Let’s face it: “New Year, New You” guides tend to be click-bait, fantasy-land nonsense.
Every NYE, millions of us decide that, starting from RIGHT NOW, we’re going to be that happy, shiny, confident and all-round perfect human being we always thought we would be. We’ll spend two hours in the gym every morning before work. We’ll subsist on raw food and coconut water and never touch wine again. We’ll learn three new languages and write a novel and forget our ex and find Prince (or Princess) Charming, and still find time to do a PhD and start our own business and run that marathon and…
… And then we wake up on 1st January with a raging hangover, eat half a tub of peanut butter, find we’ve drunk-dialled our ex and sink into a pit of self-loathing because we’ll never be that sparkly new person we were set on becoming a few short hours ago.
Why do we do this? We talk about reinventing ourselves the way you might talk about redecorating a house. But a human being is not like a house. You can’t just repaint the walls and remodel the kitchen and bam! you’re something else entirely, and no one will ever know about the crumbling wallpaper that was there before.
People are complex and emotional. People have histories that are inexorably part of their present. They need coaxing and nurturing. It takes time to guide yourself in a new direction and to change your mindset and habits for good. To truly reinvent yourself in a way that’s more than simply superficial, you must be patient, but firm. Know where you’re headed, but don’t expect too much, too fast.
- Start Each Day with a Goal
It takes little steps to reach a bigger goal. Keep your notebook within stretching distance of your bed, and, as soon as you wake up –before the distractions of the day have had time to take over – pick it up and write down one thing you absolutely must achieve today, come hell or high water. Make sure it’s something you can realistically complete today.
- Don’t Stretch Your Willpower
Study after study has shown that willpower is finite. If you strive too hard to deny yourself too many things at once, either it’ll all come crashing down together or you’ll find yourself cutting corners or making rash decisions in other areas of life. Focus on what’s most important, right now, for your happiness, wellbeing or personal growth and cut yourself some slack in the areas that are less pressing.
- Surround Yourself with People Who Lift You Up, Not Drag You Down
If you’ve pledged to yourself that 2016 will be the year that you truly heal from your painful breakup, spending all your time with that friend who is bitter and self-destructive over their own divorce, or the “jellyfish” family member who always knows just what to say to cut you down and make you feel worthless, will make it extremely hard for you to stay strong and motivated.
Don’t cut out people who need you – particularly if they’ve been great friends to you when you were at your lowest. But avoid the toxic ones, and seek out the company of people who are upbeat, energetic and most likely to support you in your endeavours.
- Track Your Daily Achievements
The trouble with to-do lists is that we’re always over-ambitious, then end up deflated and chastising ourselves at the end of the day. A far better motivator, especially when you’re stuck in a rut and feeling uninspired, is to note down all the things you’ve actually managed to do instead.
Reviewing a “done” list of completed tasks will help you to focus on and reward yourself for positive behaviours and will prick your competitive instinct as you seek to make that list longer and longer each day. You might just surprise yourself at how productive and empowered you can be when you really put your mind to it.
- Write Down What You’re Grateful for Before You Fall Asleep
Practising gratitude is a hugely effective way to increase happiness. No matter how shitty you feel your day has been, take a few minutes to note as many things that happened today, or that people did specifically for you, that make you feel grateful.
Perhaps a friend bought you a coffee, offered you a lift or gave you the hug you needed. Perhaps a stranger gave you their seat or a colleague held open the lift when you were both running late. Training yourself to notice the little kindnesses in your day, rather than fixating on the negative, can profoundly shift your mindset over time.
- Practise Observing Your Emotions (Not Stifling Them)
You will have dark days. You will have doubts. You will have moments of rage or helplessness, moments where you feel weak, moments where you hate yourself, moments when you feel ugly and inadequate, moments of jealousy or vindictiveness that you know are irrational.
You don’t have to become a slave to these emotions, but at the same time, you can’t stop them from existing. Instead, accept, name and categorise the emotion. Don’t blame/shame yourself for experiencing it – that will make it worse. Instead, take a deep breath, remind yourself that, while the emotion is real and painful, it is a chemical reaction and you are ultimately in control of how you process it.
- Find Day-to-Day Role Models
You know that colleague who always seems to have everything so under control? Or the friend that makes friends within two minutes of entering the room? In your darkest moments, I bet you look at that person with a twinge of resentment and think: God, it must be so great to be like them. They’re so lucky.
If so, you’re misdirecting your energy. Instead of comparing yourself unfavourably, think of them as a secret mentor. Watch closely to see what it is they actually do that has this positive effect. Do they have a particular way of responding to negativity that instantly diffuses confrontation? Do they make a point of always asking others plenty of questions or keeping people in the loop? Are they generous with their time or support? What exactly do they say or do that works?
Don’t start mimicking other people or pretending to be someone you’re not, but once you understand what it is that makes this person so good at whatever you feel inadequate in, you can learn from them.
Laughter releases endorphins, alleviates stress, makes you feel closer to others around you and makes you feel more vital and healthy. Putting pressure on yourself to improve in some way can feel like such a serious, intense and joyless business. Laughing, especially at yourself, stops you from becoming mired in navel-gazing and makes everything seem brighter and more possible. Seek out the things that make you happy – happy to the point of laughing out loud – as often as you possibly can.
- Learn from Yourself Without Punishing Yourself
You will slip up now and again. When you do, don’t ignore it – but don’t berate yourself, either. Write down what went wrong, why, and how you think you’ll handle the same situation next time for a better outcome. Make a contingency plan for how you’ll deal with similar hurdles in the future. Remember it’s a process and focus on learning and improving, instead of expecting to get everything perfect first time.
- When You’re Ready, Up Your Game
On average, it takes 66 days to form a new habit – but once you do, don’t rest on your laurels. Take time to review your progress every few months and decide what step you’d like to take next to keep improving yourself. Then, choose a new focus and work hard to build this positive behaviour into your daily routine.
The aim is to make sure that every incremental step is ingrained into who you are and what comes naturally each day – not just a whim or fad you drop after a week. If that sounds like commitment, well, it is. But think about it like this: if you introduce a new, self-improving habit into your lifestyle every two months, by this time next year you’ll have successfully reinvented yourself in six life-changing ways. That sounds like a goal worth striving for. And more importantly, one you can genuinely achieve.
What New Year’s Resolutions have you made for 2016 – and has this advice changed how you plan to keep them? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!