Written by Ellen Scott
Ditch the massive resolutions and go for something more attainable instead.
The new year is all too often a time of ‘should’, where we take on unachievable goals and pledges in pursuit of a new and improved version of ourselves. It’s natural to want to be better, but when that wish becomes the pursuit of perfection, or includes unrealistic resolutions that trigger awful self-criticism when they’re not achieved, that’s clearly not healthy.
But we still want that start of the year feeling, right? So how do we do that? The answer might lie in micro-habits, rather than big, grand changes.
“Behaviour doesn’t change overnight and willpower has its limits,” Anna Tomkins, a wellbeing expert and founder of the Handbook For Today stationery brand, tells Stylist. “The best handle we have for change is to start with our daily habits. Also, whatever we start, if we start with self-compassion, it is more likely to work out for us when we forgive ourselves for little mistakes.”
Here, Anna recommends six micro-habits we can all try in the year ahead.
1. Take something off your to-do list
“In the new year, getting more stuff done might be very high on the list of priorities,” says Tomkins. “Counterintuitively, taking something away might be the solution to get more done.
“Often, we accept to-dos and give them a similar priority. Once we have to choose what gets kicked off that list, we have to prioritise and also make more time for the really important things.”
2. Talk to a stranger
When was the last time you had a moment of social connection with someone you don’t know? It might feel daunting, but even the smallest interaction can go a long way in boosting your mood.
“Research has shown that talking to strangers makes us happier,” Tomkins says. “Against common belief that people might feel intruded, a casual chat is something that most people are open to. As social beings, we need human interaction and talking to strangers helps us connect with people in a different way to connecting with our loved ones. Most people react very positively when chatted to in a casual way.”
3. Eat your greens
So many resolutions focus on restriction. They’re all about less, rather than more. This is a great alternative: rather than dieting or reducing, aim to just have more of the good stuff. Load up your plate with a mountain of greens, add some colourful fruit and veg to every meal, and take snacks to the next level with extra boosts of nutrients.
4. Do some movement every day
Instead, making time to enjoy moving around – and all its benefits – can be a healthier pledge. Perhaps you could go on a walk out in nature, do some stretches midway through a busy work day, or dance around in the kitchen while your dinner’s cooking.
“Finding a few minutes a day might be the best idea to start a habit and then build on it,” Tomkins suggests. “When it comes to exercise, make it as fun as you can and keep the barrier low. Get your workout clothes ready at a set time of the day and go do it. Start with three minutes, whatever works.”
5. Do something silly
Tomkins says: “Becoming a better person often feels like giving up all fun, and that’s why we often fall back into old habits that don’t serve us. But we can redefine fun and still be a bit healthier (which often leads to more happiness anyway).
“In the darkness of January, it can be easily forgotten to have some light-hearted fun, so we might need a reminder. What are the benefits? Being silly releases endorphins, a happy hormone that we need to feel better.”
Remind yourself to let loose and be a bit weird in the new year. Make up a song, dance around, do some terrible celebrity impressions – whatever you like, just make sure it’s nonsense.
6. Go to bed a little earlier
“Not easy, especially with a big workload and other responsibilities, but the benefits of getting more sleep are huge,” Tomkins notes. “Set your phone on bedtime mode and use that cue to go to bed. To fall asleep easier, try to reduce screen time before going to bed (blue light disturbs our sleep). Also, journalling before bedtime can be a good idea to get our mind at rest and go to bed with something positive on our minds.”
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