If you decide to break a long-standing bad habit and turn over a new leaf, would you choose to do so when you’re exhausted, over-worked, financially squeezed and light-deprived?
A survey carried out last year by iReach Insights found 56% of respondents believe January is the most depressing month of the year, with November, February and December coming second, third and fourth. Reasons included bad weather, lack of light, financial worries, and having to go back to work after a break. Digital experts David McCandless and Lee Byron scanned more than 10,000 Facebook updates and discovered the peak times for relationship breakups are Valentine’s Day and the two weeks leading up to Christmas. And Push Doctor, Europe’s largest digital doctor service, report a noticeable spike in requests for mental health care in January.
Why, then, do we choose to make resolutions at the start of the year, the time when light levels are lowest, the parties—and possibly our relationship—are over, and we’re back at work knowing we’ll need most of the next few months’ salary just to pay off our credit cards?
Many people consider September also time for a fresh start. School children and anyone working in the education sector begin their new year. Many companies target the beginning of autumn to initiate new projects. And it’s easier to rise to these new challenges because we’re still enjoying plenty of daylight and probably taking more exercise than during the winter — both of which boost endorphin levels—and we’re likely to feel refreshed after a recent holiday.
This year, why not set yourself some ‘New Year’ resolutions during the summer, to start in September? Here are some suggestions to increase your chances of success:
Choose positive words. ‘Lose weight’ feels less inviting than ‘design and follow a healthy diet’. Instead of trying to eliminate unwanted behaviour, create a new habit that makes your undesired habit less possible—hopefully, entirely impossible. For example, instead of trying to cut down on screen time after work, sign up for a couple of evening classes.
Involve others. It’s harder to give up if you’re working with someone else — it’s more enjoyable, and you won’t want to let them down. If, say, your new resolution is to get fitter, arrange to go swimming or jogging with a friend regularly.
Tell others. If you let others you care about know what you’re trying to achieve, you can ask them to make it easier by encouraging your new habit and by asking how you’re doing.
Subdivide your resolution. Once you’ve decided on your ultimate aim — getting up and going to bed half an hour earlier during the week, say — create 16 small weekly targets so that by week 16 you’ve reached your goal. That also means, by the way, you’ll have achieved your resolution by late December, the time when you’d normally be wondering how on earth you’ll find the energy to set any New Year’s resolutions.