get lots of texture and layers for density.” This makes the cut fuller and keeps for longer. After washing your hair with a volume shampoo and conditioner (no more than twice a week), use a styling powder or sea salt product on it, but only once it’s dried. “Any product you put on damp hair will look like a gel, sticking hair together and making it flat, achieving the exact opposite effect and going back to square one,” says Despot-Olofsson.
Change a car tyre
Follow a simple checklist of actions and you can make a success of getting you and your date, or the family, or the stretch limo full of hen-nighters you’re driving back on the road again. “Apply the handbrake, get everyone out of the car and position a chock on the opposite wheel to the one you’re changing,” says Mr Ben Aldous, RAC breakdown patrolman of the year 2019. Get your tools: the locking wheel nut key (if fitted, usually in the glovebox), car jack and the spare wheel from the boot. “Use a wrench to loosen the wheel nuts to the point where they can be turned by hand, but don’t remove them,” says Aldous. Locate the jacking point beneath the car (see the manual, also in the glovebox, right?). “Jack the car slowly until the tyre’s 10 to 15cm off the ground, fully loosen and remove the wheel nuts, then gently pull the tyre until it comes free. Slide the spare wheel onto the hub bolts, replace the wheel nuts and tighten by hand. Use the jack to lower the car slightly so the spare tyre is in contact with the ground, fully tighten the wheel nuts and drive on.”
Dress for your body type
There is lots to consider when dressing according to your body type, from height to build and the style of clothing you enjoy wearing. Making a success of it boils down to quite a simple premise. “The most fundamental tip in dressing for your body type is you must feel comfortable,” says MR PORTER Style Director Mr Olie Arnold. “It sounds obvious, but if you put something on and it feels too restrictive or it drowns you, unless you’ve picked that look deliberately, it’s unlikely you’ll have the confidence to carry it off. Confidence is one of the key factors in deciding what to wear. When you feel great, you’ll look great.”
Ask for something back
The guy across the road has had your lawnmower so long you can barely see his house for the wild savannah that was once your pristine lawn. Whatever the cause of a clash with your neighbour, here’s how to remedy it. “Remind yourself that most people don’t upset their neighbours deliberately, even if it feels like it,” says Mr Justin Spray, a chartered psychologist who specialises in conflict resolution and mediation. “Be specific about what’s bothering you and try to be open to your neighbour’s point of view. In almost all situations, both parties can feel like they are the victims. Crucially, make these initial steps to open the lines of communication. In most disputes, people often change their behaviour when they realise the impact of what they are doing. Explain that you feel it’s time to bury the hatchet.” Oh wait, has he borrowed that too?
Pack a case in a hurry
Dallas-based travel writer Mr Jonathan Thompson is used to living out of a suitcase. As a result, he’s learnt a few handy hacks for packing in hurry. “To pack fast, lay out all you want to take on the bed, then cut that in half. I have separate cubes – the best are by Eagle Creek or Rohan – for underwear, T-shirts, shirts and gym kit, a slightly more robust one for leads and adaptors and always pack an empty one for dirty washing. As soon as I arrive in a hotel, I move each cube into a separate drawer and voilà! I’ve unpacked. Packing is like poker. Only amateurs fold by default. Always roll in order to pack your cubes most efficiently and add a small, portable steamer, such as the Nori Press, to remove any creases swiftly and cleanly when you arrive. Save space and download maps and novels to a smartphone or tablet en route to the airport.”
Remain sober at social events
“The key to staying sober at social events is planning,” says Ms Lesley Miller, co-author of Alcohol Reconsidered: Education For Moderation. “First, don’t be the first one there. The later you leave it, the less time there is to be pressured. Also have your excuse as to why you’re not drinking. That can be anything, but it’s especially effective if people can’t argue with you or try the ‘one won’t hurt’ routine.” Consider driving to the event, say you are taking medication or have to be up in the morning to prepare something urgent for work. “Avoid getting into rounds and use non-alcoholic drinks as a prop,” says Miller. “Take another non-drinker with you if you can, but if not, remember it is only the first drink you are really saying no to and it’s easy after that.”
Buy the best running shoes
“Pick a shoe with the best grip for the activity and terrain you train on most,” says Marthe Solberg, technical specialist at Swiss performance brand On. Think distance, too. “Is it just a 5k every Saturday, or above 20km, or somewhere in between? For longer distances, look at more cushioned shoes.” Comfort is crucial in preventing running-related injuries. “Aim to wear footwear that feels as natural as possible and when it comes to sizing, measure a thumb width of space between your big toe and the front of the shoe to avoid black toe nails.” Want to do all this from home? “There are many different tools out there to help you pick out the perfect running shoes without visiting stores for gait analysis,” says Solberg. On also has a shoe finder tool to help you find the best shoe for you and offers a 30-day home try-on guarantee.
