So once again we’re at that time of year, when we feel we must make intentions, changes, break habits and fulfil goals by setting resolutions. As I wrote in my blog last year, try and change too much all at once and you’re doomed to failure, and actually in the process of trying to plan a ‘New Year, new you’, it’s easy to forget that the ‘old you’ is pretty damn brilliant anyway!
But does that mean we shouldn’t bother? I don’t think so, there is something absolutely delicious about the prospect of a fresh start, a new regime, goals and plans. The blank page of a diary, or notebook, an empty calendar, waiting to be filled. But rather than plunging headfirst into a punishing exercise schedule or restrictive diet; here are some suggestions for some resolutions worth making, and are certainly on my list:
1. Using less plastic
Although I usually blog about mental-health wellbeing, I cannot ignore the potential of my readership to suggest we all start doing a bit more for the wellbeing of our planet – which in turn DOES benefit our wellbeing, and the wellbeing of the next generation. In 2016 I switched to a re-suable water bottle and gave up plastic ones, last year I swapped take-out coffee cups for a gorgeous bamboo ecoffee cup; and this year I am giving up straws and disposable cutlery, making sure I always take my own with me.
Carrier bags, take out cups, drinks bottles, straws, toothbrushes, unnecessary fruit and veg packaging, all things we can give up quite easily. You don’t have to make all the changes at once, but if you can become more mindful (and do at least grab a funky coffee cup and water bottle) the oceans, and the planet will thank you for it.
Which brings me on to gratitude. This is an ancient way of cultivating a feeling of happiness that weaves itself through many religions, and spiritual practices including Buddhist meditation and yoga, but has been backed up by modern psychology as a way of creating happiness and health. You don’t have to be religious, but just thinking of five or six things every morning that you are really grateful for – people, situations, things you enjoy, even the warm bed you are snuggled in – cultivates a positive feeling to help you start your day. A simple resolution you can weave into your life with minimum effort and guaranteed benefits.
Self-care means looking after yourself and ensuring your emotional, physical and mental needs are being met. Self-care rituals are going to vary from person to person but for virtually everyone it means eating well (regular, nutritious food), sleeping well, having adequate alone time (what you do in that time is up to you), regular exercise and some time for quality relaxation. On top of that you might have specific needs that you know make up your self-care, especially if you have a particular medical or mental health need; so self-care for you might include making sure you see your therapist regularly, that you keep a condition well managed, or that you have a strategy in place for if you get overwhelmed (important if you have learning differences). When working with clients, finding out their self-care needs and that they are doing them, is on the top of my list of priorities. Avoid burn out by factoring in self-care as part of your work or study schedule. Plan it in before you plan a working week (salaried jobs provide lunch hours and holiday time so you need to as well). Factoring in good self-care also helps guard against more destructive habits that may feel like they are de-stressing you but actually add stress to your body, such as heavy drinking/recreational drug sessions, overindulgence of junk food and even sleep binging, which will make you more vulnerable to burn out in the long run.
4. Screen breaks
Factoring work breaks is one thing, but they are next to useless if you spend your precious 20 mins away from your desk staring at another screen, especially if that also involves getting flustered by Twitter trolls, depressing yourself over your friend’s holiday pictures on Facebook or flooding your brain with dopamine and adrenaline as you splatter zombies all over the screen playing your latest Xbox One X game. It’s not just the information spewing from our screens that can be stressful to our brains, but the blue light that they emit plays havoc with melatonin production, the hormone that regulates sleep, and so if you’re regularly staring at a screen, big or small, after 8pm each night; then you’re setting yourself up for a world of sleep problems. Taking those minutes to breathe, stretch, go outside, dance, or do 10 mins mindfulness (there are plenty of apps that offer 10 minute meditations) will give your brain a proper break and make you far more productive.
Aim to take at least 10minute screen breaks every hour if you’re working/gaming/binge watching Netflix; and aim to limit screen time after 8pm. If you absolutely have to finish that box-set or get that essay finished, then invest in the f.lux app; which changes the blue light, to a more gentle yellow in the evenings.
5. Setting boundaries
How much of your stress, tiredness and overwork comes from simply not being able to say no to people? Or conversely to ask others when you need help to get needs met? Spending some time setting out what your boundaries are regarding certain people, situations and aspects of your life, can be hugely helpful before working out how exactly you’re going to enforce those boundaries. The common mistake is often working on strengthening boundaries without working out where exactly they should be. Kind of like Donald Trump building a wall right across the middle of Texas, which lets be honest, we wouldn’t put past him at this stage.
So sit down with some paper, and work out some of your ‘bottom lines’, whether it’s emotional, work-loads, financial or how much energy you have to dedicate to a project and only then, work out ways to maintain that boundary. Your chances of success will be much higher and you lower your risk of burnout and resentments.
The more you can simplify your life the better, and every day a new gadget or app or device comes out that tells us ‘THIS IS THE THING THAT WILL SIMPLIFY YOUR LIFE!’ But, of course, we just end up with drawers full of gadgets, apps we never use and every plug socket in use charging up several devices that all do the same thing. Whether it’s having a good wardrobe declutter, prioritising your schedule or having an app purge on your phone to only the ones you know really help you, making things as simple for yourself, as possible is going to free up a lot of mental energy for you to be getting on with more important things in life. Ps. Your mates will never know that you got bought your pot-luck dish from M&S and decanted it into an old casserole dish.
7. Pay it forward
There was a bit of a trend for ‘pay it forward’ a couple of years ago, but it is such a great idea, I really think we need to bring it back! In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s the concept of paying forward a loan; though it doesn’t have to be, and rarely is, about, money. You can specifically start a ‘pay it forward’ scheme with your friends and family (with deeds such as babysitting, lifts, or buying differ); or you can just make a mental note to make sure that every time someone does a good deed for you, you make sure you ‘pay it forward’ and do a good deed for someone else; even if it’s just making your flatmate a cuppa because someone made you a cuppa at work today. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to be putting some goodness and joy back into the world!
8. Make better intentions
The problem with New Year’s Resolutions overall is they are often too big of a change and implemented all at once at the most difficult time of year. Learning how to make “SMARTer” goals (Small, Manageable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-Constrained) rather that large, abstract goals with no strategies, is the first key. Aim to make monthly, weekly and daily goals, and no more than three at a time. If you have a daily to-do list as long as your arm, then at least prioritise and put a star by only three things but then MAKE SURE YOU DO THEM. Break everything down into manageable chunks, and if things still aren’t getting done, then break them down even smaller. Remember everything we ever do comes through the filter of our imagination, so make sure you visualise achieving your goals, and how things will improve for you once you’ve achieved them. Always keep goals positive (‘I am’ rather than ‘I’m not’) and where possible, in the present tense (I am really looking after myself; I am feeling inspired etc).
So that’s it. Good luck with 2018 everyone, here’s to sticking to the resolutions we make and not beating ourselves up when we stumble!
If you want help with making resolutions, sticking to them or support in making long-term changes; or want to make 2018 the year you kick your anxiety, depression or stress to the curb, then get in touch for a consultation, via the contact page!