Emma climbed wearily into bed in the early hours of New Year’s Day, vowing to herself that this year would be different and she wouldn’t overspend, overeat or drink too much coffee. She was also going to be the model mum and stop shouting at her children and she was going to start training for a triathlon.
But tired after the festivities, and facing huge credit card bills after her Christmas spendathon, January 1 saw her tucking into cakes and unable to give up her daily six coffees. A fortnight into the New Year, she was yelling more than ever at her sons, aged five, six and eight, and she still hadn’t bought her new running shoes, let alone been out for her first run.
Yet she was spending as much as ever on clothes, piling even more debt on her credit card. “When I set my resolutions for this year, I had every good intention of doing all those things, but when it came to it, I just couldn’t motivate myself,” says Emma, a 29-year-old legal secretary.
“It was too easy to have a cake with my latte, and to curl up and watch television or go shopping instead of going for a run. Now I feel sad that nothing has changed. I told myself that this year was going to be the start of the new me, but really I’m the old me, with as many bad habits as ever and a few kilos heavier!”
Like Emma, many of us will have started the New Year full of good intentions to learn a new language, write a screenplay, take swimming lessons or change our jobs. Yet a few weeks on, we find we’ve done nothing about any of them. We feel disappointed that we’ve failed ourselves. After all, January is the month for self-improvement. If we can’t succeed then, when can we? And once January’s gone, we don’t get a second chance for another 11 months, right?
Wrong! Experts suggest all is not lost and are putting forward February as our fresh-start month instead of the traditional January. They believe February is a much better month than January to start over and we’ll have a far greater chance of sticking to our pledges if we treat February 1 as our New Year’s Day.
British performance coach Phil Olley says, “January isn’t a great month to start cold on New Year’s resolutions because we’re already out of routine after the party season. We often haven’t given much thought to our resolutions before January 1 because we’ve been too busy preparing for Christmas and the end of the year. Expecting to change overnight is unrealistic. We need to put in the groundwork first.”
Phil, whose new book is titled Result: Think Decisively, Take Action and Get Results, says that if you have spent the first month of the year breaking resolutions, feeling guilty about this and then revising them, don’t give up.
“You need to think about your long-term vision, how you see your future and your purpose on this planet. You need to ascertain the direction in which you want your life to go,” he says. “You then ask yourself what kind of person you need to become to achieve these goals and what changes you need to make.
“For example, if you see yourself as a successful businesswoman flying all over the world, you will need energy, so you could look at all the habits you have which deplete your energy. “Maybe you need some more exercise, so you could join a gym or a dance class, or organise to go on some walks, or you could decide to eat more healthily so you lose a few kilos.
“If, in your vision, you see yourself as a productive salesperson, you may need to have better time-management skills. If you want to get more business, you may resolve to listen to colleagues or make more phone calls to prospective clients.”
Once the initial soul-searching is over, it’s time to make plans. We’ve all used the excuse of not going to the gym because we didn’t have the right clothes, or because it was closed by the time we left the office. We often don’t give up high-fat food because we still have a fridge full of delicious treats.
If your initial resolutions had included, for instance, losing weight, pursuing a hobby and cleaning up your space, but you were unable to get started, don’t despair. Set aside weekends to declutter your home or office, read books and magazines about mountain biking, sort out your wardrobe or start a savings fund for your round-the-world trip.
Find a gym or swimming pool near work, empty your kitchen cupboards of sugary snacks, hire a running coach, book the needlework classes and plan a hiking weekend away. “Once you commit to a goal, show your commitment to it within 24 hours by doing something, like buying new running shoes, entering a 10-kilometre race or getting your online sponsorship page up and running,” recommends Phil. “This is what I call ‘enthusi-action’. It’s a pledge to yourself that you are going to achieve this goal.”
According to Phil, February is the perfect month to make a new habit, be it writing your novel for half an hour every day, tackling the clutter in your home, holding regular meetings with your staff or listening to your children read for 20 minutes every evening. He suggests we start with up to six new habits, covering areas such as work, home, family, relationships and health.
“It takes between 21 and 31 days to form a new habit,” says Phil. “February is perfect because there are normally 28 days so draw a 7 x 4 grid (for each day of the month) and place it in a prominent place on your desk. “People find it easy to lie to themselves, but if you have the grid in front of you, asking if you have stuck to this resolution, yes or no, you’re likely to be honest. Put a tick in the grid every day that you have achieved your new habit. If you miss a day, you erase your previous tick marks and start from scratch!
“Plan a forfeit if you don’t stick to your habit. Likewise, plan a lovely reward for yourself if you do keep your habit – treat yourself to a day at a spa, or have lunch with a friend.” If you find excuses popping up for not keeping your resolution, keep going, urges Phil. “People use excuses for so many things, but excuses are rarely true,” he says. “If you want to get fit but you haven’t got the money to buy running shoes, start by walking or running up flights of steps.
“If time or child-minding are issues, find an activity that all the family can enjoy. Be creative and look for ways around the challenges. For instance, cut down on the amount of TV you watch to get some extra time to do what you planned to. Don’t just use excuses and go back to your old ways! “You need to believe in your resolutions and be prepared for all eventualities because others may well try and sabotage your efforts, for example, offering you a cigarette or a piece of cake – prepare yourself in advance to deal with these temptations.
“If you’re meeting a friend for lunch, check out the menu online to find the healthiest option, or suggest you do something healthy such as go for a walk and chat while you exercise.” So if you thought all the good intentions of New Year’s Day had flown out of the window for another 11 months, think again. It’s February and you’ve got a second chance!