Have your new years resolutions been all but forgotten by the time February rolls around? You’re not alone – here’s how to make them stick and have the best year yet.
Your heart is in the right place when you vow to quit eating sugar, start going to the gym and saving the world. But after a few weeks, you’re indulging in doughnuts, you haven’t even signed up to the gym and you’ve decide to leave any world-saving ambitions to, well, other people. You feel like a failure.
If this sounds familiar then take solace because you’re not alone. In fact, research suggests that 92 per cent of New Year’s Resolutions fail.
The reason isn’t because we don’t have good intentions or that we are lazy or have no willpower (okay, maybe sometimes), but it is more often because we focus too much on large, overwhelming goals. The key to succeeding in your New Year's resolution may be in taking smaller steps.
Instead of putting pressure on yourself to right all your wrongs, experts say the way we are going about it is what causes the inevitable downfall.
Here's how to make resolutions stick:
“The secret is to take the pressure off and to set goals that you can actually stick to,” writes Natasha Uspensky for Mind Body Green
Integrate these small changes into your daily routine, which will make them more of a choice than a chore.
1. Smile more
It’s true what they say - when you smile, the world smiles with you. Experts agree that a smile is one of the easiest ways to change your life. This simple act activates the release of dopamine, endorphins, serotonin, and neurotransmitters that help reduce stress and elicit positive emotions.
Smiling is also contagious. According to a Swedish study, when people are exposed to emotional facial expressions, they tend to unconsciously mimic those expressions, positive or negative, which may influence their own emotions.
Next time you’re buying milk from the corner store, standing in line at the post office or talking to a co-worker, start the conversation with a smile and see what a difference this makes.
2. Get a new hobby
If your life is a never-ending cycle of work, commuting, family responsibilities and/or partying, then you may be missing out on one of life’s great joys – learning a new skill. Hobbies help us express ourselves, connect us to a community and give us purpose. They also add fun to life.
People who suffer stress and anxiety are now being pointed back to hobbies to increase creativity, concentration and productivity. A new hobby can even help you cultivate a new skill or uncover hidden talents you’d long forgotten. If you’re having trouble thinking of something, a good place to start is activities you enjoyed during your childhood. You could open yourself up to a whole new ways of life.
3. Become more mindful
Can you remember the last time you truly tasted your food, or enjoyed the company of your family or friends, or even stopped to appreciate the scent of a beautiful flower or breathe the fresh air?
If the answer is no, then it could be time to integrate mindfulness into your daily routine.
It’s as simple as ‘living in the moment’. While it can seem like a challenge at first, there are plenty of benefits to being more mindful – it can help with stress by decreasing levels of the hormone cortisol, help you better perform work and study tasks, help with technology addiction, depression, and result in brain changes that may protect against mental illness. Try it when you’re cleaning the house, waiting for public transport or listening to music.
4. Do something that isn't just about you
When was the last time you lent some hands-on help? Whether it’s having a cuppa with your elderly neighbour, helping out at a local charity or animal shelter, helping others helps put your life into perspective and appreciate what you have. To find volunteering opportunities, visit Volunteering Australia.
5. Re-learn the art of single-tasking
If you’re a master of multi-tasking, then you could be making yourself less effective. Studies have found when people are dividing their attention, it takes them 50 per cent longer to accomplish a task, and makes them 50 per cent more likely to make errors.
“Rather than divide our attention, it is far more effective to take frequent breaks between intervals of sustained, one-pointed attention," Real Happiness at Work author Sharon Salzberg writes for Huffington Post
If you find yourself prone to stress and errors, try focusing on one task at a time.
6. Retrain your brain to turn negatives into positives
Take responsibility for your thoughts – nobody controls them but you! If you find yourself constantly embroiled in negative thoughts then you could be at higher risk of stress-related diseases, and of suffering memory and comprehension problems - such as Alzheimer's disease - later in life.
Getting rid of toxic emotions may seem like a big task, but the good news is it isn’t as hard as you might think. Once you realise you’re having a bad thought, for example, “My boss will never give me the responsibility and pay rise I deserve”, turn it around to: “How can I demonstrate to my boss that I’m ready for responsibility and a pay rise?”
It’s as simple as letting go of the things you can’t control and forgiving those that have wronged you, and moving on.
7. Learn to say no
We often overextend ourselves because we’re afraid to say no or don’t want to disappoint. But saying yes to everything and everyone can leave you exhausted. Be that person whose word is set in stone. If you can’t do something, then just say no!
8. Limit your use of technology
Are you locked to your phone, tablet or computer 24/7? Do you feel anxious if you haven’t checked your social media accounts every hour?
If this sounds like you then it’s time to break the habit. Many experts warn our addiction to our devices is stealing away precious moments.
“If the device is shaping your agenda for the day, determining your emotions, and dictating what you focus on and how you spend your time - your device is controlling you,” says health psychologist and Stanford University lecturer, Kelly McGonigal
“Create some barriers, such as no technology at the dinner table, or just make it more difficult to access by unplugging it, putting it in a drawer or on flight mode.
“Reflect on whether your device is contributing to or taking away from your quality of life. Notice the benefits of disconnecting.”
Taking a break from technology will not only reduce levels of anxiety and stress, but also help you to re-connect with yourself.
9. Get moving in a way that’s fun
Do you have trouble sticking to an exercise regime? It could be as simple as changing to something you actually enjoy!
Commit to moving your body in a way that feels amazing and think outside the gym box. That could be playing Frisbee, dancing, hula-hooping, belly dancing, roller-skating or ball sports. You could even check out free videos on YouTube or the many apps that are available.
10. Stay in touch with those people you care about
Just a simple phone call, text, email message or visit can make a huge impact on someone’s life - and it will benefit you too. There are countless studies on the important roles both friends and family can play in our lives.
Social support is related to psychological wellbeing, meaning that the more a person feels they have friends and family who are there for them, the less likely they are to feel depressed and anxious, Psychology Today reports.
You never know, you could be making a real difference to someone’s day when you call or text them to let them know you’re thinking of them.
11. Never stop learning
You don’t need to go get your masters degree to continue your education. Sign up to a class that lets you explore a passion, go to night school, or you could even try a goal like reading one book a month or take free online classes through programs like Coursera. You’ll keep your brain sharp and curious, and it could be the start of a whole new life path for you.
What’s your new years resolution for 2016? Let us know by commenting below.