It’s never too late for a yearly bucket list…

28 Mar

Bucket listDrink less alcohol, give up smoking, lose weight, save money, get a better job, learn a new language.  Sound familiar?

Every year on 1st January, 95% of British people make at least one New Year’s resolutions.  25% will have given up after a week and 88% will not have achieved their goals by the end of the year.

New Year’s resolutions have been around for a very long time.  4000 years ago in fact, when ancient Babylonians began their year by promising to pay off old debts and return anything they’d borrowed.  The Romans offered promises of good behaviour to Janus, the god of beginnings and endings.  The Anglo-Saxons had ‘boar oaths’ which were promises to do good deeds made over a roasting pig.

The idea of New Year New Start  is long-standing and it seems a shame to scrap the whole idea of resolutions.  Something needs to change though.  We keep promising ourselves we’ll get thinner, happier, fitter, and richer and usually all we’re doing is guaranteeing a massive and not too distant guilt trip.

What we need is to be a bit more realistic about what we want to achieve and not expect too much.

We need willpower for resolutions but did you know even our willpower gets tired?  The part of our brain responsible for willpower (the prefrontal cortex for those who want to know…) is also in charge of abstract problem solving, short-term memory and keeping us focused.  It already has a lot to manage so piling on too many resolutions can overload it.

WillpowerA study by Stanford University demonstrated this by giving one group of students a two digit number to memorise and the other group a seven digit number.  They then walked down the hall and were offered a choice of two snacks – a slice of chocolate cake or a bowl of fruit salad.  The group that had to remember seven digits were twice as likely to choose the chocolate cake.  The study argued that their brains were so tired from remembering the longer number that they had less brain energy and therefore less willpower to resist the cake.

Now I’m no scientist but that makes sense to me.  When you’ve had a difficult day, maybe your brain just gets too tired to be good.

The key then is to spread your resolutions out over the year so you’re not overloading yourself all at once.  So, don’t start January with a promise to give up chocolate, carbs, smoking and alcohol.  Go for one habit change and see how you go before giving up something else you enjoy.

Other tips for helping stick to resolutions are writing them down, sharing them with other people and finally, being specific.  Rather than promising to start running every week, decide you’ll go running every Wednesday and Friday.

And if you find yourself faced with temptation, try distracting yourself.   So next time you want to eat that bar of chocolate you’ve vowed to give up, try calling a friend or picking up a book instead.

As well as the modern day idea of resolutions, there’s also the option to go back to the idea of doing good deeds as we did thousands of years ago.  Instead of focusing on what we want for ourselves, maybe we should focus on what we can do for others.

Good deed 5Judith O’Reilly, author of “A Year of Doing Good”, decided to adopt this approach for 2011 by promising to do one good deed a day, every day of the year.  Her rule was that she couldn’t count anything she did for immediate family.  The list of what she achieved makes for interesting reading.  She pruned roses in a community garden, raised £26,000 for charities and (one of her personal favourites) lent £2 to a group of Geordie girls for a parking ticket.  O’Reilly admits it wasn’t always easy going and there were times she realised at 10pm that she hadn’t done her good deed for the day and panicked.

My approach for 2013 is a combination of all the above.  I decided a while ago that I was going to scrap my usual New Year’s resolutions.  This January, I made a bucket list for the year instead.  The list is made up of achievable, smaller goals which won’t stress me out and is basically a list of fun activities I’m really looking forward to.

The beauty of this bucket list is that it’s for the whole year.  So the fact I’m a quarter of the way through the year and have only attempted two items on the list, hasn’t dented my optimism at all.  Important points to note – bucket lists can be added to and you can postpone items to the following year.  That’s my rules and I like them!

At the end of 2013, I’ll let you know how this worked out.  In the meantime, here’s my list so far:

  1. Do a yoga headstand
  2. Visit my nephews in Denver
  3. Learn to moonwalk
  4. Work in a soup kitchen
  5. Bake a perfect cake
  6. Write weekly entries on my blog
  7. Grow my own vegetables
  8. Climb a mountain
  9. Visit Scotland
  10. See a modern Wonder of the World
  11. Sit in an outdoor hot tub
  12. Learn how to do a smoky eye
  13. Have an article published
  14. Take a trip in a hot air balloon
  15. Do 20 activities from Time Out’s 1000 Things To Do in London
  16. Learn how to French plait my hair
  17. Make an item of clothing
  18. Finish my journalism course
  19. Have a candlelit picnic
  20. Plant a tree
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