All around us in the natural world, living creatures and systems are adapting and evolving. For functioning human beings, it should be no different. Yet, we often resist making adjustments for reasons of pride, or fear of the unknown, or because it seems less stressful in this moment to just stick with what we did before.
The start of a new year is one of those times when our resistance to adjustment is lowered as we face the somewhat cruel reality that our Christmas eating heroics may not, disappointingly, be a sustainable lifestyle.
So, drawing on the latest research and practice from performance psychology and behavioural science, here are some suggestions for activities that you might start, stop and continue doing in the year ahead.
Schedule your renewal activities first.
A few generations ago, there were high hopes that technological advancements would lead to a new, wonderful era of leisure for humanity. Whoops! Our schedules and inboxes seem to fill up faster every year, resulting in a situation where a large percentage of our working population are close to burnout.
What can we do to wrestle back control? With a bit of counter-intuition and a healthy dollop of courage, we need to reverse our scheduling habits. Instead of filling your calendar with your important meetings first, start with your renewal activities i.e. anything that allows you to recharge your batteries and remain at your best. This includes all forms of rest, and can also include exercise, breaks, lunch, meditation, or whatever works for you. (I tend to exclude any activity involving a screen from this category - sorry!)
Once these activities are in your calendar, then it’s like you’re suddenly facing the other direction. You’ll tend to defend what’s already committed and now the decision about when or how to do everything else feels very different. Of course, there will be times when the pressure comes on and this brings us to the next point…
Saying NO to anything that disrupts your renewal activities
As grumpy toddlers, we seem to excel in saying no whenever we want. But as we mature, our consideration for others tends to replace that selfishness and our bias evolves towards pleasing others. Alas, this often means we agree to too many things and we invariably end up overwhelmed and under-resourced.
It’s important for us to realise that when we are protecting those renewal activities to which we have already committed, we are not being selfish. In fact we are investing in our capability to serve others. All of your colleagues and loved ones will tell you they want to be with the best version of you, so all we are doing is honouring that wish.
Building our capability to deliver a ‘graceful no’ delivers a high return on investment. Reminding others that you’re already committed to something else, for reasons that are important to you, will actually build your credibility with them as they will learn to respect you as a values-driven person.
Develop a practice of gratitude
We operate more effectively when we spend more of our time in a psychologically open state, rather than acting from a place of fear. Unfortunately, the majority of the external messaging in our media-obsessed world tends to be laden with fear, and dread, and scarcity.
To counter-act this, we need to remind ourselves of the wonderful things we already have in our lives that are often discounted by the day’s events. Developing our focus on gratitude will help us to recognise more easily what is good in our world (in exactly the same way you suddenly notice other people wearing that jacket you’ve just bought) and over time this will help raise our mood and our self-efficacy.
Like all new practices, start small. I recommend using a daily ritual such as washing your teeth at bedtime to reflect on just one nice/good/positive thing that happened that day for which you are grateful. Maybe then you can build up to a bedside notebook, or eventually a journal. It’s important to just start.
Next week, we focus on what to stop and continue doing in the New Year.
Remember all laya healthcare members over 16 can use our 24/7 Mental Wellbeing Support Programme for advice from our team of qualified and experienced psychotherapists covering areas like counselling services, legal services, financial services and consumer advice, mediation services.