Why now is the time to think about your personal wellbeing strategy for 2020

It’s already the last quarter of 2019, so now is the time to start thinking about how 2020 is going to become your best year yet, rather than wait until 31 December to scribble a quick list of New Year’s resolutions, which will be forgotten as fast as it has been conceived. By giving ample time to think about it, you will be able to find goals that will work for YOU – improve your health, your wellbeing, your life – and dismiss those that won’t. That way, come January, you’ll be all set.

Hate resolutions?

“New Year’s resolutions” … the term alone often causes eyes to roll and creates resistance in many people, maybe because the New Year is an arbitrary date – why start on 1 January? – or perhaps because they’ve tried and failed many times before, so that they’ve given up on the idea altogether.

If you don’t like resolutions, there are other ways to boost your wellbeing in the New Year. You could, for example, plan your list of “20 for 20” – which sounds and feels much less like New Year’s resolutions. This is an idea created by “Happier” podcasters Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft in 2018 (then “18 for 18”): make a list of 20 things you want to accomplish in 2020 and give yourself a pat on the back as you go along over the year. Make sure to include goals of varying levels of difficulty: “Get favourite black boots mended”, for example, would be an easy one in comparison to “Run a marathon”. “Donate blood” is more straightforward than “Redecorate kitchen” (or maybe for some people it isn’t). If you need inspiration, check out #19for2019 on Instagram to see other people’s lists.

Another way of framing your year of wellbeing could be to pick a one-word theme for the year, for example, “Growth”, “Upgrade”, “Expand”, “Flow”, “Quality” and apply it to your life in 2020 whenever you can. “Quality” could mean, for example, that you want to focus on quality rather than quantity when it comes to food (e.g. organic meat only, but less of it) to be healthier, clothes (well-made, lasting, timeless rather than fast fashion) to save money and the environment, and quality time with your loved ones.

Identify your wellbeing ‘DIY project’?

We all have that area of our life that weighs on us like an unfinished DIY project. Whether it’s the new loft room that you’ve been meaning to insulate for the last three years or just the missing skirting board in the hallway (5 years), projects like that are distracting and make us feel guilty, and our goals for health and wellbeing are often quite similar, staring us accusingly in the face every day.

In his bestselling book “The Four Pillar Plan”, GP Rangan Chatterjee identified healthy eating, exercise, sleep and relaxation as the four pillars of health. It seems like every single one of us will find room for improvement in our lives in at least one of those categories. We KNOW we should get more sleep, rather than waste two hours each night on pointless TV watching. We KNOW we probably wouldn’t have a backache at the end of workday if we moved about a bit more. We KNOW we have built up a spare tyre around the middle because someone always tops up the biscuit tin in the office kitchen. Identifying which areas of our life and health could do with some attention is the first step to making a plan.

Pace yourself

We believe that one reason so many people have given up on their New Year’s resolutions come mid-February (at the latest) is that they are piling too much on their plate for 1 January. A typical list might be:

Give up smoking
Drink less alcohol
Exercise more
Lose 20lbs

Who wouldn’t despair at the sight of this list? Although there are only four items, they are not easy ones. (Exercise doesn’t come easy to a person who makes it a resolution. And this is true for the others, too.) If you can put this into practice all at once at the start of the New Year, you must be a very strong person. Most of us are not.

Why not pace yourself and take on one after another? Why not dedicate an entire month to each one of those issues and break the job down into smaller tasks? American writer Gretchen Rubin did this and documented it in her book “The Happiness Project”. For a year, she chose one area of her life per month that she felt she could improve upon. She picked three resolutions per month around that subject. So, if you want to lose weight, you could decide to 1) quit sugar, 2) do a kitchen detox, and 3) find 1 new sugar-free breakfast option per week.

This plan is cumulative, i.e. you don’t focus on not drinking alcohol during “Dry January” all month, only to then go all out come 1 February. The idea is that your month of focus helps you break old habits – for example not grabbing a beer from the fridge as soon as you get in from work every night – and creating new ones, for example, winding down by chopping veg for your dinner while listening to your favourite tunes. Once that’s in place, you can use the next month to concentrate on the next thing.

SMART Goals

If you have ever attended a professional development seminar, you’ll know all about SMART goals and that your goals have to fit into this framework if you want to succeed. They are so popular, because they make a lot of sense. SMART stands for

Specific – What exactly do you want to accomplish?
Measurable – How will you know when you have achieved your goal?
Action – What steps will you take to achieve your goal?
Realistic – Can you actually achieve this goal?
Time-bound – What is the deadline to achieve this goal? We can apply this to one of our wellbeing resolutions from above. A popular New Year’s resolution is to “exercise more”. Here’s why that’s not a SMART goal:

  • It’s not specific. How much is ‘more’? How about: “I want to run 5k to raise money for my favourite charity.”
  • It’s not measurable. How much is ‘more’? If you can’t even run for the bus without getting out of breath, being able to run 5k is an achievement, and every step of the way is measurable. The day you can run your first kilometre without stopping will be the first milestone.
  • What action do you need to take? ‘Exercise more’ is not helpful. Booking time with a personal trainer, joining Parkrun or a local running club is. https://www.parkrun.org.uk
  • ‘Exercise more’ is probably not realistic, if you don’t put a little more thought into it. Wanting to run a marathon if you’ve never run before may also be asking too much. But aiming for a 5k race is doable.
  • Time-bound – When will you do it by? Have a look at what’s on in your local area in 2020. Which race do you want to sign up for? Can you do it by June? By September? Decide and register.

Know yourself

One last tip for success is to pick resolutions that work for YOU. Maybe you envy runners for their resilience, determination and lean physique. But will YOU enjoy it? Do you like envisioning yourself as a runner, but really, if you think about it, you have always found it dead boring? Then maybe running is not the best type of exercise for you. There are so many other options, and perhaps one of them actually IS for you. How about rock climbing? Stand-up paddleboarding? Ballroom dancing? Think about what YOU think is fun and what YOU could see yourself doing with joy. If you’ll have to drag yourself out of the house to run every other day, it’s not going to happen. Is it?

For more tips about how to create your Wellbeing Plan for 2020, read our October newsletter. Sign up on our home page.

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