Have you ever, ever kept a New Year’s resolution beyond – oh, about 3rd January? Maybe 1st February, if you’re really pushing it? That’s because New Year’s resolutions are often completely unrealistic goals. Going to drop three dress sizes. Going to walk five miles a day. Going to give up chocolate completely. (Were we MAD???)
But what actually works, we find, is to focus instead on getting into good habits. And when you sell it to yourself like that, there’s an implicit sense of forgiving. Fall off the wagon for a day, or eat a Twix, or forget to drink those two litres of water, and it doesn’t feel catastrophic at all. You can just gently nudge yourself to do better tomorrow, rather than feeling like you’ve blown it.
Good habits don’t happen overnight, of course. 21 days is often quoted as the minimum, but often it’s longer than that. The average is actually two months – 66 days, to be exact (according to the most famous study into the subject, by University College London health psychology researcher Philippa Lally). But don’t let that put you off. And don’t aim ridiculously high; honestly, it’s the small changes that can make the biggest difference, because they’re achievable.
So, here are our top recommendations for little habit shifts that could pretty much change your life – and your wellbeing levels – by the time 2020 rolls around…
Eat every few hours. (Don’t wait till you’re ready to gnaw your arm off.) It’s such a common misconception that skipping meals helps you lose weight. In fact, that’s going to impact on your blood sugar levels, making you ravenously hungry – often turning to caffeine or a sugar hit, as an antidote, keeping you on that rollercoaster. Sometimes, we might feel we need to skip meals because we’re working to a deadline, or because we’ve got a big dinner coming up – but far better to snack healthily. Keep a power bar (not one of the sugary ones), a banana, some almonds or other nuts in your work bag, so that you’re never without something healthy to nibble on.
Make enough dinner to take leftovers to work. It’s so easy to grab a sandwich (always unappetisingly chilled) for lunch, when we really could do better than that. We’re not sure about the concept of meal-prepping on the weekend for the week ahead that is sometimes suggested – we’d rather spend our weekends out there in the fresh air, yomping the hills or planting bulbs, thanks, but what is perfectly realistic is to cook a little more supper and bring the extra to work next day. (Team Beauty Bible does this and Jo’s fridge is home to many a healthy Tupperware-d leftover waiting to be re-heated for lunch!)
Put your workouts in your diary. Think of them as an appointment with your healthier self. We are great believers in the power of self-care. It’s not selfish; whenever we have to take care of anyone else, we need to take care of ourselves, first. (The analogy is that in-flight message which tells you to put the oxygen mask on yourself, before helping anyone else.) It can feel hard to squeeze in a workout, or a walk. But if that’s a fixed point in your diary, it’s easier to plan around it. (We generally find that our energy levels are boosted by a power-walk or a yoga class, and that work goes much more smoothly afterwards when we’re back at our desks. So it’s a win-win.)
Buy yourself a big water bottle, and keep it on your desk.It’s now possible to get very generously-proportioned water bottles to keep water cool and encourage day-long sipping. You probably wouldn’t want to carry this size around with you (we like the Chilly’s 750ml bottle, BTW), but get through one in the morning and one in the afternoon and you’re two-thirds of the way there with your daily water goals. And whenever you feel stressed, take a glug of water. It’s amazing how it cools the brain as well as the body.
Set a limit on social media. We find the new ScreenTime social media limiting app pretty scary, actually, in terms of how quickly we can ratchet up half an hour of scrolling through Instagram pics or watching daft Facebook videos. (We find it much easier to avoid Twitter. Fact: nobody is ever, ever going to go to their grave wishing they’d spent more time on Twitter.) But for 2019, we’re really, really going to try to stick to our self-imposed limit – and maybe even reduce it over time. It’s way, way too easy to get lost in social media – so what we really find helps is having a book or a Kindle or a glossy magazine with us at all times, so there’s no risk of mindless scrolling because there’s nothing else to do. If it’s hard, switch your phone off. You really have to think twice about how important seeing someone’s latest ‘selfie’ is, before switching it on again just to look at that.
Above all, be kind to yourself. See above – but you should never, ever feel guilty about carving out time in a busy life just for you. Maybe for a massage. Or a class of some kind. Or even for a nap. We live in incredibly stressful, uncertain times and it’s only by charging up our batteries that we can be expected to cope – so never feel bad about doing the things that help you do just that. And above all, try really hard not to beat yourself up if habits do sometimes slip. Don’t throw your hands up and go, ‘Well, that’s that, then. I’ve failed.’ Just get back on the horse (as Sarah would definitely say), and re-establish your goal. No biggie.
And have a wonderful, healthy 2019, won’t you?