Starting 2019 in a positive state of mind

Another year over and a new one just begun!

Schools is back. Holidays are over. As many of us return from holidays and settle back into our busy routines lots of us are thinking about how to make positive changes that will guarantee us a “better year” and “better me”.

Here are 7 tips we hope will inspire you kick off the year with a positive mindset to help you achieve your goals and maintain your physical and mental wellbeing.

Reflect

Do a review of the year that’s been - Take stock of all your experiences and appreciate all the accomplishments you’ve made in the last year.  Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What went well for me last year?

  • What am I most proud of?

  • How did I improve my life?

  • What was my biggest challenge and what have I learned from this experience?

  • How did I improve my relationships?

  • What did I remove from my life that is now making me happier?

  • What do I wish I had taken more time for?

  • What makes me happy?

Looking back will make you realise that there are probably many positive things and achievements that just got forgotten due to “getting on with it” and will help you identify your goals for the future.

Set realistic goals

Research has shown that effective goal setting significantly increases your success rate in all areas of life, as well as improving your mental and physical wellbeing. So, take the time to set yourself some meaningful goals for 2019.

Try to avoid the pitfall of making unrealistic goals, this is the main reason new year’s resolutions fail, as we often set our expectations way too high. While it’s good to aim high (stretch goals anyone?), it’s best to build up to the big goals by setting smaller achievable ones to hit along the way. To increase your motivation, make sure that you acknowledge the smaller wins as you go through. Ask yourself what important areas you would like to focus on this year e.g. Personal growth, Family, Relationships, Health, Finances, Career etc.

To determine your goals, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I really want?

  • Why is it important to me to achieve this?

  • What has prevented me from achieving this?

  • How will I get it? 

  • How will I know when I have achieved my goal?

Schedule breaks

Are you struggling to get back into it? How many of us feel like we had to claw our way to the finish line last year? Did you get sick on the first few days of holidays? Why? Because we often don’t recognise when we are tired and stressed and don’t allow ourselves regular beaks throughout the year.

If you’ve just used up all your leave over the festive season and won’t be able to take a holiday for a long time, even just planning a break will have a positive effect. A study in the Netherlands found that the simple act of planning for a holiday led to a large boost in happiness which lasted for eight weeks.

It’s not just about holidays; taking regular breaks throughout your day also helps reduce stress, which can lead to a variety of health problems like obesity, depression and anxiety. Try not to sit for long periods of time glued to your desk or computer. Walk around, make a point of stretching and getting some fresh air during the work day. And make sure that you schedule relaxation throughout your week - Maybe it’s meditation, music, getting a massage or just being in a quiet place. Know what it is that takes you to your ‘zen’ state and consistently practice how to switch to that state when you get overwhelmed.

Focus on the good things, however small

Let’s face it, you’re going to encounter many obstacles and challenges throughout the year. Some will be minor, some may be incredibly difficult. While we can’t control what happens to us, we do have a choice in how we respond. It is this response that can make a big difference to how you view that experience and what you take away from it.

When you encounter a challenge, try focus on the benefits, no matter how slight or unimportant they seem. Positivity isn’t about putting on rose coloured glasses and saying, “Everything is great!” when it isn’t. It’s about acknowledging that things don’t always turn out how you want them to, but learning from our experiences and mistakes. For example, if you get stuck in traffic, instead of becoming frustrated, shift your focus and think about how you now have time to listen to the rest of your favorite podcast. Or get into the habit of practicing gratitude, at the end of each day (no matter how tough) write down three things that you are grateful for. There are many journal apps that are great for this. Researchers have found that expressing gratitude, in a journal or otherwise, can have many different positive effects, helping you with sleep, depression and even pain tolerance.

 Create purpose and meaning

Research suggests that having a sense of meaning makes us more resilient and persistent, and less discouraged by setbacks. People who know their purpose, navigate stress better and have reduced levels of anxiety and worry. Sounds great right? So how do you find purpose and meaning?

We tend to discover our purpose when we connect with something outside of us, something bigger than ourselves. As a start, consider what type of interest, skills, talents, and passions you bring to the table. Then, brainstorm how you might turn your passion into something meaningful to you. For example, you might enjoy singing, you could put yourself outside your comfort zone and join a local choir (they do it in pubs now, it’s on trend!). Find something that gives you joy and maybe even make some new friends in the process.

If there’s just one habit you can create to help you find your purpose this year, it would be helping others. A Stanford research project found having a strong social network was linked to a happier life. But being the “giver” in a relationship correlated strongly with having a purposeful life. For example, you could include volunteering for a non-profit organisation, donating money to causes you care about, or simply helping out the people around you on a day-to-day basis.

Be in the present

 We are constantly distracted with our busy lives, we multitask, rush and try to cram as much as possible into our day while already worrying about the next. But research suggests we would all greatly benefit from living more in the moment. Living in the moment - also called mindfulness - is a state of active, open, intentional attention on the present. It’s about focusing your mind’s attention on the here and now rather than letting it drift into concerns about the past or future. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress, boosts immune functioning, reduces chronic pain and lower blood pressure. Mindfulness won’t get rid of the things that cause stress in your life. But, it allows you to observe a situation as if from a distance without strong emotions clouding your view.

 But meditating is hard right? Well actually, you don’t have to go sit in a quiet corner and meditate to be mindful. You can actually practice mindfulness by spending time doing an everyday task such as digging in the garden or folding the washing. To do this, get rid of the distractions around you such as the TV or radio – and concentrate fully on your task. While you do it, take note of the sensations, the textures, the colours, and the sounds around you. If you find yourself getting distracted just bring your attention back to the things you can see, touch, taste and hear. There are many websites and apps (e.g. Headspace, InsightTimer) that can help you develop more mindfulness practices. The good news is, every single moment in the day is another opportunity to be present and aware.

 Connect with others

When trying to reach our goals or deal with a crisis, experts frequently suggest we reach out to friends and family for support. Humans are social creatures, we love to feel supported, valued and connected. Research has demonstrated the link between social relationships and many different aspects of health and wellness.  It is social support that builds people up during times of stress and often gives them the strength to carry on and even thrive after difficult life events.

Everyone can benefit from a mentor, counsellor or good friend who can listen, discuss or even offer great advice. If you are struggling with something at work or at home, go and get help. Find a nonjudgmental, experienced person who can help you though the difficult time.

If you feel your current connections don't provide enough support, you can take steps to form new ones. Such as:

Find other people with similar interest e.g. join a book group, hiking club or other group through friends or websites https://www.meetup.com/en-AU/   

Volunteer. Working together builds bonds, and helping others has its own rewards.

Reach out. People like to be asked. Especially if you're in a completely new situation, like starting a new job, or if you have recently moved to a new city.

 

Janet Hopkins