The only New Year’s resolutions you should be making this January

New Year's resolutionsOoh, would you look at that – it’s the first week of January and you’ve already broken your resolutions to stop smoking, to go to the gym nine times a week and to stop eating cake. Now you feel a bit coughy (from all those roll-ups), lazy (because walking past the gym doesn’t count as going) and full (from all that delicious ginger cake). But, worst of all, you feel massively guilty about everything. God, you’re such a monumental FAILURE. 2015 is pretty much ruined, right?

WRONG.

You’re not a failure. Your only mistake was making resolutions you had no hope of keeping in the first place. A study of 4000 people found that 39% gave up their resolutions within just two weeks – hardly surprising when January is grey, miserable, cold and awful and you’ve decided to give up the only things that are getting you through it.

The resolutions you should be making this year are ones that add to your life, not detract from it. For example, instead of signing up to some ridiculous diet that will only ever work in the short-term at best (sorry, but it’s true), choose to up your fitness levels instead – do more ­exercise rather than eat less cake. Add something to your life rather than take something away. That way you’re not restricting yourself and so won’t feel resentful when you troop off to the gym. You can still cut down on the cake munching if you want, but do it gradually, day-by-day, rather than ordering yourself to go cold turkey (or cold cake). If you do want to improve how and what you eat (and manage emotional eating), Dr Jessamy Hibberd and I set out a totally achievable eating plan in our new title This Book Will Make You Feel Beautiful.

Also, get into mindfulness NOW. There are billions of studies (I’ve counted) that prove meditating will make you happier, healthier, more creative, more patient, more open-minded, less angry and less anxious. So why aren’t you doing it? Book out a slot each day (actually book it in your diary so you’re less likely to skip it), set a timer for ten minutes, go sit in a quiet room and employ all your senses: what can you see, hear, feel, taste and smell? Try to notice when your mind wanders off, but don’t get angry – your mind is designed to wander – just bring it back to the task at hand, which is being aware of the world around you. Use your breath as an anchor if it helps – counting your breath in and out (an inhale and exhale count as ‘one’ breath). Again, don’t worry if you lose count, just start again at ‘one’ when you notice your mind has wandered. There are lots of basic strategies in my new book This Book Will Make You Mindful, a starter-kit for becoming more present in your day-to-day life.

Next, make a list of things you’d like to achieve this year, positive things that will add to your life rather than negatives to give up. For example, ‘get a new job’ rather than ‘tell my boss to get stuffed’. Make sure your goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. So if you’re hoping to get a new job, aim for one that’s realistic (achievable), i.e. ‘look for a job one-step up from where I am now’ rather than ‘become CEO of Google’ and set yourself a time frame of when you want to achieve it by (timely). Speak to people who might know of any jobs going in the field you want to work in and discuss what you’ll need to do to improve your chances (specific). Then write down each step of the plan so you can tick them off (measurable). Perhaps most importantly though, note down why this is relevant – why do you want to achieve this? Why do you want this job? The goal has to be worthwhile or you won’t bother trying.

Check back in on your plan every week or so to see how you’re getting on and ask friends or family to remind you why you’re doing it if you hit a lull (social support is a huge motivator). By making a plan (and actually writing it down) you’re much more likely to stick to it and by breaking down your goals into small manageable steps and rewarding yourself as you meet each target you’ll be far more motivated to keep going.

Good luck!

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Come to my talk on procrastination at Birmingham University

Birmingham University talkI’ll be speechifying at my old haunt Birmingham University this Saturday (18 October) as part of the annual Book to the Future Festival. I’ll be chatting about how to beat procrastination…RIGHT NOW! (See what I did there?)

Taking place in room 201 in the Arts Building from 4 – 5pm, I’ll be going through why we procrastinate, how it affects us (our mood, body, thoughts and behaviour) and the best ways of beating it. All the info, tips and insight are taken from our books.

Please come along and join in (don’t procrastinate over coming) or I’ll be chatting to an empty room. You can read more about the festival and register to attend my talk here.

