Our new mantra? ‘Spring is the time to reflect and re-set’. While for many it’s tradition to do this at the start of the year, it’s clear the ‘new year, new you’ mantra isn’t as effective as it sounds. In fact, 80% of us admit we break our New Year resolutions by February, meaning that by spring, many of us are already feeling like a failure.
Unlike January, spring is the perfect time to harness our true potential. Like much of nature, we humans genuinely bloom in spring. Scientists have shown that increased daylight triggers the pineal gland in our brains to reduce melatonin (the hormone controlling our circadian rhythm and mood). And less melatonin makes us happier and more energised, meaning our enthusiasm and confidence soars. All of which makes it a much more realistic time to reflect and refresh our habits, and work on improving our wellbeing.
“In the winter months, the Danish hygge approach of hunkering down and being cosy feels right,” says behavioural change specialist, Dr Heather McKee. “Whereas in spring, with more light equalling extra energy, that helps with motivation.”
So, rather than giving up on your new year goals for good, give yourself a quarterly review. Reflect on what you really want to change this year, learn why you keep failing at the same things, and discover the unique habits that will truly motivate you. And remember, there’s still three quarters of the year to reach your true potential! Here’s how:
1. Reflect on your goals
“Habits are formed through doing the same thing in the same circumstances enough times to make it stick,” Heather explains. “Therefore, if your goal is to say meditate first thing every day for 20 minutes, but the kids often interrupt you, then it’s not going to work.”
It’s important to be realistic and put your goals into the context of your life. “Perhaps you’d be more successful if you meditate for a shorter time before you go to bed each night,” Heather adds. “Give yourself permission to experiment until you find what works to help your new habit to stick.”
Habit stacking – i.e. piggybacking something new into an existing routine – is a useful tactic for smaller goals. Like increasing your step count by going for a walk when you’re on the phone to a friend; doing squats while waiting for the kettle to boil; saying positive affirmations in the shower. Reflect on what your dream-team could be to set yourself up for success.
2. Set smaller goals
Many people give up on their goals due to setting too big a challenge. Then, understandably, give up for good when things get tough.
“If we feel we've let ourselves down, or haven't succeeded, we release negative hormones that tell our brains ‘this is not enjoyable,’” Heather explains.
The key? Breaking goals into smaller, achievable steps. Then enjoying the success-induced dopamine hit you’ll get, which will encourage you to keep at it.
It’s a tactic Heather is using herself. “Cold water therapy is so good for you but I’m a wimp. So instead of standing under a cold shower for the recommended 20 seconds a day, I’m starting with three. It makes me feel like a champion, which encourages me to repeat the behaviour. And gradually I’ll work my way up to a longer time.”
3. The power of self-compassion
Heather refers to self-compassion as the ‘hidden driver’ for all our goals and habit changes. “The more we can coach and encourage ourselves, the more likely we are to succeed,” she says.
It’s powerful stuff. Research has found those who are most self-compassionate have more happiness, life satisfaction, motivation, better relationships and physical health, plus less anxiety or depression.
And self-compassion can also help us to have a healthy outlook on failure – seeing it as part of the journey, and something you can learn from. “Figure out what drove you to fail – stress? Tiredness? Once you know, you can put things in place to help you next time,” Heather says.
Rather than beating yourself up for not making it to the gym on Monday morning, forgive yourself and use it as a learning moment. Are Monday evenings unrealistic because you’re a night-owl? Or do you actually need a gentler start to the week, with Monday a workout free day? Only by being compassionate to yourself and accepting these failures can you re-focus your efforts and renew your sense of purpose. Good luck!