Realistic Resolutions

2nd January 2015

So the clock strikes midnight and suddenly you’re a new person? Well, hardly. In fact, research says most of us will break our resolutions by 24 January. But perhaps there's a reason for that. Goals should be about aspiration, but shouldn't we also set ourselves achievable targets that fit into our daily routine, rather than those we haven't a hope in hell of maintaining?

Jennifer Lipman talks to experts about how to make 2015 the year of realistic resolutions…

How To Get More Sleep

Unfortunately, keeping to an early bedtime – or speedily sailing off to the land of nod – is harder than it sounds. Still, says Lisa Artis of The Sleep Council, “small changes can have a huge impact on sleep quality and quantity. Firstly, she emphasises, create a restful sleeping environment. She suggests banning from the bedroom anything entertaining or work related, from iPads to phones, explaining that exposure to even the weakest glow at night – for example, a standby button – can play havoc with your body’s circadian rhythms.

The Sleep Council also advise cutting down on caffeine (in tea as well as coffee) especially in the evening. Not a full detox (you want this resolution to last!), but do plan not to drink caffeinated drinks after lunch, and have a warm, milky drink or herbal tea as a compromise. “The effects of caffeine can last up to 24 hours,” they point out, “so the chances of it affecting sleep are significant”.

How To Get Better Work Life Balance

The conventional wisdom is to enforce the division between office and home completely; no emails after you start on dinner. But that’s just not feasible for anyone with an office Blackberry or an expectant manager. Still, set some limits. “Accept that as far as work goes, there will always be more that you can do, but doesn’t mean that you have to,” advises Hayley Watts of life-coaching company Think Productive.

Pledge to have your phone switched off by a certain cut-off or for one day a weekend, and avoid work topics – whether that's watching the news or reading a document – in that period. And, she says, do something non-work related in the evening, like watching a boxset. “Make a conscious decision to enjoy your time away from work by focusing on the here and now,” she says. “You need to decide to let it go.”

How To Improve Your Diet Without Becoming Obsessed

Don't fancy the five-two, or whatever fad is hot this January? Dieting doesn't have to turn you into a person who only eats in liquid form, or picks wistfully at a side salad in a fancy restaurant. As Ayela Spiro of the British Nutrition Foundation explains, there are plenty of small switches to take. She stresses the benefits of breakfast, pointing to evidence that not eating early on is associated with higher BMIs and poor concentration. “Good choices are wholegrain cereals with low fat milk and fruit, porridge and wholegrain or granary toast with low fat spread and a small amount of nut butter,” she advises.

Equally, bringing lunch to work is a healthy – not to mention a money-saving – approach, since shop-bought options are invariably high in saturated fat, salt and sugar. “Grabbing a high calorie lunch on-the-go may be tempting but a packed lunch gives you control over the ingredients,” she says.

How To Get More Sleep

Of course, it’s not just work…

Have you taken the washing out? Have you got milk? Does the car need an MOT?…
We've all tried to relax, only to find our mind running at 100 miles per hour. Resolving to switch off doesn't mean adopting a laissez faire attitude, but it does mean finding the time to stop stressing. “It is vital that in this 24/7 digital era, we find as little as 15 minutes a day to breathe deeply and actually enable ourselves to focus,” says Matthew Sousa of the Mental Health Foundation. “This means not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, but just being present.”

The new trend is mindfulness, a type of meditation whereby you focus on the ebb and flow of your breath, and maintain attention on it. According to Sousa, you’ll notice a change “in a matter of weeks”. There are dozens of mindfulness courses, but if you’re struggling to find the time, the MHF offer an online course. Adds Sousa: “It’s important that mental wellbeing becomes a habit.”

See www.bemindful.com for more info.

How To Meet New People

The internet might have answered those ‘how to meet a partner’ questions, but Tinder isn't necessarily the best way to make friends. That’s not to say the web is useless; social media can be a great way to find like-minded people, with ‘tweet ups’ becoming increasingly common. Offline, look into a formal social group. “As most members attend events on their own, we put great emphasis on ensuring that people feel at ease when they arrive,” says Binal Sawjani of Spice, a company that has been running group activities for 35 years. If that’s too intimidating, consider who you meet in your existing schedule, whether it’s other parents on the school run or people at your zumba class. Equally, find an activity that brings you into contact with new faces, even if it’s not the main purpose.

Volunteering, points out Rodrigues, is the perfect resolution because you can do two things at once – one being the making of friends. The same goes for learning a new skill; after all, it’s hard not to get chatting while you’re kneading dough or working with clay.

How To Volunteer

New years mean new beginnings, which explains why so many of us vow to become better people every January. Good intentions aside, how do you fit it in?

Firstly, look local; David Rodrigues of Greater London Volunteering suggests getting in touch with a local volunteer centre for personalised advice. And remember that charities need administrative support and help fundraising. As Nicky Johnston of the Do-it Trust says, “if you can spare 30 minutes on your computer, you can volunteer”. According to Helen Raftery of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), the latest trend is for micro-volunteering – discrete web-based actions, like signing a petition or online mentoring. Finally, says, Nicky, “be selfish – find something that works for you”. Volunteer with your kids, for example through the National Trust’s family scheme. If you're cooking already, make an extra portion to take to an elderly person in the area through an initiative like the Casserole Club. If you play sport, volunteer in a youth centre with young footballers. If you love gardening, find a project that uses horticulture for rehabilitation. “It’s not all give, give, give,” she says.

See www.volunteeringherts.org.uk for ideas.

How To Live A Greener Life

Is 2015 going to be the year you swap the rat race for an eco-lodge, eating only food that you’ve foraged. Probably not, but making a commitment to green living can involve less radical changes, like reusing plastic bags (before charges on them come in next September), turning off electric sockets when nothing is in them, switching to online bank statements or choosing not to print work documents. There’s also the weekly shop – forgo two-for-one deals, so you only buy the food you need, thus reducing the likelihood of waste (bad for the environment, and the pursestrings). Lastly, resolve to use the car less – better for your health and the planet.

and finally… How Not To Fail By February

Ultimately, it comes down to doing it your way. “It is not so much the amount of time that you have, but how much control you have,” emphasises Helen Raftery of NCVO. Make sure you’re in charge of your pledge, rather than setting yourself up for a fall. Lastly, find a partner. “Then it’s a commitment to someone else…’

Find Your Local