When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, hope springs eternal, despite overwhelming evidence they simply don’t work for most of us. An Australian study found 80 per cent of people who make New Year’s resolutions will have dropped them by the second week of February, while data logged by the fitness tracker, Strava, was even more pessimistic, suggesting most people are likely to ditch their plans on January 19.
Alex Allan, a nutritional therapist, is not surprised by these findings.
“Extreme New Year’s resolutions often barely make it to the second week of January,” she says.
So this year, rather than setting yourself up for failure, we’re proposing 40 anti-resolutions, whether your goals are to save the planet, lose weight, get more active, sleep better or just to be happier.
These are, as Alex puts it, “simple changes that will make a big difference in the long term, because long-term habit changes are the only thing that works”.
Lifestyle coach Anne Iarchy says: “Doing something is always better than nothing. Start making small changes consistently and build up. Most people are all or nothing; if it’s not perfect they feel like a failure. But every small change you make over time will make a big difference.”
Don’t feel you have to immediately embark on all 40, pick a handful, and when they feel like ingrained habits, pick a few more. Make 2022 the year that you change your life for the better, without even noticing it.
More people sign up for gym membership in January than any other month, but most have quit or stopped going within six months. To stop yourself from becoming a statistic, try these ways to get more active.
Pick things up with your feet
Eliza Flynn, personal trainer and founder of The Warrior Method – a system for training your mind and body for everyday ‘battle’ – points out that neglected feet can result in fallen arches, which can cause constant pain. To give them a workout, go barefoot in the house and use your toes to pick up everything from socks to dropped cutlery. It will also help build better balance and coordination, and in the long-term, reduce your risk of injury.
Get your kit out
Research shows that morning is the best time to work out as it predisposes you to burn fat and helps kick-start your body clock. If you’re planning to exercise first thing, fitness coach Liam Cavanagh advises leaving your kit out in a visible place. “This acts as a cue to make you think about your workout, and makes it easier to get ready to go,” he says.
Stand when you can
Many of us live sedentary lifestyles, which causes levels of inflammation in the body to rise and actually ages us quicker. The answer is to stand whenever you can. Can’t quite face a standing desk? Commit to standing on your commute instead, aim for standing meetings, or even stand for half of your favourite TV programme.
Walk up escalators
You’ve heard it all before: take the stairs when you can and walk up escalators. According to Liam Cavanagh, it’s not just about burning extra calories, it’s something that helps you identify as a healthy person – and the more you identify as a healthy person, the more likely you are to adopt other healthy habits.
Sit down, stand up
Next time you get up from a chair, notice whether or not you use your hands. If you do, try to stand and sit unassisted. Mastered that? Try it using just one leg. “This helps work on your core, leg and back strength,” says Eliza Flynn.
Start your day with an eight-minute stretch
Rosaria Barreto, a sports scientist and personal trainer, recommends that if you do nothing else, a daily stretching routine will improve your range of movement, reduce joint pain and minimise muscle tightness. This means that as you get older, you are less likely to fall and more likely to remain independent. Find a routine on YouTube, or look up the Five Tibetan Rites – a form of yoga.
Do 100 squats while the kettle boils
Starting the day with a couple of stair climbs, doing some squats while the kettle is boiling, or taking a quick walk around the block at lunch time can be just as if not more valuable than gym sessions, according to fitness coach Sarah Scudamore.
“You’re more likely to form a movement habit and create lasting change in your life spending just a few minutes a day exercising, rather than aiming for 60-90 minute sessions,” she says. “This type of exercise has been proven to have an impact on health.”
Never stay still
A study that looked at the behaviour patterns of lean and obese women, none of whom did any formal exercise, found that the leaner women tended to fidget. This sort of fidgeting burned an estimated 300 calories a day. So consciously tap that foot and drum those fingers.
Speed up your favourite tracks
Research has found that when people work out to music, they work harder when the track is at a faster tempo. So whether you’re out for a stroll or following a video workout, put on your headphones and either pick songs that have 140-plus beats per minute or use an app – such as Audipo – that allows you to change the speed of your favourite music.
You might be one of the 100 million people worldwide who have downloaded the Calm sleep and relaxation app to your phone, or contributed to the firm behind meditation app Headspace being named as one of Time magazine’s most influential companies, but are you really using them? Here are easy ways to improve your sense of well-being that don’t require you to sit quietly for 10 minutes.
