Like them or loathe them, everybody ends up talking about New Year's resolutions during the first few weeks of the year. Have you made any, how many, will you keep them? and so on.
But however cliched it may sound, the changing of the calendar is a helpful time for reflection. Having just gone through an indulgent period of eating, drinking and giving, as well as reuniting with family and friends over Christmas, most of us will have rounded off our years happily, and are looking to continue that happiness into the next one. We can look back at where we were this time last year and create new goals.
Of course, that doesn't mean saying "I will finally quit smoking this year" will mean that you will instantly give up, just because you really want to. Resolutions are only really achievable if you take them step by step.
So here are some of the areas - work, food, sleep, bad habits and mindfulness - where resolutions can actually do you good, and some examples we've learnt about this year, as well as our tips for making your resolutions last.
We blame work for too many of our problems, but there are ways to make your job less stressful, and therefore have less effect on your mood and energy levels when you leave.
Whether it's getting a raise, or starting a new business altogether, simple changes can make you feel like you are achieving more and once you feel in control in the office, you will feel more in control outside.
Some work resolutions:
- Make sure you leave work on time. Knowing how long your daily tasks take is a very powerful tool in the workplace. Allocating the right amount of time to jobs means that you will not only finish on time, but be more satisfied that you have committed more to more important presentations or projects.
- Ensure your voice is heard around the office. Make an effort to input your opinions and ideas to meetings, and try and befriend your colleagues to enrich your working life.
"Mindful" was one of those words that flew around magazine features and the internet in 2014. But few of us know what it actually means.
Breathworks Mindfulness Teacher, Dr Elaine Weatherley-Jones talked to us this year and explained "mindfulness is paying attention in the present moment without judgement". So keeping stock of your feelings, and emotions and why they might be happening, as well as employing mindful techniques to counter bad feelings. It is proven to help with your health, wellbeing and relationships.
But how can we become more mindful?
Some mindful resolutions:
- Become a morning person and plan each day when you wake up. Mornings are a great way to set the tone for mindfulness for the rest of the day. Dr Marsha Lucas agrees: "Mindfulness practice first thing in the morning helps set the ‘tone’ of your nervous system for the rest of the day, increasing the likelihood of other mindful moments." This will eventually defeat the lack of desire to get out of bed and achieve in the morning.
- Start meditating While meditation can sound intimidating, keeping half an hour to clear your head and take your mind off any stresses is a powerful way to become more mindful and aware of your emotional processes.
Lack of sleep is one of the biggest problems our generation is facing today. With seemingly 24-hour work schedules, as well as the distraction of tablets and laptops in the bedroom, few of us are getting as much sleep as we should.
In 2015, Dr Russell Rosenberg advises resolving to make the best of your sleep. Just as eating healthily or taking enough exercise will do you good, getting enough sleep is "an important piece to the overall health puzzle." Whether it's going to bed an hour earlier, or turning off your smartphone before you go to sleep, a simple sleep resolution can improve your health, relationship and mood.
Some sleep resolutions:
- Go to bed earlier. A study earlier this year found that people who go to sleep later tend to worry more.
- Block 'blue light' out of your bedroom. We all know that laptops and tablets have a detrimental effect on our sleep, but if you get the blue light out of the bedroom, you will become more in sync with natural light, and sleep better
- Sleep naked. Couples who sleep naked together supposedly have a better relationship according to a study this year
Further reading: 10 proven ways to get a great night's sleep
It's no secret that we love food here at Stylist.co.uk. Your diet can improve your happiness, with the right foods giving you an energy boost when it's most needed. Cooking for yourself rather than ordering takeaway and eating out increases your awareness of how healthy your But we have all fallen foul of "not having enough time to cook". While many people will resolve to eat more healthily in the New Year, without a specific goal, it can be difficult.
Some food resolutions:
- Make your lunch at home rather than buying from a cafe. This resolution not only will save you hundreds of pounds a year but will make lunchtime a fulfilling break to look forward to in the work day.
