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Make Your Resolutions Work

No more broken promises, just hit refresh. Use these tricks to stick to your goals

Gagan Dhillon  


NEW YEAR RESOLUTIONS can be a slippery slope. The harder you push, the greater the odds that you may trip. According to recent research by behavioural scientist Katherine Milkman from the University of Pennsylvania, USA, there are certain moments when we are most motivated to improve ourselves and make a change. This itch to 'do more' is most prevalent around times that mark a new beginning. Think New Year, the beginning of a week or month, your birthday or the end of a phase. This feeling of a clean slate doubly motivates you to take action.

This is also a time when we tend to overestimate our abilities and underestimate the effort our goals may require. Counter any loopholes with these tactics.

I Will Read More

Action plan: You are reading an article on meditation; midway you see a link on green spaces and click. By the second paragraph you're on another essay on garden pests. This 'hyperlink-reading' exhausts the brain. It makes you forgetful and impatient. Go old school and pick up a book. Set aside time to read every day, perhaps on your commute or before bedtime.

Why it works: Reading is an ageless activity that nourishes your brain and relieves stress. Starting in early childhood can have a positive impact on intelligence in later years, says a study in Child Development. Among the elderly, such cognitive activities keep the brain sharp and slow down memory decline, states a study in Neurology.

I Will Make Time for Myself

Action plan: Sometimes it is okay to say 'no', to keep aside 10-15 minutes for yourself. It is easier said than done, as most of us just about manage to keep afloat under the daily grind. Mumbai-based psychotherapist Shalini Anant suggests making time first thing in the morning to nurture yourself and spend it doing things that give you pleasure. Make it a daily ritual and guard it vehemently.

Why it works: We make small choices daily, usually in auto mode, which decide what kind of energy takes over our day. "Doing something you love -- listening to music, or spending time outdoors -- starts the day on a good note and helps you handle stress better," says Anant. Avoid situations that drain you. Do this liberally with people who pillage your mental calm, but do draw energy from a thoughtful gesture, a smile or a random act of kindness.

I Will Live a Healthier Life

Action plan: Changing behaviour isn't about willpower. Our environment influences our decisions, so it is about setting helpful defaults. Borrow Milkman's strategy of "temptation bundling". Combine what you 'want to do' with something you 'should do'. Walk on the treadmill while you watch your favourite TV show. If you prefer walking outdoors get your partner or children to tag along and use the time to catch up. Not drinking enough water? Time your breaks from sitting in such a way that you walk to get a glass of water. To quit smoking, get a friend to join you; look for someone who is also committed to stubbing the butt.

Why it works: "The activity that you dread or are avoiding becomes achievable when you combine it with something you love," says Gurgaon-based life skills expert Aparna Samuel Balasundaram. It works wonders when you want to nix habits that come from poor self-control. Try this if you are struggling to sleep on time. Schedule a bedtime and stick to it. If sleep eludes you, meditate or keep a gratitude journal. Or motivate yourself to finally declutter your room by playing upbeat music, enjoying hourly treats and relaxing at a spa once you are done.

I Will Be More Present

Action plan: Make a conscious effort to drown out physical, emotional and mental distractions. Train your brain to ignore the hum of the car engine, your buzzing mobile phone and the whirlwind of thoughts stealing your focus. Every time you get distracted, imagine lifting the distraction and dropping it outside your space. Then, return to the present. Use app blockers to free yourself from smartphone distractions.

Why it works: Being focused helps you concentrate and absorb what you are experiencing. You'll notice fewer brain farts (forgetting basic information). Being mindful trains your brain to flex its concentration muscle. A 2014 study in Frontiers in Psychology found that when the chatter around you is on mute the brain rewards you with a spike in creativity. It also helps you enjoy meaningful relationships because you'll give them the attention they deserve.

I Will Choose Happiness

Action plan: Practise 'self-compassion'. Acknowledge and value your emotions. Cherish your relationships and let those who warm your heart know that they make a difference. In fact, a 2015 survey of the Harvard Grant Study, a 75-year long study on adult development, found three key aspects to happiness -- choosing to be happy with what you have, investing in close relationships and taking care of your well-being. Anant suggests: "Look into a mirror and tell yourself, 'I love you and I accept you the way you are'. "

Why it works: A ScienceDirect study explains self-compassion as being "kind towards oneself in instances of pain or failure; perceiving one's experiences as part of the larger human experience; and holding painful thoughts and feelings in balanced awareness". Anant adds that this will bring health, happiness and love to your life.

I will Buy Less and Experience More

Action plan: Move out of your comfort zone. Instead of splurging on clothes or gadgets, plan a vacation, see a play, loiter around your city or be part of a heritage walk. Do something you wouldn't usually do. You may discover a new passion and uncover layers to your personality.

Why it works: Things collect dust, but experiences add value to our lives. Make the year count by doing something memorable, if not remarkable. Consider volunteering your time with a cause that's close to you, or ticking off an item from your bucket list. The conversations you'll have, the places you'll visit, the feelings your action will invoke will stay with you, etched in memory.

I Will Save With a Plan

Action plan: The best way to achieve a goal is by knowing why you are doing it, says Anant. So, decide on the date when you make your first saving, the minimum amount and how often you'll deposit the money. If in doubt, ask a qualified expert for help.

Why it works:
Balasundaram says breaking down a seemingly abstract goal into clear objectives will give you a base to check your progress against. It will cease to be insurmountable once you see how far you've come and what needs to be done. For this race, you've got to be slow and steady, so you can plan for the years to come.

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