New Year, New You?
By the time you read this I suspect that any New Year’s resolutions you made will already be broken and, during these dark months, you may be wondering if you will ever be able to reboot the areas of your life that you feel need to change.
Most resolutions are about self-improvement – how many of us wake up on New Year’s Day vowing never to drink alcohol again and promising to hit the gym at least eight days a week? You’re likely to be making these promises to yourself when you’re not feeling your best after the excesses of Christmas (and the night before) and you’re searching for desperate solutions.
But remember that making resolutions, even if you fail to keep them, is a positive step. It means you’re reviewing what you like and don’t like about how you live your life and it’s a chance to be honest with yourself. Forming an intention about how you want to grow and develop will make you feel positive and optimistic about the future. To strive towards self-improvement could have a positive impact not only on yourself but also on those around you, for example keeping fit will mean you live a healthier life and be there for loved ones for longer. Even something that seems small, like vowing to smile more, will make you feel calm and people close to you will enjoy being with a happier person. In fact, science has shown that smiling can lift your mood, lower stress, boost your immune system and maybe even prolong your life.
The start of a new year is of course a natural marker for starting afresh but beware setting yourself up to fail. How can you be part of the small minority that actually achieves their resolution? To begin with I’d recommend that you set yourself a goal that’s doable, clear, meaningful and realistic.
Aim to improve
Psychiatry professor Brendan Kelly advises people not to aim too high and “Aim to improve, not to transform your life.” He thinks that if you choose one or two modest changes in your life, then realistically one or two of these will stick. Phillipa Lally, a UCL researcher, suggests linking a new habit to an old one, for example you could park up early, or jump off the bus a few stops before your destination, and walk some of your journey to work until it becomes habitual. Or, she says you could add meditation at the end of your evening tooth-brushing session, which will set you up to actually remember to do it. An additional benefit of relaxing your mind just before going to bed is that it could be a way to improve your sleep pattern.
Planning and setting realistic goals gives us direction and meaning to our actions and will make us feel positive as we can see the roadmap to success. Whatever your aspiration, planning with incremental steps will help you to achieve your goal. Rather than resolving to run a marathon, when you’ve yet to complete ‘Couch to 5K’, maybe plan some interim goals, such as a 10K, and then a half marathon, before committing to the big one. A long-term goal will make you feel more positive, and if there are temporary setbacks along the way, you’ll see these as hiccups rather than out and out failures. Motivational speaker, Tony Robbins, said that, “Setting goals is the first step to turning the invisible to the visible.”
Frank L. Smoll, a University of Washington psychologist, with his focus on athletes and sports-oriented goal-setting, talked about what he called the A-B-C of goals.
A-B-C stands for: Achievable – Believable – Committed
Naturally, if you believe you can achieve your goal you are more likely to commit yourself to it.
Whether you are setting goals for your sporting performance or for other areas of your life, determining which goals to go for requires self-evaluation and a vision of who you want to be and what you want to achieve. A goal might focus on improving a weakness, but in turn will put you on the path to enhanced motivation and overall performance. Whatever you plan to work towards, a well-known acronym for goal planning is SMART – meaning that goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. The latter makes the goal more focused and means you see an end-point to your endeavours.
A word of caution with goal-setting however. Do remain self-aware about your strengths and weaknesses and make sure that you actually have the potential to reach your goal. If you can realise and accept the range of your abilities, then you can have a realistic expectation of yourself and set achievable goals. Remember that rewarding yourself for small triumphs along the way will help you to succeed and accepting feedback from team mates, gym buddies, friends, coaches, your employer will boost you and steer you on the right path.
Know yourself and plan whatever route to your goals works for you.
While in the mindset of a reboot, here are some life habits you can easily add to your daily routine that may help you to live more fully and happily:
Gratitude for the good things you perceive in your life helps you to feel more positive emotions and deal with adversity. In positive psychology research it is strongly associated with greater happiness. One mindfulness exercise is to stop and count off on four fingers and a thumb, the five things you feel grateful for that day.
Make sleep a priority
Plenty of research shows how important sleep is to our overall health. Not only can it help you to think more clearly but it can also reduce some risk factors for heart attacks, strokes and diabetes. Make sure your bed is comfortable and find a sleep routine to suit you.
Strengthen your social relationships
Connecting with other people is scientifically proven to relieve harmful levels of stress. The Harvard Women’s Health Watch found “People who have satisfying relationships with family, friends and their community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer.”
You may be a true altruist, whose actions are purely for the sake of others and you expect nothing in return. However, it’s also fair to say that if you help someone then they will be more likely to help you. By helping others you are likely to get something out of the experience yourself, so it can be seen as a ‘win-win’ situation. It will often make you feel better about yourself afterwards, meaning that you will go forward with a more positive attitude.
Learn something new
Learning any new skill, be it a new physical activity, playing a musical instrument or taking up a foreign language stimulates the brain and keeps your neural connections strong. It’s a way of giving your brain a mental workout and builds a strong defence against memory loss. It will also give you a richer identity and a sense of achievement.
Maintain your health and attend medical check-ups and screenings
Never miss health screenings offered by your GP. They are a preventative measure and early detection of anything suspicious means that you can seek appropriate intervention.
Whichever methods you choose in setting realistic goals, may 2023 be a good one and I hope that this has helped you to refocus your life strategy for the year ahead.