It’s time for change. Helen O’Callaghan asks five health gurus for their top tips on making resolutions that actually stick.
TRANSFORMING some aspect of your life, whether it’s your health, relationships, or mindset can seem like a gargantuan effort.
Here, five experts reveal the small — doable — steps we can take to make big changes.
Enda McNulty, motivational coach and author of new book, Commit! Make Your Mind and Body Stronger and Unlock Your Full Potential.
“In early January, have a meeting with yourself in a symbolic place — maybe where you got married or a coffee shop where you had an important life meeting or a quiet pitch where you started playing sport as a child.
“In that meeting, decide what you’re going to commit to change. Make a conscious decision around a maximum of one or two key areas where you want to see big changes. Totally commit to one or two areas rather than under-committing to 10 — deciding to improve your physical fitness, your financial health, your relationship, and learn to speak Chinese is never going to work.
“Decide why you want to make a big change in the chosen area of your life. What is the meaning behind that change for you? If you’re a young single mum who wants to improve her confidence and self-esteem, maybe you want to do it to inspire your child. If the meaning behind the change you want isn’t incredibly powerful, all the research says you won’t stick with it beyond February or March. The meaning is what motivates you on days you feel like giving up.
“To make a major change in your life, other areas will have to align with it. If you want to improve your confidence and self-esteem, exercising every day will have a positive correlation with your sense of self-worth because you’ll be investing in yourself every day. And we know physical health and energy significantly impact on confidence.”
Dr Harry Barry, GP with a special interest in mental health and author of Flagging Anxiety and Panic: How to Reshape Your Anxious Mind and Brain.
“Most commonly, people are slow to make change because they want long-term gain, but they don’t want short-term pain. They say ‘I want to get fit, lose a few stone and be close to my normal weight by summer’. For that to happen, they’ll need to take care about the food they buy, how they cook it, how they’ll fit exercise into their lives. The hassle eventually becomes too much discomfort and they say ‘to hell with this’ and go back to the way they were. If you’re feeling frustrated with something in your life, a great question is: ‘What short-term pain am I trying to dodge?’
“If we want any mental peace, we have to put a clear pattern in place around when and where we check our social media. Many people have this constant craving: ‘have I missed something in the last few minutes?’ We need to challenge our daily over-reliance on smartphones and technology — discipline ourselves to only check it once an hour or pick certain times of day to check it. Otherwise turn it to mute if your job allows. Carry it as a phone rather than trolling through useless social media. And assess your use of technology coming up to bedtime — all technology should be switched off at 10.30pm.
“Become altruistic. A great way to improve our mental health is to help others. Get involved with something on a voluntary basis — help the homeless, help with meals-on-wheels or scouts. It gets us out of our heads. Somebody said: ‘If I want to be truly miserable, all I have to do is give myself my total undivided attention’.”
Sinead Duffy, life coach.
“Invite stillness into your life by training your mind to come into the present. Do this by bringing your attention and awareness to your breath. Breath is what connects us to all living creatures. When you get up in the morning, pause for a minute or two and come into the present. Do this throughout the day. People think they’ll lose time if they do this — they’ll reap time. Coming into the present gets us away from that constant dialogue in our heads — so often a negative, discouraging voice. When we relax and become calm, we make better decisions — there’s more wisdom, guidance and insight coming from within.
“Make your life simpler on all levels — simplify your daily routine. Become aware of the paradox of choice. There are 40 tubes of toothpaste in the supermarket. They probably all do the same thing. If you have to examine each, it makes the process complex — just pick one and go. I see a lot of extremes — people running marathons at weekends, yet sitting on the sofa all week. Do a simple exercise often — go for a walk.
“Examine your life. Ask yourself quality questions. What was I born to do? What would I love to do if I didn’t have to work for a living? I’m not saying quit your job. I’m saying find a way to bring more of that part of you into your life.” See: www.greatmindsinspire.com.
Orla Walsh, dietitian who specialises in clinical and sports nutrition.
“Creating healthy eating rituals is more psychologically sustainable than restricting foods. If you give up something — for example sugar and salt — that’s all you’ll crave. Instead create healthy eating rituals. Increase whole foods in your diet — oats versus breakfast cereals, potatoes versus chips, apples versus apple juice. That way, you’ll naturally reduce sugar and salt, but you’re not cutting out — you’re adding in.
“Focus on the quantity and quality of your sleep. Ideally, we’d all be getting seven to nine hours but in busy lives we mightn’t hit this target. So take steps to improve sleep quality. Stay away from blue light (your phone/laptop) in the two hours before bed. This light reduces sleep hormone melatonin in a way similar to jet lag. It impacts ability to get to sleep and the quality of sleep when we do. Inadequate sleep affects energy levels next day and causes us to crave sugar and less healthy foods.
“Focus on how you eat. Take small bites, chew really well and leave a gap between mouthfuls. Follow the 10:20 rule – the bite has to be the size of a 10 or 20c coin; aim for 10-20 chews per bite and leave 10-20 seconds between mouthfuls. This is good for your gut and allows you to eat mindfully. Studies show when people leave a gap between mouthfuls, they end up eating less and lose weight.
“Add plenty vegetables to your diet. Studies show each portion of fresh vegetables that you include in your diet reduces by 16% your risk of dying from anything. This compares to six percent for fruit.
“Rather than eating less food, eat foods with fewer calories per bite. White meats have fewer than red coloured meats; white coloured fish fewer than dark fish; potatoes have less calories per portion than pasta or rice.
“Studies highlight that sitting is the new smoking. Every hour for at least three minutes, ensure you’re not sitting. At work walk to the bathroom furthest away from your desk, go talk face-to-face with a colleague rather than sending an email and if meeting friends for coffee, get coffee to go.”
Niamh Fitzgerald, Dublin-based personal trainer and owner of Lift Training Studios
“Don’t set massive weight goals. It can be so discouraging if you set yourself a big weight-related goal (‘lose four stone by June’). As the deadline draws closer and you feel like you’re not going to get there, it makes it way too easy to throw in the towel. Set incremental, doable weekly goals — e.g. ‘work out three days this week’.
“Lift weights — it has so many benefits. It’ll make you stronger, help you build lean muscle, burn fat and make you feel really empowered. It’s especially great for women, some of whom have spent their lives being treated like ‘the weaker sex’. And unlike something like running, where it can take months for people to build up to a 10km run, you see differences fast when you lift weights. You build up capacity really quickly and that’s motivating.
“Enlist a partner. Whether it’s a friend, your other half or a family member, there’s nothing like setting yourself a challenge — with a real reward at the end — to get you motivated. Why not plan to head away for a spa weekend with a friend, using the money you’ve saved on restaurants, takeaways and booze? But be strict: you only get the reward if you’ve actually done what you set out to do.”
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