Why you need to give Jan­uary a break!

Want to im­prove your life? Then don’t make any New Year’s res­o­lu­tions in Jan­uary – use this month in­stead to plan what you want to do or change in 2014 and make the changes next month in­stead, says Louise Roberts

Friday - - Society -

If your plan for 2014 is to change any­thing about your life and how you live it, we can let you in on the se­cret to suc­cess: Fe­bru­ary is the new Jan­uary. For most, Jan­uary 1 sig­nals a sud­den and of­ten doomed trans­for­ma­tion as we jump head first into a new diet, ex­er­cise, work or re­la­tion­ship rou­tine. But ev­ery year – un­der pres­sure to an­nounce our New Year res­o­lu­tions to friends and fam­ily – we try to take on new habits, dump the old and ex­pect to suc­ceed.

On top of this, we ex­pect to do it with­out any real prepa­ra­tion or re­flec­tion on the year that has just whizzed by, which is why most res­o­lu­tions will have failed by the time you’re read­ing this, three days into 2014.

Don’t de­spair though. Psy­chol­ogy and mo­ti­va­tion ex­perts agree that Fe­bru­ary is the month for au­then­tic res­o­lu­tions, which will mean mak­ing proper and sus­tain­able changes to your life. They rec­om­mend us­ing Jan­uary to clar­ify and plan so you have enough en­ergy in Fe­bru­ary to ex­e­cute th­ese changes.

And they have good rea­son. New Year’s Day sig­nals the end of the most stress­ful and busiest months of the year. And if you are plan­ning to bring about changes in your life­style, it makes bet­ter sense to do so when you are a tad more re­laxed and have worked it all out clearly.

It’s un­con­ven­tional think­ing but makes sense to per­sonal de­vel­op­ment ex­pert Dr Madisen Harper, co-au­thor of self-help book Wake Up …Live the Life You Love – Liv­ing in the Now (avail­able at www.ama­zon.com). She says, “When you are stressed, your re­sources to do things and carry them through are, of course, stretched.

“Peo­ple are of­ten at break­ing point over the Christ­mas pe­riod: they can’t af­ford the presents they’re buy­ing, there’s trou­ble with in-laws, they’re in­dulging in poor eat­ing habits and

If you are plan­ning to bring about changes in your life­style it makes sense to do so when you’re more re­laxed

are of­ten be­ing forced to take their hol­i­day time.”

And the Jan­uary 1 dead­line adds to the prob­lem. “It’s just habit and a tra­di­tion yet ev­ery year peo­ple de­clare: this year is go­ing to be dif­fer­ent – I will lose weight, make more cash and take that course in so­cial me­dia/in­te­rior de­sign/yoga.”

Ha­bit­ual fail­ure

Dr Harper adds, “Be­cause we have this habit ev­ery De­cem­ber of think­ing up res­o­lu­tions, in a way that pre­cludes them work­ing be­cause it is just a habit. And a dead­line is just that – it is dead so many peo­ple give the ‘res­o­lu­tion’ a day or a week and think, ‘Oh well, at least I’ve tried’.

“The sub­con­scious mind says: ‘Oh I’ve done this be­fore, prob­a­bly many times be­fore and failed. How did that work for you try­ing to the same thing ev­ery year and it not work­ing?’

“There’s also that level of mass con­scious­ness with all mes­sages feed­ing the pres­sure that you have to do some­thing and you are not like the rest of us if you don’t make th­ese res­o­lu­tions.” So why do we of­ten end up feel­ing a fail­ure come Jan­uary 3 or soon af­ter?

Pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at Aus­tralia’s Can­berra Univer­sity De­bra Rick­wood ar­gues that it is use­ful to make res­o­lu­tions but we need to read­just our start date. She says, “They’re habits so we are not set­ting our­selves up for suc­cess to be­gin with.

“We cre­ate res­o­lu­tions be­cause we recog­nise a new start, a fresh year and a log­i­cal break in our lives. We start off think­ing, ‘a bet­ter year, a bet­ter me’, and it is great to think about your health and your goals.

