Sunday 25 September 2016

How to fulfil your New Year's resolutions

Have you already broken your resolutions? Tanith Carey talks to the experts on how to set goals properly so we actually stick to them

Published 12/01/2016 | 02:30

Fail Friday: If your new year's resolution was to be healthier and you've already had a sneaky chocloate bar, it's not too late to jump back on the wagon, say experts
Fail Friday: If your new year's resolution was to be healthier and you've already had a sneaky chocloate bar, it's not too late to jump back on the wagon, say experts

We may only be hitting the second full week of the new year. But have you already started re-framing those resolutions you swore blind you'd stick to as casual promises you are under no legal obligation to honour? Has your non-appearance at the gym and your hoovering up of the Christmas cheese (so you can finally start eating more healthily) mean that 2016 is starting to feel… a bit, well, 2015?

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Fail Friday (the third Friday of the month, when our collective willpower is most likely to be broken) may soon be upon us. But there's simply no point in self-flagellating for your lack of self-restraint.

Step away from the major overhauls, pick yourself up and instead celebrate smaller wins toward small goals. The science says it's far more likely to work for you - and it's definitely not too late to start.

Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction at Nottingham Trent University, told me that it's far too early in the year to look at resolutions in terms of success or failure.

"Do things gradually. For instance, if you want to cut down alcohol, you don't need to do it all at once. Try not having a drink once a week, then every third day and so on. You're far more likely to have success if you do it in little chunks".

So for each area of your life, here are the research-backed ways, you really can have a better life in 2016.

If your resolution was to be healthier ...

So your Dry January disintegrated on day five and your resolve to follow Gywnnie's latest detox collapsed with your first bowl of quinoa?

If so, forgive yourself, because willpower will always ebb and flow.

Instead, according to Professor Mike Evans - who studies the science behind successful life changes - use the moments when you're feeling resolved to prepare for the times when you might falter.

"Set your life to minimise temptation. [Successful life-changers] use their high willpower moments to prepare for their low willpower moments."

That includes simple tactics like putting out your running shoes the night before, slicing up fruit and placing it at the front of the fridge and recognising the scientifically proven fact that if we order the super-size popcorn at the cinema, we will eat it. All.

Even personal trainers advise not to criticise yourself if you've already skipped the gym. Jess Eacott of 24/7 Fitness, says: "It's just a minor setback.

"As long as you realise where it went off target, you can get back to it straight away.

"Make fewer resolutions in the first couple of weeks to allow yourself to really focus on what you want to accomplish the most. If you achieve the first few, you can always add more."

If your resolution was to boost your career...

More than half of employees wish they could change career in 2016, according to research out this week by investment savings specialists Standard Life.

The survey of over 2,000 people found the main reasons we're hitting our heads against our office cubicle walls are lack of confidence and 'not knowing where to start.'

According to psychologist Richard Wiseman, author of 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot, studies have found that when people want to get a new job, the ones who succeed the most break the process up into steps: "like writing their CV in one week and then applying for one new job ever two weeks over six months."

Professor Wiseman, of the University of Hertfordshire, says the winning applicants also discuss their goal with family and friends (though it may be better to keep this particular resolution from your boss).

"Keeping your aims to yourself helps ease fear of failure, it also makes it too easy to avoid changing your life and drift back into old habits and routines."

If your resolution was to be sensible with money…

If the January sales have already blown you off course from your resolve to be more grown-up about finances, give some thought to how your emotions are influencing what you spend.

Simonne Gnessen, co-author of Sheconomics, told me: "If your internal dialogue is 'I am useless with money', unpick where that is coming from.

"Much of it can be traced back to early messages we got about money as children and when we first started earning, or using a credit card."

Because money is rarely considered a topic for polite conversation, one way to get to these buried issues into the open is to use a tool, such as card game Moneyhabitudes. Or take an online course on behaviour change website, Do Something Different.

Furthermore, Gnesson advises putting systems in place now, which will last all year.

"Think about setting up text alerts, which tell you when your balance is below a certain amount, so you can take action in time - or writing down a positive message to you keep in your purse, such as: "I am in control."

Other small tweaks might include watching your 'spendships'.

"Shopping with the wrong friends can cause you to spend more. Shop alone or choose your companion carefully."

If your resolution was to be happier…

While there's absolutely no reason women should have to feel stuck on an endless treadmill of self-improvement, being happy is the ultimate goal for all of us.

According to Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, this type of emotional well-being is an advantage in every area of our lives.

"When the human brain is positive, our intelligence rises, we stop diverting resources to think about anxiety. Our creativity triples. Productive energy rises by 31 per cent. The likelihood of promotion rises by 40pc.

"Most people keep waiting on happiness, putting off happiness until they're successful or until they achieve some goal, which means we limit both happiness and success. That formula doesn't work.

"If we flip it around, and invest in it now, it reaps an incredible dividend."

One way to tackle this is mindfulness. So much research now points to the importance of mindfulness to reach this state that it's becoming hard to ignore. One study in the Lancet last year found that teaching people mindfulness works just as well as antidepressants to prevent relapses of depression.

Graham Doke, founder of well-being centre Anamaya says: "I've lost count of the number of times I've heard people say they 'don't have time to be mindful'."

However it's no more than a simple shift in thinking.

"Mindfulness is not a discipline that has to be practiced for 10 or 20 minutes a day.

"It comes from a decision to change the way things are now: from being stressed and anxious to being more relaxed, from being always angry to being calm, from being reactive to being thoughtful.

"The change is from 'running on autopilot' to understanding and being in control of your mind."

And if all else fails? Ditch the deadlines.

Dr Meg John Barker, a registered psychotherapist at The Open University, says new year can bring too much pressure.

"We often try to make lots of changes all at once and can end up feeling a huge sense of failure if we don't succeed because of all the pressure.

"Instead of resolving to change something, why not resolve just to 'notice' it for the next few months? When we understand what we get from the current situation, it's much easier to make a change that lasts.

"Even better, why not make your resolution simply to treat yourself more kindly? You'll be surprised how many other changes come so much more easily if you can manage that." © Daily Telegraph

Telegraph.co.uk

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