Break up with someone
Accept that there’s never going to be a great way of calling it a day, especially when your soon-to-be ex has a lot more invested in the relationship than you. Pick a neutral venue, ideally not a majorly public one. “Be honest and up front about how you feel,” says Ms Maria Sullivan, dating expert and vice-president of dating.com. “Tell them you don’t want to pursue the relationship any further.” Avoid any ambiguities and don’t raise any false hopes of a reconciliation in the future. If that happens, then great, but for now be firm without being harsh. “Explaining that there isn’t a connection or that you aren’t ready for a relationship is always a good way to end things.”
Boss the barbecue
“Barbecuing is all about the long game,” says Biarnés. “The more you put in, the more delicious the food will be. “Be patient. You want to sizzle over an ember, not cremate on a flame. If you find yourself questioning whether it is cooked through, then it probably is not. Crack open another drink and let the grill do the work.” Don’t just throw a heap of salad on the side either. “Wrap the sturdy vegetables – potatoes or onion – in aluminium foil and start cooking once you light the barbecue. Cook bigger veggies – peppers, aubergines or artichokes – on the edges of the grill, not directly over fire, for about 30 minutes. Do cook the softie skewers – courgette, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes – over direct fire, just for a few minutes and just before serving.” That’s the sweet smell of success, right there.
Apologise when you don’t want to
Politicians are trained to avoid saying sorry wherever possible. Sorry is an admission of accountability and a stick for the opposition to beat you with. You may not be on the campaign trail (yet), but in the workplace your arsenal of aversion tactics should include the “thanks for understanding” option. “When you miss a deadline, don’t say, ‘Sorry you haven’t got this yet,’ but, ‘Thanks for your patience. You’ll have it ASAP,’” says psychologist Dr Audrey Tang. Another ploy that throws the ball back at those you may have wronged is the “anything else?” ploy. “Instead of saying sorry, say, ‘Thanks for highlighting this issue. What else is worth knowing here?’ You put the emphasis immediately on resolution, moving on, bringing about the desired outcome that’s best for all. Now it’s up to them to contribute to resolving the issue while the word ‘sorry’ takes a back seat.”
Meet a new partner’s parents
To hit the right chord from the first moment, ask open questions of your prospective in-laws. “Curiosity is a key element of developing and nurturing any relationship, whoever it’s with, and the reality is that we all like to feel listened to and heard,” says Ms Kate Moyle, sex and relationship expert for sexual wellness brand Lelo. “By asking open questions and allowing them to talk and giving them your full attention, you’re showing that you are interested and invested.” Look to find common ground. “Ask your partner about the best family holiday they went on, or some childhood memories that you can go to if the conversation runs dry,” she says.
Keep your sneakers clean
“For leather and synthetic leather shoes, use a cleaning soap or foam specifically made for these materials with a brush,” says footwear guru Solberg. “A toothbrush works wonders. The same applies to mesh trainers and you can comfortably use washing-up liquid for these.” Do as your mother requested and never put them in the washing machine. “The heat shrinks the mesh, melts the glue and shortens the life of the shoes.” If you must machine wash them, put them in a cloth wash bag on a cold setting. “Always pull the laces out of the shoe holes and wash separately when using stain remover or hard cleaning products. The trainer upper material would not survive this. For white laces, I usually leave them to soak in a bucket of pre-wash clothes bleach, such as Vanish white stain remover. For leather shoes, apply a leather balm after washing.”
Sleep out under the stars
A neuroscientific study from the Max Planck Institute has found evidence that spending time outdoors benefits the brain positively, even if it’s for a short time. You may not be thinking of such perks when you’re stuck in the wilds for a night, but do ponder the following from Swiss army officer turned personal growth guru Mr Kevin Scheepers. “Your first need is shelter,” he says. “Depending on the weather, this can be an open hammock or one with a mosquito/rain tarp. If you’re lucky, you can just sleep in a sleeping bag. Look for cover and ideally pitch on a flat area with a soft surface, such as thick grass or sand. Definitely avoid low points on the landscape where water can pool. Remember the temperature will drop overnight and a hat can be your best insulator of body heat.” Never underestimate the value of a pillow, even if it’s just a rolled-up item of clothing.