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Why ditching New Year's resolutions could be key to health and happiness

Whatever your goals, Abi Jackson ponders the subtle power of swapping punishing pledges for more mindful and also nourishing intentions

Positive outlook: small changes can help improve your wellbeing
Positive outlook: small changes can help improve your wellbeing
Author Suzy Reading

By Abi Jackson

Did you make New Year resolutions this year? There was a time when kicking off January with a list of goals was just something we did without question, but it seems there's been a bit of a shift.

Only 22% of people were planning on making resolutions for 2019, a YouGov survey at the end of 2018 found, compared with 63% in a similar poll back when 2015 approached. The stats aren't in for January 2020 yet but if social media is anything to go by, how we're framing our New Year goals is certainly changing.

For starters, lots of us have swapped the term 'resolutions' for 'intentions' or 'permissions'. This might seem unimportant but it actually taps into a meaningful shift in mindset.

Slow and steady wins the race

It's not that we're totally over all notions of self-development (you only have to look at the ever-booming 'wellness industry' for proof of that). But we are perhaps over the idea of mindlessly punishing ourselves for the sake of it, with suck-all-the-joy-out-of-life 'targets' we 'must' smash in January or abandon altogether.

For type-A willpower junkies, the relevance of this subtle reframing may seem pointless or even counterproductive. After all, the word 'intention' implies you're already allowing for the possibility that you might not smash that goal. But that's sort of the beauty of it.

After all, we all know, traditionally, most New Year resolutions only set us up for failure and disappointment. Because they're often largely made up of tick-box cliches, things we 'should' be doing, rather than things that truly make our souls sing. Then there are those mindlessly imposed 'rules' that fling us into that all-or-nothing trap - so if you don't manage to eat nothing but spinach and exercise every day all January, then clearly you've failed, and should just give up, right?

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Take failure out of the equation

Taking care of ourselves and honouring our needs doesn't have to be a success vs failure scenario. It can just be something we give ourselves permission to do - and keep doing, even if we have a bad week or life gets in the way sometimes. Setting intentions without the pressure of all-or-nothing targets, allows us to gently adjust the goalposts when we need to.

"I am all for a 'gentle January' - all about harnessing the impulse for change while respecting that there isn't a natural resurgence of energy until spring," says psychologist and health coach Suzy Reading, whose books include The Little Book Of Self-Care and The Self-Care Revolution (suzyreading.co.uk). "Toss aside punitive resolutions or plans for grand, sweeping change that is nigh on impossible to sustain. (Instead) focus on nourishment and small incremental waves of change," she suggests.

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Author Suzy Reading

And whether there are particular areas of your life you'd like to work on as we enter the new decade (work goals, fitness goals, relocation, family life, etc), or you'd simply like to welcome in a bit more joy and calm or prioritise your health more, self-care is a universal cornerstone. "There is nothing selfish about taking time to observe our needs and tune in with how we are feeling, head, heart and body. This is proactive healthcare - nourishing ourselves so we can show up as the kind of people we aspire to be, to keep giving and keep going," says Reading.

Like the sound of this? Reading suggests reflecting on the following prompts:

1. What nourishes you? Think along the lines of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health, use this to form your own self-care toolkit.

2. What have you been putting off? Plan one micro step that takes you closer to seeing this through to fruition.

3. Are there any pastimes or joyful activities that you have let slip? What would you like to return to?

4. What healthy habits have you forgotten about? Jot down any that you'd like to reclaim.

5. What is your bodymind (a term used to describe the linked body and mind) crying out for? Take nourishing action and see the dividends ripple out beyond you.

Remember why you're doing it

Of course, we all know making changes can be easier said than done. There's lots of tools you can tap into, however, to help encourage things to stick. As previously mentioned, a huge trick is to remove that sense of targets and urgency. You are totally allowed to take a forgiving, flexible approach that doesn't mean abandoning all efforts and berating yourself if you happen to be too tired/stressed/busy or whatever at any point.

Another big one is to get into the habit of replacing negative self-talk with positive self-talk; countless studies looking at the psychology of motivation have found this to be very powerful. For example, instead of saying, 'I must exercise because I'm gross and will be happier if I look better', say, 'I feel good when I exercise and I deserve to take good care of myself'. It's about connecting with the positive rewards and self-love and harnessing these as your 'why'.

You might not 100% believe these things at first or all of the time, but like absolutely everything in life, loving yourself is a habit you can work on, if you give yourself permission to do so. Reading suggests trying some mantras. These are a few of her favourites:

1. Sleep for sanity and rest for resilience.

2. I honour my boundaries and speak my truth.

3. I give myself permission to feel.

4. I have all the time I need.

5. I am my own safe place.

6. I am there for myself.

7. I advocate for myself.

8. I lovingly tend to my energy bank safe in the knowledge that everyone wins.

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