January's optimism is almost as high as the number of people joining boot camp in the new year. Unfortunately, most resolutions have dropped off the radar come Australia Day. Psychologist Victoria Kasunic says over-ambition – the type that sees us taking big, but unsustainable, steps – is common at this time of year. Instead, she advocates a slow and steady approach. "It is always better to properly integrate one change into your lifestyle before introducing another," she says. "Small, consistent steps make the most dramatic changes in the long term." So, for a successful 2015, consider these tips for tackling those changes, bit by bit.
Refocus your goals
New year's resolutions do one thing right: set targets, which is the most important step in achieving success. So, now you’ve begun 2015 with the best of intentions, improve your aims by following the SMART method, advises Kasunic. That means making each goal Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. Then, sustain your resolve with image association – focus regularly on what it would feel like to achieve your aims. Hard part done.
Nurture your relationship
Make your Valentine’s Day a happy one by reviewing your relationship. Meredith Brown, from LifeWorks Relationship Counselling in Victoria, suggests you sit down with your partner and individually reflect on what you’ve been grateful for; your happiest memories of the past few months; how you’d rate yourself as a partner; and what you want more of. Then share your results. “Next, develop simple rituals, like exercising, commuting or even doing chores together, to strengthen your bond,” adds Brown.
Make your job work for you
Say no to multi-tasking. A study by the University of Illinois showed that it takes about 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks after a small distraction, like reading an email. “Multi-tasking can contribute to a constant state of low-level stress that saps your energy,” confirms Louise D’Allura, of Revamp Professional Organisers. “With the brain switching between jobs, your productivity takes a dive.” Allocate set times for responding to calls and emails, and group to-do lists according to the length of time each task should take.
Pick the right portion
Never fear – you don’t have to give up those Easter treats. Instead, says Kirsty Lerm, director of Dynamic Nutrition, swap big bunnies for mini eggs, and choose a fruit platter or mini muffins for Sunday brunch. If sweet treats are your downfall, consider this: “Nutrient deficiencies, including B vitamins and magnesium, can cause sugar cravings, and low-kilojoule diets can make them worse,” warns Lerm. Fight the urge to chomp on chocolate by including wholegrains and leafy greens in your diet.
Improve family ties
Whether family gatherings make you shudder or you feel guilty for not spending time with your folks, interactions with relatives can often be improved. Brown suggests keeping contact “simple, personal, authentic and regular”. She adds: “Never underestimate the value of a handwritten card and the personal touch it brings to a relationship.” Having a hard time with a loved one? Look at what you could do to make things easier, advises Brown – which can be as simple as picking up the phone.
Winter-proof your workouts
“It’s very common for people to lose motivation during the cooler months,” points out Kris Mount, director of Vision Personal Training in Sydney’s Stanmore. “Often it’s because they haven’t set a compelling goal.” He recommends making your plans public to keep yourself accountable, exercising with a friend, and signing up for a fun run to keep you focused. If time’s your limitation, Mount suggests a half-hour walk in your lunch break: “Anything that gets you moving will keep you at it.”
Maximise your tax return
First, get your paperwork in order using a checklist. Then, talk to your accountant for the inside word on tax breaks, like salary sacrificing, suggests accountant and business advisor Sylvia Troccoli. Ask if you’re eligible to make lump-sum payments on your uni HELP fees, and what the deal is with deductions. Concerned about your accountant’s fee? It’s tax deductible next year.
Design a cold-weather diet
Have your comfort food and eat it too with healthy soups and stews that can be frozen in batches for quick, nutritious and filling meals. Make vegies, wholegrain carbohydrates (like brown rice, wholemeal pasta and quinoa) and lean proteins your pantry staples. Adds Lerm: “To enhance mood and beat the winter blues, consume lots of foods rich in tryptophan [such as turkey and seafood], which is an amino acid that helps the production of the mood-boosting hormone serotonin.”
Detox your home
All that clutter could be ruining the harmony in your house, says Naomi Findlay, of Silk Staging Home & Styling. Her strategy is to tackle one room at a time, separating items according to the “four bucket” method: keep, give away or sell, bin, and store. Be strict: it has to go if it hasn’t been touched for more than a year. Not sure about something? Keep it in a box for six months; after that, anything you haven't gone back for should be tossed – permanently.
Set your work-life balance straight
“Women are innate ‘pleasers’ who are often hardwired to put others ahead of themselves,” says Caroline Cameron, author of The Great Life Redesign. She adds that we need to put ourselves ahead of other priorities. While you can’t always avoid overtime, ask yourself if your expectations – rather than the job itself – are keeping you in the office. Try some deferring techniques: ask your boss if they’d like you to prioritise their request as urgent, or offer to complete the task at a later date.'
Improve your lunchtime routine
Break the canned tuna habit and mix up your lunch options for a healthy fix. Salads needn’t be boring, says D’Allura. Choose from healthy proteins like salmon, boiled eggs and bean mix, and prepare batches of bases like brown rice, quinoa and wholemeal pasta, plus extras such as roasted pumpkin, or sweet potato. Other alternatives include savoury muffins, vegetable frittatas and rissoles. And learn to eat away from your desk – heading outdoors will improve your energy levels for the rest of the day.
Take a real time-out
Use your annual leave to switch off – yes, we’re talking technology. According to Dr Mary Casey, CEO of health and education services centre the Casey Centre, taking even a short break from your mobile, email and the internet reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, which are commonly caused by stress. Switching off “also gives you a mental break from processing information or having to think of a response”, notes Kasunic, who recommends you use daily tech-free times to do something you love.
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