“But peo­ple rush into it, say­ing, ‘I’m go­ing to lose weight, I’ve got to start it on Jan­uary 1 no mat­ter what’ and then they fail be­cause they have done no prepa­ra­tion other than to say ‘I am go­ing to lose weight from Jan­uary 1’. I would ad­vise your New Year’s res­o­lu­tion should be to get pre­pared and em­bark on the real jour­ney of change in Fe­bru­ary.”

So how’s it done? Af­ter con­sult­ing Prof Rick­wood and Dr Harper, we bring you Fri­day’s top-five guide to a life chang­ing new year over the page.

1 Be re­ally clear on what you want

Most peo­ple think they want this new car, job, body or house but that does not equal ful­fil­ment; it is the state they are crav­ing. So, for ex­am­ple, if some­one wants to lose weight, they ac­tu­ally want to feel healthy and at­trac­tive. If they want to save Dh30,000, they ac­tu­ally want safety, se­cu­rity and free­dom. It’s the old sham­poo com­mer­cial adage where the mar­keters aren’t sell­ing sham­poo, they’re sell­ing lovely, shiny hair – ev­ery­thing is cre­ated through that feel­ing, that emo­tion.

Res­o­lu­tions ex­pert Dr Harper says, “It is the state that sa­ti­ates you and this is the catch-22 be­cause the stuff comes to you once you are vi­bra­tionally aligned to it.

“Once you have done that, you have not only gained clar­ity but you start to feel good and you have al­ready built a solid foun­da­tion to launch your­self in Fe­bru­ary and set your­self up for suc­cess – not fail­ure. Suc­cess at­tracts suc­cess.”

2 Don’t de­lay grat­i­fi­ca­tion

If look­ing and feel­ing healthier is your res­o­lu­tion, put your­self in that mind­set now with ad­di­tional per­sonal groom­ing, some new clothes and ac­ces­sories. For­get telling your­self ‘I’ll be happy when…’, but re­as­sure your­self by say­ing, ‘I’ll be happy now’. Con­stantly de­lay­ing your joy is not a state in which you want to func­tion, says Dr Harper.

3 As­sem­ble your tools

You can hit the ground run­ning in Fe­bru­ary by buy­ing dis­counted pa­per plan­ners, etc., in Jan­uary. It’s also the time to buy that new do­main for the web­site you’re go­ing to start. And get your fam­ily and friends on board – they are im­por­tant for mo­ti­va­tion.

4 Now plan

Pro­fes­sor Rick­wood sug­gests re­ally think­ing about the ben­e­fits of tak­ing Jan­uary to put your­self in a po­si­tion to suc­ceed by pol­ish­ing up your plans for the year ahead. She says, “By tak­ing the first month of the cal­en­dar year to fo­cus on the fu­ture through re­flec­tion and plan­ning with­out the bag­gage of a worn-out body and mind, I would think, you would have a much greater chance of suc­cess.”

Prof Rick­wood ad­vises a strate­gic plan with three el­e­ments: AC­TION: Set your goals – you don’t achieve ma­jor be­hav­iour change in one fell swoop so break it up into man­age­able chunks, for ex­am­ple, a morn­ing walk three days a week, sourc­ing new read­ing ma­te­rial for your new study course.

But don’t get stuck in plan­ning; that’s called pro­cras­ti­na­tion. COP­ING: Re­alise be­hav­iour change is go­ing to be hard and that you may fall off the wagon. Iden­tify the bar­ri­ers that might cause set­backs and list how you are go­ing to deal with them be­fore you ac­tu­ally need to. RE­COV­ERY: Of­ten changes can­not be achieved in a short time – when it doesn’t work, it is tempt­ing to slide into a bit of all-or-noth­ing think­ing, which will make you feel worse. Ac­cept you are likely to en­counter a bit of early fail­ure and build that into your plan­ning.

5 Recharge and re­flect

Cul­ti­vate an at­ti­tude of grat­i­fi­ca­tion. Ev­ery day for a week, write three things you are grate­ful for each hour you are awake. You’ll be amazed. Also cel­e­brate each goal along the way. Avoid a flat­line life fo­cused on get­ting to that goal and then to the next. Both ex­perts agree that some­times be­ing too at­tached to an out­come gets in the way of your suc­cess and a nar­row path can blind you to op­por­tu­ni­ties.

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