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December 31, 2020
It’s fair to say that most of us can’t wait to see the back of 2020. It’s been a challenging time, but let’s resolve to focus on the positives. If we’ve learned anything this year it’s that as a global community we are more than capable of rising to a challenge. From key workers to vaccine creators, from neighbours performing acts of kindness to grass roots political activists making change – people everywhere have dug deep all year. Meanwhile, the enforced slowing down and keeping still in lockdown and now in almost-lockdown (in the UK) has provided the opportunity to ask ourselves what really matters to us. This year has given us a lot to draw from when it comes to deciding what one change we’d like to make in ‘21.
What sort of resolution are you considering? A new habit? A new focus? A new value? More time with loved ones; less time online? More cooking; fewer takeaways? A new language; some volunteer work; saving more pennies? Whatever it is, there are certain things you can do to make success more likely…
According to Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit – to create a new habit you need to understand the nature of habits in the first place. Habits are comprised of three elements: a cue (or trigger), an action and a reward. Most people, says Duhigg, forget to implement the reward part. Many ‘bad’ habits become habits because they contain a built-in reward system, be it a nicotine or dopamine hit, or a ‘sugar high’. In order to form a new habit it’s important to plan your cue, action and reward carefully. For a cue, set a daily reminder - this could be an alarm or a grid of empty check boxes stuck to the fridge. For your action, make it clear and specific, like 15 minutes of HIIT or 10 minutes of French every day. Finally, pick a reward - maybe an episode of your favourite TV show, a block of chocolate or specified amount of time scrolling Instagram guilt-free – something you can do straight after the ‘action’ part that triggers a dopamine response.
Resolutions are often quite broadly stated: get fit, lose weight, socialise more, learn an instrument etc. But you’re more likely to succeed the more specific you can be. Your resolution may be to ‘get fit’ but you should be specific about how and you should be able to enjoy at least a little bit. Don't sign-up to a gym if you have an aversion to exercising indoors with strangers; don’t buy running shoes if you are more of a yoga person. Choose a form of movement that actually appeals to you. If you love nature – choose something that you do in the great outdoors, if you love dancing – dance your socks off to loud music for a set amount of time every day. Why not get fit and have fun at the same time If you’re an introvert, look for a great app that helps you train at home. You may not get as fit if you choose tai chi over spin classes – but you’ll be fitter than if you did nothing and you’ll be much more likely to stick at something if you like it.
The best tip here is to make it visual. It turns out that vision boards are actually very effective at helping to influence outcomes. Far from being a magical thinking tool that makes miracles happen – a vision board works because it keeps your desired outcome at the front of your mind, so that you make choices and notice opportunities that take you closer to your goal. If you have an image of happy friends laughing and eating together because you want to focus more on your friendships – you will be reminded of your desire every time you see that picture. And because the image creates a positive feeling in you – you will feel motivated to send that text or make that phone call more often than if you had the intention but no stimulating visual reminder. Likewise if you have an image of a sun-drenched beach on your board – perhaps above your desk – you are more likely to stop short of buying that next thing you don’t really need and putting the money in your holiday savings account instead. Vision boards (or ‘visual life maps’ if you prefer), are an excellent tool to help you succeed with your goals.
No matter how stable we consider our income, finances and lifestyle to be – we’ve learned that nothing is certain. A tiny virus born far away can come along out of nowhere and pull the rug out from under everything. Given the year we’ve had, maybe you’ve decided that in 2021 you’d like to buy less, or save more, or simply spend your money differently. We’re in favour of all of these and here are some ways to get there:
Save the change… It’s amazing how quickly very small amounts of money can add up to something worthwhile. Some banks offer a rounding up feature putting aside the 3 or 4 pence, or whatever it is, aside every time you spend. This is easy to set up and you won’t even notice it’s happening until you look again at the end of the year and see you’ve got an extra few hundred quid to spend on that sunny destination (if we’re travelling again by then!). Another option is to set up ‘saving pots’ offered by some banks or simply to put 10% of your income in a separate account every month. Whatever way you choose, get it all set up on New Year’s day and with very little effort you’ll have a little something to celebrate this time next year.
… or give the change away. If you’re reading this let’s make the assumption that you're probably better off than a lot of other people on the planet. It’s too early to tell what the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been but the World Bank estimates that “an additional 88 million to 115 million people will fall into extreme poverty in 2020, with the total rising to as many as 150 million by 2021”. This year we became more aware than ever of how much we have and how little others have by comparison, and how easily people can be thrown into difficulty. In resolving to ‘give the change away’ you might sign up to donate a monthly amount to a specific charity or community project or to literally give any change away that you find on your person whenever you see someone in need, whatever it is it will count as a positive.
Whatever your resolution, good luck and Happy New Year! Here’s to a better 2021.