Ditch the To Do list in favour of a Good Enough list
“The New Year is so full of messages that tell us we aren’t enough, we need to change, or there’s a product or diet that can make us better,” says Stacie Swift, self-care advocate and creator of The Positively Awesome Journal. “So I’m a big fan of the ‘Good Enough List’. Commit to regularly writing down something that you’ve done OK at – not perfectly, but to the best of your abilities at the time. So: ‘I didn’t go to the gym, but I did walk around the park and take the stairs and that’s good enough for today’; ‘I didn’t tidy the whole house as planned, but the kitchen is clean and that’s good enough’.”
Write a thank you letter every month
Prof Martin Seligman, a psychologist who has written several self-help books, has researched countless interventions to see which really work to make us happier. One of the tasks he discovered produced the highest levels of positive emotion for a month after is writing a letter to someone who has somehow improved your life. It can be to anyone who’s done something big or small: just write the letter, and send it.
Not everyone can accept compliments, but learning how to enjoy them rather than just bat them away can help improve your self-esteem.
“Next time you receive a compliment, say, ‘Thank you’, then take a breath,” says Lee Chambers, a psychologist and well-being consultant. “We rarely learn how to receive feedback. Acknowledgement gives us the space to accept and benefit from the positivity that can resonate when we receive a compliment – saying thank you and then pausing gives us the space to do just that.”
Cleanse your social media feeds
For all its benefits, social media can be a toxic space. Suzanne Samaka, founder of #HonestyAboutEditing, which campaigns to make it law to label images that have been digitally edited online, advises muting or unfollowing accounts that make you unhappy about your body image. The same applies to anything on social media that riles you, whether it’s your bragging colleague on Facebook, or the envy-inducing travel pics of a schoolfriend on Instagram: if it makes you feel bad, unfollow.
Call, text or email a family member or friend every day
Research from Harvard University suggests that meaningful relationships can help improve emotional, mental and physical health and while there is no substitute for face-to-face contact, making the effort to stay in touch with one of your family members or friends each day is a good way to strengthen these vital bonds and get a boost of happy hormones.
Commit to a random act of kindness every week
Research has shown that being kind to people increases our levels of happiness. And it doesn’t matter who those people are - buy an extra coffee for the next person in the cafe; leave a book at the bus stop with a note in it; tell someone’s boss when you get great customer service; leave coins by the parking machine for the next person.
Set a reminder to smile
Although we think we only smile when we are happy, the mere act of smiling stimulates the release of happy hormones in your brain and reduces the level of stress hormones. So even if you have literally nothing to smile about, set a reminder in your phone to smile – or even laugh – three times a day and it will improve your mood.
Technology makes our lives easier in so many ways, but there are also concerns about the impact so much screen time has on everything from our ability to focus to our mental health. A day-long digital detox might be too much to aim for, but you can decide that at certain times – every meal and overnight, for example – you put your phone on aeroplane mode and don’t touch it.
Take one deep breath
If you’ve failed to get your head round meditating with a phone app, don’t panic. “Meditation is beneficial, but even just being more focused on breathing really helps,” says meditation teacher Chloe Webster.
“Just start with one deep breath and then three: the next thing you know, you’ve activated your parasympathetic system (which sends a signal to the brain to let the anxious part know that you’re safe and to hold off on the fight, flight or freeze response) and you’re on your way to feeling calm again.”
Along with vows to exercise more, the resolutions that top the charts almost every year involve losing weight and improving your diet. It’s well documented that crash diets don’t work, so try these tips to nudge you on the path to health without feeling deprived.
Drink one extra glass of water every day
Forget trying to guzzle litres every day, start by drinking just an additional glass of water, suggests nutritional therapist Wilma MacDonald. “Research has shown that around 75 per cent of adults are chronically dehydrated, which means that feeling sleepy, unmotivated and having difficulty concentrating is a default setting which can be switched by drinking some more water. Being hydrated will also keep your joints lubricated, your bowels moving, support your heart to pump blood more efficiently and regulate your body temperature.’
Make half your dinner plate vegetables
We know we should be eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. MacDonald says you’re more likely to achieve that if you simply fill half your dinner plate with veg.
“Vegetables are the best source of vitamins, minerals and fibre that your body knows what to do with,” she says. “Fibre keeps your gut happy and bowels moving freely, while vitamins and minerals repair, protect and keep your body functioning.”
Start your meal with a green salad
Nutritional therapist Alex Allan suggests eating non-starchy veg first, or starting your meal with a green salad. ‘Research shows this can stop you getting a spike in blood sugar and the corresponding insulin spike that can lead to fat storage,’ she says.