Hopefully see you there!

Tips to beat stress and anxiety

anxiety-panic-disorders-worry-concern-stressWith new research finding a whopping one in five women experiencing symptoms of anxiety all day every day, it’s time to take action. Below are some articles we have contributed to ourselves and also other news reports we thought you’d find helpful.

To get started, here’s one of the simplest strategies of all: if you notice your shoulders are up near your ears, drop them. That’s it. This will make you aware of your body and therefore more aware of your stress.

Often we’re so caught up in worries (‘what if…?’) and ruminating on the past that we don’t even realise our stomach is tied up in knots, our nails are bitten to bloody stumps and that we haven’t listened to a word anyone’s said until it’s too late and our boss has demanded a progress report on the project we haven’t even started yet.

Tuning into your body is a simple way of tuning into your mood. So pay attention – if you’re hunched over, your stomach feels like a locked box and your heart’s racing don’t ignore it! Follow some of the tips below to calm down both your body and mind:

Huff Post stress feature

Express stress feature

Cosmopolitan online feature

The Express Calm feature

Irish Daily Star - simple steps to reduce everyday stress

Genuinely inspirational quotes that’ll make you feel happier, motivated and less like punching a wall

Uplifting quotesWe all have them – a friend who regularly posts supposedly uplifting mantras online or drops them into conversation, but more often than not they have no relevance to modern life or don’t make sense (you know the type: ‘the shilling is worth a pound to those with no wheat’ etc.). Obviously you’re allowed to ignore them or snort and roll your eyes BUT just because they’ve chosen something nonsensical doesn’t mean you should dismiss the power of an uplifting quote or phrase altogether.

A quick meaningful line really CAN make you feel better when it means something to you and rings true to your current situation. In our Happy book we recommend jotting down a couple of phrases/reminders on post-it notes and secreting them away where you can find them when you need them. When you feel low, stressed or anxious your rational mind can take a back seat and an inspirational phrase that relates to how you feel can give you a much needed dose of reassurance.

Another good idea is to set alarms on your phone to go off during the day with positive messages. Hearing a quick buzz and then seeing ‘You’re doing brilliantly’/’just keep smiling’/’keep it up’ on your phone can’t fail to make you feel a tiny bit happier. It’ll also serve to remind you of the positivity you wanted to channel when you scheduled the alarms.

Below are a selection of quotes/phrases/mottos that I think are universal and that will strike a chord with everyone no matter what their situation. Jot them down somewhere and flick to them when you need a quick pick me up or a reminder that you can do it, you can feel happier and you’re absolutely not alone:

Nothing’s ever embarrassing if you laugh at yourself  

You are never stronger than when you land on the other side of despair (Zadie Smith)

The beginning is always today (Mary Shelley)

You can, you should and – if you’re brave enough to start – you will (Stephen King)

Whether you say you can’t or you can, you’re right (various people!)

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage (Anais Nin) 

Every minute you remain angry, you’ve wasted 60 seconds of peace of mind

You miss 100% of the opportunities you don’t take 

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity (Amelia Earhart)

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The 2nd best time is now (Chinese proverb)

80% of success is showing up (Woody Allen)

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel (Maya Angelou) 

Either you run the day or the day runs you 

There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing and be nothing (Aristotle) 

Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear (George Addair) 

Life is too short to wait

My Birmingham University talk (video)

Last year I was invited to warble about my career at my old home-away-from-home, Birmingham University. The talk was called ‘Being a Cosmo Columnist and other stories’ and was about how I started in journalism, how I got the writing gigs I did and how I got my book deal.

The good people who organised the shindig recorded the whole 45 minutes which you can watch below. They also did a separate (short) interview about my English degree.

That the majority of my talk was waffley nonsense will be obvious within the first 30 seconds, but hopefully there were some helpful nuggets in there. Please feel free to have a watch and bear in mind that talking about yourself is always hard. I am much more eloquent when talking about other people and other things, I promise*.

*no guarantees