Smart New Year's resolutions

Singaporeans reach for the stars when they set goals

Good morning. Welcome to 2017.

Perhaps you're a traditionalist. Perhaps you've already tweeted, grammed or snapped with the trending social media hashtag #NewYearResolutionsIWillKeep.

Perhaps you're a realist. Perhaps you looked at your past history with New Year's resolutions and decided, bah, humbug. Nothing will change. You won't ever change.

Like the ghost of Christmas past, I'm here to tell you to get with the spirit of the times. If you failed to keep your resolutions in other years, that was probably because you didn't make smart ones.

I don't mean Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic Targets such as "walk 10,000 steps a day - towards dessert". I mean resolutions intelligently designed specifically for Singaporeans, such as "become a millionaire" and "achieve world peace".

Let's face it. Singaporeans don't do small-time goals. Pablum like "Lose weight. Be kinder to people. Sleep eight hours a night", just won't motivate us.

We reach for the stars. Michelin stars. We want the world's greatest food snobs to bow before our bak chor mee and slurp up soya sauce chicken - and they did last year.

We want Olympic Gold and that too, plucked from the muscled catch of the world's best-known swimmer. Heck, we aimed for a fat, jingling bag of medals and got it, thanks to two Paralympic golds and a bronze in swimming. If you need inspiration, look to Joseph Schooling, Yip Pin Xiu and Theresa Goh. They pulled off the impossible in Rio last year. They made swimming Singaporeans' favourite sport, toppling the long-time record-holder, shopping.

Singapore may be small but Singaporeans dream big. As one friend I tested this column on put it: "I want to lose 10kg and become a millionaire. Any lesser New Year's resolutions are just rubbish."

So let's make that New Year's resolution No. 1: Become a millionaire.

The good news is that, thanks to the Pokemon Go craze, much of Singapore is halfway there.

A study published in July last year in The Lancet looked at the economic effect of coronary heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, breast cancer and colon cancer, all of which are affected by sedentary lifestyles.

The study took into account the healthcare costs and working hours lost because of such illnesses. It estimated that not moving enough cost the world about US$67.5 billion in 2013.

Of this amount, US$9.7 billion was paid by households for healthcare.

Let's reflect on this.

The United Nations estimates the current population of the world at more than seven billion. Since Singapore took top spot in last year's Pisa rankings for maths, reading and science, I don't need to spell out that, even adjusted for earnings, you can save a lot of money if you take steps to ensure you stay healthy.

I mean "take steps" literally. After the Lancet study, The New York Times talked to cardiologists and found that walking 30 minutes a day could help people save US$2,500 (S$3,612) a year just on healthcare related to heart problems.

We are Singaporeans, so obviously we won't settle for walking just 30 minutes a day. Thanks to Pokemon Go, we won't stop moving until all rare beasts are captured. Actually, we should keep moving so the residents of Pokemon hotspot Block 401 at Hougang Avenue 10 can get out of their doors too, without complaining about stationary strangers glued to smartphones.

Which leads to my New Year's resolution No. 2: Achieve world peace. Don't laugh. Most Singaporeans are perfectly suited to defusing international tensions, as Ms Nuradillah Zakbah did last November at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. She explained to an African-American man that the Chinese tourists in a queue were not calling him names, but saying "na ge" (Mandarin for "that").

We don't all have to travel internationally to make a difference. We can start at home just by looking up and away from our smartphones.

It's a no-brainer that looking away from smartphones and at the real world will decrease accidents on sidewalks and on roads. This will improve both the mood and discretionary income of the population - hello, first million!

Did you also know that looking away from smartphones substantially reduces the threat of nuclear war? This is true. If United States President-elect Donald Trump put his smartphone away, he would not be tweeting nuclear threats that have foreign governments up in, er, arms.

Then there is Pakistan's defence minister. Khawaja Asif was taken in by fake news about Israel threatening Pakistan with nukes so he tweeted a retaliatory threat before his smartphone could be taken away by smarter advisers.

The biggest problems have the simplest solution. World peace starts with taking away the smartphone from Twitter-pated politicians. And us regular people, if we look up from our communication bubbles, we might just stop banging into each other at MRT stations.

Having achieved world peace and taken steps on the road to millionaire-dom, you may have noticed a certain leanness from all the walking. It is time now for a new wardrobe and New Year's resolution No. 3: Make the world better through shopping.

Ah, shopping. It is practically the duty of every Singaporean to support local brands, or local stores stocking international brands, especially during the pre-Chinese New Year sales. Especially in the light of looming economic uncertainty this year.

There is also no better way to change the world than through spending. Every dollar you spend is a vote for or against a system. For example, when you buy clothes from certain fashion brands, you vote for tacky fashion - will someone please introduce the flannel brigade to other patterns? - and possibly, according to BBC News, for factories using Syrian child refugees in Turkey as slave labour. Google a bit before getting out your wallet and look for brands that have published their list of suppliers. Then use the Laborvoices app to check the factories' ranking on workers' health and safety.

You are allowed to use your smartphone for this. Then please, look up and away.

And take a deep breath. Yes, last year was hard. We were shocked by Brexit and the election of a US President-elect who trusts his children over the Central Intelligence Agency. The leader of the Rebel Alliance died - actress Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia in Star Wars. We lost the voices of our childhood: singers George Michael and David Bowie, authors Harper Lee and Richard Adams.

This year may not be easier. Unpredictable weather batters the world. Mandarin orange harvests have fallen and prices here may rise 20 per cent before Chinese New Year. Our belts will be tight to breathlessness, according to the grim economic sentiments of companies polled in the annual National Business Survey conducted by the Singapore Business Federation.

So this is New Year's resolution No. 4: Take deep breaths.

We all have to breathe. Whether you are a keyboard warrior, an over-committed, exhausted do-gooder, or a member of the "meh" brigade holding your breath till the end of this sentence just to prove me wrong - I will elongate it with parenthetical statements and polysyllables, just see - we all have to breathe.

Enough research has been done since 1963 to show that taking deep breaths improves resilience in the face of stress, clears the mind for sharper thinking and makes people happier.

We have a tough year behind us and maybe a tough year ahead of us. So take a deep breath and let it out. Remember that research shows reducing stress helps reduce pudgy waistlines.

With one deep breath, you're on track to being a healthy, happy millionaire.

Now isn't that enough to make you greet 2017 with a smile?

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 01, 2017, with the headline 'Smart New Year's resolutions'. Print Edition | Subscribe