“It can also stop you having all those ‘hangry’ and irritable feelings you may otherwise get a couple of hours after eating. Plus, these foods are high in fibre, low in calories and nutrient dense, so can often help you feel fuller more quickly.”
Have soup for lunch
Research suggests eating the same food in soup format rather than as a plate of items makes you feel fuller for longer and less likely to snack. This is thought to be because the liquid in the soup is held in the stomach while the solid nutrients are digested, stretching the stomach wall and suppressing production of the hunger hormone ghrelin.
Rearrange your cupboards
According to Dr Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating, the easier it is to see something, the more likely you are to eat it. So if you’re trying to cut back on chocolate and sweets, put them behind healthier snacks.
Commit to not eating in front of the TV
If you are distracted while eating, your brain is less likely to recognise how much you are consuming or realise when to stop. Research from the University of Birmingham shows that we eat up to 25 per cent more when we are not focusing on our food – so cutting out mindless TV snacking really helps.
If the worrying news about climate change has made you want to do your bit but you don’t know where to start, here are some easy ways to lighten your impact on the planet.
Swap shampoo and shower gel for bar versions
Ditching liquid shampoo and shower gel helps in multiple ways. Less water is used in the production of bars, they are lighter – meaning less carbon is used to transport them – and they normally come in environmentally-friendly paper or card instead of plastic bottles. They also last longer.
Stop leaving your gadgets on standby
“Appliances such as printers, speakers, TVs, games consoles and laptops can use up to 90 per cent of their power even when in standby mode,” says Sonia Lakshman, co-founder of Every One of Us. “To make life easier, plug them into a single power strip you can turn off with the flick of a single switch every night.”
Freeze food that’s ‘on the turn’ rather than binning it
Tons of food are wasted every year and one of the easiest ways to make sure that doesn’t happen is to use your freezer. Around 24 million slices of bread are wasted a day in the UK alone, so think about freezing your loaf. If veg starts to look past its best, lay on a sheet, pre-freeze, then put in a freezer bag (this will stop them sticking together). Find more top tips to avoid wastage at thefullfreezer.com
Keep micro plastics out of the ocean
Washing synthetic fibres, such as fleeces and sportswear, results in tiny fibres making their way into the oceans, where they cause havoc with sealife. Using a GuppyFriend (guppyfriend.com) – a mesh bag that you place your synthetics in pre-wash – means you can capture these microplastics and dispose of them safely.
We’ve become increasingly aware of how important sleep is to our health, but the more we worry about it, the less we get. Here are five easy ways to improve the quality of your sleep this year
Track your yawns to learn your optimum bedtime
According to psychologist Dr David Lee of Sleep Unlimited, your body has a 90-minute rhythm when it comes to sleep and there’s a dip when your brain is least active, which is the best time to fall asleep. To work out your natural dip, look for a natural yawn between 8pm and 9pm and then plan to be in bed ready to fall asleep 90 minutes later.
Brain dump before bed
So often we’re kept awake by thoughts racing through our brains, whether it’s tomorrow’s to-do list or knotty problems we’ve been avoiding dealing with. To get them out of your head - and your bed - scribble everything down in a notebook, or record in a voice note on your phone, before you get into bed.
Never call yourself an insomniac
In Kate Mikhail’s book Teach Yourself to Sleep, she points out that we are suggestible beings, so saying you are an insomniac becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Rather than describing yourself as a bad sleeper, try telling yourself (and other people) that although you’re not sleeping well at the moment, you are someone who can and will sleep well.
Use a lavender scented sleep spray
You might have dismissed lavender pillow sprays as more unnecessary mumbo jumbo, but the plant contains linalool, a chemical with anaesthetic properties. What’s more, research by Prof Tim Jacobs of Cardiff University found that not only do lavender sprays help you sleep, but if you use them nightly, over two to three weeks, your body also associates the smell with sleep, so you sleep even better.
Wake up at the same time every day
Our bodies work on 24-hour cycles and don’t know the difference between a Wednesday and a Sunday, so if five days of the week you get up at 6.30am and for two days you don’t get up until 10am, it’s going to make the 6.30 starts even harder. Up to an hour extra is just about OK, so set your alarm for 7.30 at weekends – and if you get up to get a cup of tea and go back to bed with the paper, don’t go back to sleep.
The Daily Telegraph