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  • Writer's pictureDr Maike Neuhaus

The most common new year’s resolutions - and 10 (more exciting) alternatives

Let me guess: You’re determined to live a healthier lifestyle next year.

According to research, most people make new year’s resolutions. And most of the resolutions have to do with positive lifestyle changes. The most common ones are:

  • Losing weight

  • Exercising more

  • Eating a healthier diet

  • Quite smoking

  • Drink less alcohol

  • Getting more sleep

  • Reducing stress

  • Saving money.

While I am all for living a healthy lifestyle (and being sensible financially), I have to say I am a little surprised about the monotony of our goals over time. Having formed many healthy lifestyle resolutions over the years myself, I wondered if it was time to look beyond the rim of our tea cup, mix things up a little.

So, in case you haven’t settled on a new pursuit for next year yet, here are ten goals I think are seriously worth considering (and maybe on my goals list).

1. Practising more self-compassion

Research shows that we struggle to name positive aspects about ourselves. Yet when asked about weaknesses, we are quick to establish a whole list of them. Instead of focusing on aspects of yourself that are not (yet) to your desired standard, why not cultivate more self-compassion?

Self-compassion is treating yourself with the same care, love and respect like you would a close friend who was struggling. It has three elements: mindfulness, self-kindness and common humanity (the awareness that imperfection and failure are a normal part of humanity). Best of all, if you’re afraid too much self-compassion will make you complacent, it actually has the opposite effect.

2. Starting a side hustle

Starting a side hustle includes starting a project, an entrepreneurial pursuit or other side job next to our usual employment and daily activities. Side hustles can be a great way to engage in an activity you deeply care about and that aligns with your strengths and natural interests. In fact, positive psychology researchers recommend a side hustle as a means to attain flow: the state in which you are completely immersed in an activity to the extent that you lose track of time and forget about the things around you. Flow experiences can increase our intelligence, creativity and emotional capabilities - all of which lead to enhanced happiness.

3. Saying ‘no’ more often

It seems that the more technologically advanced we become in order to streamline life and save time, the busier we become. Over-committing is the norm and rather than exception. We know from productivity and learning research that, contrary to popular belief, rest breaks are vital to gain benefits and accelerate progress. While declining invitations (to a project, an event or a drink) can appear to be accompanied by regress and missing out, learning to say ‘no’ more often and creating more ‘me time’ may be the best thing we can do for ourselves. Identify what projects and people are most important in your life and focus on those instead.

4. Slowing down & doing less

Closely related to saying ‘no’ more often is the idea of slowing down and doing less. I don’t know about you, but if I find myself in a moment where I’m not on a mission, I feel a bizarre and uncomfortable sense of wasting time. What happened with the idea of spending unstructured time and being okay with it?

5. Learning something new

In times of google, we all probably learn something new every day. But how often do you make an effort to learn a new skill, such as a new language, dancing salsa, or how to grow a veggie patch? Learning something new doesn’t just expand the horizon, but also our nervous system and is a key strategy to prevent memory loss and dementia.

6. Going zero-waste

We don’t have the best track record when it comes to looking after our planet. One of the problems is that we produce too much waste – an issue that has sparked the zero waste movement. This includes anything from buying plastic free, bringing your own shopping bags, using beeswax wrapping instead of cling wrap, living straw free or recycling old bottles. I have to admit that my own journey to zero-waste is still rather long, but every small change is better than none.

7. Wearing sustainable fashion

Related to the zero waste movement in the ecological sense but also including the ambition of social justice is the idea of sustainable fashion. Sustainable fashion is produced and distributed in a way that is not only environmentally friendly but also respects worker rights (e.g. through fair pay and working conditions). There are now numerous groups examining the eco footprint of the most popular clothing brands. However, sustainable fashion is also about avoidance of purchasing new clothes by swapping clothes, wearing second hand clothing and recycling old garments.

8. Learning about white privilege

I’m embarrassed to admit that this year has been the first time I made an effort to understand the phenomenon of white privilege and institutionalised racism. It is a tough and confronting topic to understand, read and talk about (especially with your kids), but incredibly important if we want to play a part in a world where people have equal right regardless of their skin colour.

Small steps to reduce white privilege can include continuous education about the topic, paying more attention to every day situations in which white privilege shows, conversations about it with your kids and friends, confronting racial comments and donating to corresponding support organisations.

9. Committing more random acts of kindness

Random acts of kindness include small gestures like holding a door open for the person behind you, visibly forgiving a mistake made by another driver on the road, or writing a note of appreciation for the cleaning staff in your hotel room. Gestures like these have been shown increase happiness of both the recipient happy and the giver – and make them feel less stressed. Win-win.

10. Entering the arena

In her bestselling book ‘Rising Strong’, Brené Brown writes about showing up in the ‘arena’. By that, she means about cultivating the courage to show up, speak your voice, be seen and be true to yourself and embrace vulnerability. She writes, “I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time.”

Over the last few years, I have taken baby steps into my own arena and while every step feels scary, it is also incredibly rewarding and provides a sense of getting closer to living the life I’m meant to live. What does your arena look like and what does being in your arena entail?

Maike x


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