Keep putting your to-do list off until Monday? Here’s why it’s time to stop thinking a new week means a new you and set realistic goals.
“I’ll start on Monday.”
If you haven’t said that before, you’re either extremely self-motivated or you’re lying. It doesn’t matter what you’re setting out to achieve, you probably always think that we’ll have a better shot of doing it after the weekend. For me, it’s sleeping with my phone out of arms reach. For others, it’s getting in the habit of a daily stretch routine, taking a multivitamin, making all meals from scratch, having a more structured workday… whatever it is, it can always start on Monday, right?
Not anymore. I’m done with putting pressure on the first day of the week.
At a basic level, starting something on Monday makes sense, much like how new year’s resolutions should work. It seems a good time for a refresh, hence the ‘new week, new me’ mentality. And yet, every time Sunday rolls around, you end up making another plan to achieve whatever it was that we didn’t do this week.
“For some people, setting goals for a new week can help because it sets a clear start date and time to start,” explains Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of My Online Therapy. “It gives you the chance to create a vision of the the ‘old you’ in the past, and the potential of a ‘new you’ in the future.”
Except there’s a reason you didn’t start off that new hobby, routine or schedule last Monday, and why you probably won’t do it this Monday either. Monday is not a refreshing day. There, I said it. I know I’m meant to jump out of bed, refreshed from two days of not working, but how many of us really spend weekends getting organised, having downtime and relaxing? It’s important to realise that time spent not working does not mean that it’s time ‘off’.
Perhaps therein lies the problem. People are always on, always having something to do or someone to see. Even right now, with going out to see friends or drink in pubs being banned, I’m still not relaxing in the true sense. Instead I’m working on side projects, FaceTiming friends, drinking with housemates.
Personally, I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with having busy weekends that are filled with seeing people staying up late – these are experiences are what make me feel connected to the people I love. But what it does mean is that on Monday I am often still catching up on lost sleep or recovering from all the things I’ve spent my weekend doing. The last thing I should be doing for my physical and mental health is jumping out of bed with high expectations, expecting to smash through my work and take on new habits, when I’m not running at full capacity. I’d just be doomed to fail.
“In psychology, we refer to ‘building mastery’,” explains Dr Touroni. “This is about choosing a goal that is neither too high nor too low, so we don’t set ourselves up for failure but we also don’t feel like we’ve not achieved anything.”
Then there’s the fact that waiting for another week means that you put off doing the things that would better yourself. How often have you told yourself you won’t do a workout on a Thursday because you’ll start a new plan in four days and really stick to it this time? By the time that Monday comes round, the motivation is gone and you haven’t done what you promised.
“The problem with setting high expectations for Mondays is that it might be easier to make these throwaway promises to ourselves that are either unrealistic or too vague,” says Dr Touroni. “For example, we might convince ourselves that being unproductive this week is OK because, ‘from Monday, I’ll be better’.” If you’d had just done the workout when you were thinking about it, you probably would have built up momentum and, even if you didn’t, you’d still have completed one thing, rather than nothing.
How to create new habits (and stick to them)
If the answer isn’t to start on Monday, how do you make positive change? “Whenever you want to create lasting change (whatever day of the week that is), you need to start with motivation,” says Dr Touroni. You can conjure that by asking yourself why something is important to you, for example, you might want to exercise more so you have more energy or feel more clear-headed. “Whatever it is, get clear on your reasons. If it helps, you can try writing it down and coming back to it whenever you feel temptation pulling you back,” adds Dr Touroni.
Then, steps need to be clearly actionable. Work out how many days a week you’ll be exercising and at what time of the day. Importantly, you don’t need to start right now, but try not to put it off for too long (or until Monday). And don’t start doing everything all at once: “Ideally, we start small and build up because we feel good when we accomplish something. This can have a domino effect, creating the momentum to keep going,” explains Dr Touroni.
So, instead of deciding that you’ll do three 45-minute strength-training sessions a week from Monday, how about deciding to do a 20-minute walk tomorrow and slowly upping the frequency and intensity of your exercise? That way, you can celebrate the micro achievements every time you do something a little more than before. Plus, you can make your Monday as relaxing as you deserve it to be.
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