- And don't stop there, prepare breakfasts, and dinner and other meals in advance to make it easier to cook when you get home.
Habit is the easiest way to explain away anything you might not like about yourself. Whether it's smoking, biting your nails or forgetting to take the bin out on time, habits can cause a block to changing or achieving more. So breaking, or making a habit can be the key to achieving several resolutions.
Whether you want to drop something, or take up a new and more productive habit, it can take a while to get into it. "To substitute a better habit, you must pick something that is likewise reinforcing and repeat it enough for it to become a habit," neuroscience professor William Klemm wrote in 2013.
- Take a up a new routine. Studies show that it takes on average 66 days for a new habit to stick, so give yourself a good amount of time to get into it.
- Give something up. Break the line of thinking that you associate your bad habit with certain behaviours. For instance if you go out drinking with friends, are you more tempted to smoke? Make sure you think of going out as just that, rather than eventually leading to smoking.
Further reading: ten ways to make or break a habit
And how to stick to your resolutions
Focus on specific goals
Taking up a huge resolution like 'I will eat more healthily' will never work if you leave it vague. If you work on it week by week - for instance, 'I will cut down on snacking on biscuits this week', 'I will eat more salads this week', it becomes more manageable and achievable.
Business professor Lisa Ordonez, whose research focuses on goal-setting, also warns that taking up a new habit or hobby, or resuming something you gave up a while ago may seem more challenging than it appears: "If you haven't done it for a while, you need to do your research and revise your goal." In short, lower your expectations, and see yourself succeed more quickly.
Break down your resolution into easy-sounding aims, and as you rack up the positive feelings of achievement by achieving them comfortably, you will stick to it easily.
Don't be influenced by others
Friends, family and colleagues can be supportive in our resolutions, but also can tempt us away. Whether you're doing Dry January and a workmate tries to drag you down to the pub, or you're trying to resist dessert at a dinner party, support only goes so far.
But also, feeling like your goals are insignificant or unimpressive compared to others can be damaging to your resolution, or of course negative people can try to throw you off. Dr Samantha Rodman advises "not taking these behaviors or remarks personally, and setting either physical or psychological boundaries" between yourself and others to try and stick to your goal.
Make your surroundings work for you
This could be anything from using your phone to remind you to keep up a daily habit until it sticks, or rearranging your kitchen so that you feel happier to cook there. If your surroundings are contributing to a lifestyle that you have resolved to change, they need to change too.
While you might have decided to banish your smartphone from your bedroom to get more sleep, you can use it to remind you to stick to your new daily habit, or download a healthy eating app to stick to your goals.
Motivational speaker James Clear says "the reason why it’s so hard to stick to new habits is that we often try to achieve a performance or appearance–based goal without changing our identity," so readjusting your home or routine to fit with a new habit will make you feel like a new person - and stay with that habit.
Don't be disheartened by small failures
So you had a cigarette when you were feeling stressed? In the long run, it doesn't mean much if you've been achieving your goal for several weeks.
Janet Polivy, a psychologist at the University of Toronto in Mississauga says, "every time we fail, we damage our own self-esteem. We make ourselves less able to bounce back the next time. One thing we see is that, when people fail, they don't blame the plan. They blame themselves. And that makes it hard to start again."
So if you do slip up, look at the bigger picture, and carry on.
Keep track of your progress
Writing down what you are doing, and telling other people makes it a reality. You will have to live up to what you've promised to do which will make you feel like you are letting more people down if you don't fulfil your word.
But don't stop at that. If you are working towards a larger goal, like setting up your own business or altering your diet (for instance to a gluten, or wheat-free regime) that will require a significant change, keep a diary of your progress, so that you can look back at your achievements and get past failures more quickly.
CEO Michael Hyatt says "written goals are like mile-markers on a highway. They enable you to see how far you have come and how far you need to go. They also provide an opportunity for celebration when you attain them."
So write a list of your resolutions and you'll find yourself sticking to it.
Images: Rex Features, Words: Victoria Gray