Start your New Year resolutions in February
new years drinks
There are three things I find depressing about January: the cold, the bills, and the desperate attempts to stick to those New Year resolutions that you so rashly set yourself after a glass of fizz (or six) at the stroke of midnight on December 31.
It wouldnt be so bad if you hadnt broadcast your intentions to all and sundry.
Now youve got to impose previously unheard of measures of self discipline and/or self control for an entire year, or submit to the crushing sense of guilt and failure which are the inevitable companions of breaking the New Years resolution.
Luckily, I have just the excuse I need to avoid transforming myself into an all-round better woman as 2010 gets started: New Years resolutions dont work. And I have experts to back me up.
Start your resolutions later in the year
Brecon-based psychologist Cliff Arnall specialises in happiness, and is probably best know for his formula calculating that the most depressing day of the year is somewhere during the third week of January. Although one of the factors in his equation is the guilt that we feel about broken resolutions, hes actually all for them just so long as you dont get started until a bit later in the year.
The timings a little bit out, he says. The worst time to set a New Years resolution is the first of January.
A much better time would be the first of February. In January youve got the anti-climax from Christmas and New Year, going back to work; theres enough to be thinking about.
Although he admits that there can be solidarity in knowing that millions of other men and women across the Western world are joining you in your quest for change, ultimately this can in itself be disadvantageous.
Theres ultimately a diffusion of responsibility if you fail, then its not entirely your responsibility, he explains.
The other problem is that you may be doing very well by staying off the cigarettes, for example, but if your friend who you decided to quit with goes back on them on January 5, it gives you a way into going back to it also.
Take steps to ensure you succeed
Nadine Honeybone, a personal life coach based in Penarth, doesnt have a problem with New Years resolutions, but she agrees that they shouldnt just be put in place as soon as January sets in.
More important than the date is that you take steps to ensure you succeed, such as writing down clear and precise goals.
Every time that you write down something you want to achieve, youve got a 1,000 times greater chance of getting it done, she says. If you have thoughts about what you want to achieve, thats great.
But if you write it down youve got a far greater chance of achieving them. There has been research about this and its about all goals, not just New Years goals.
It also helps to visualise the outcome that youre heading towards, rather than focusing on the sometimes arduous process of getting to it.
Like any resolution, its all about understanding why you want it, says Nadine.
Unless you understand how reaching your goal will make you feel, youre not going to be motivated about getting there. Its about visualising having achieved it, and thinking about the difference it makes and how youll feel. Its looking at the motivation. Most people at New Year have the motivation to start, but what keeps you going is the emotional gain that you can connect with, or how youll feel when youve achieved it. So for example, doing the ironing: if you focus on doing it, its not very motivating.
But if you focus on the result and how youll feel when its done, then its a lot more inspiring and motivating and will keep you going through the work until the end. Everything that we do, we do for an emotional gain for ourselves.
And if you fail? According to Nadine its simple: just try again. If you regress into old behaviour, then just get back up and take new action, she says. Its like falling off a bike. You cant give up after that first time, you have to get back on and eventually you will be able to ride the bike. Dont beat yourself up.
Changing behaviour is a big thing
Cliff Arnall agrees with her. Changing behaviour is a big thing, he says. People are unfair on themselves by setting a date where they might not be ready.
My concern is that people get to the third week of January and start beating themselves up and thinking theyre a failure.
According to Cliff, it doesnt really matter how many times you fall, so long as you keep getting up and trying again. With smoking particularly theres certainly evidence that the more you quit, the more likely you are to do it eventually, he says.
Any reasonable quit attempt is good, so long as you figure out something about yourself at the same time.
So there you have it, direct from the experts. Make resolutions, visualise the outcome, focus on the positive, go easy on yourself, write your goals down... and then dont worry about them until February.