As the dates on her desk calendar near the end of a month, Eleanor begins to perk up. Gone is her old lethargy and lack of motivation. In their place are energy and anticipation about a new month, which, for her, herald a brand-new start.
‘I’ve always loved starting again,’ explains 36-year-old Eleanor, a data analyst. ‘It thrills me. Even as a kid, I loved the start of a new school term, organising my pencil case and writing my name on new exercise books.
‘Now I love a new week and a new month, and sometimes even a new week. They’re a chance to do things differently and become a better version of me. You can imagine what I’m like at New Year! I love it far more than Christmas, birthdays and holidays. I’m almost giddy with excitement on New Year’s Eve.’
New Start Addict
Like Eleanor, many people like the thought of living life better, whether that means being more organised or punctual, going vegan, being financially secure, meditating every day, helping a charity, or going for a run three times a week.
Who doesn’t love that fresh new canvas of a new year or returning from holiday with plans to be and do better than before? And who hasn’t vowed to give up everything fattening or bad for the planet every January?
According to the Forbes Health/OnePoll survey, which examined 1005 US adults in November 2022, the most common reasons for a new start in 2023 were better mental health and improved fitness. Losing weight, and improving their diet and finances were also popular.
Yet most studies tell us that around 80 per cent of New Year resolutions are abandoned by the end of January. We even have a Quitters Day – the second Friday in January – when most of us give up on the biggest new start of the year.
Tanya Sibley, a clinical hypnotherapist practitioner, based in Abu Dhabi, says: ‘Taking on a fresh start is a time for us to reflect on our goals, as well as understand how we can become our best possible selves and what it is we want to achieve.
‘The desire to make change is part of the human condition, and growth is part of our nature. But when you’re constantly restarting, you end up not moving forward. You’re always planning, and you love the idea of a new you. It’s a real adrenaline buzz.’
‘Our life is like a book, made up of different characters and plots. Each chapter represents a phase within our lives and these chapters contain emotions, experiences and lessons along the way,’ adds Tanya, owner and founder of Rapid Mind Therapy.
And performance and focus coach Phil Olley says fresh starts aren’t just built around our calendars; they can also be linked to a significant time in our lives.
‘We might make a new start when we get a new job, undergo a career move, go through a relationship breakdown or move house,’ says Phil. ‘In general, a new start gives you a sense of taking control. It allows you to reset objectives.’
Copying Bridget Jones
So far, so good. So, when do we lose sight of that better version of ourselves and just become a new start addict, with all the chat about a fresh start, but getting nowhere fast?
We all laughed at and identified with Helen Fielding’s fictional heroine Bridget Jones who chronicled her efforts to become a better person. Are we, like Bridget Jones, just using new starts as a cover for our bad habits and behaviour? After all, it’s far easier to say we’ll declutter our homes tomorrow than to roll up our sleeves and do it today.
Experts say the problem comes when we put all our energy into a succession of new beginnings. Once the gloss has worn off, we lose interest and revert to our old selves until the next new start. We don’t write the book. We don’t clean the beach. We don’t give up eating meat. Not this time, anyway.
And often all we have to show for our good intentions is a bookcase full of time management books, an iPhone jammed with health and wellbeing apps, new running shoes we’ve never worn, a few cancelled appointments in our diaries and a set of oil paints gathering dust.
Phil, author of Reflections from the White Tunnel (FCM Publishing), points out: ‘The desire to make change is part of the human condition, and growth is part of our nature.
‘But when you’re constantly restarting, you end up not moving forward. You’re always planning, and you love the idea of a new you. It’s a real adrenaline buzz.
‘Taking on a fresh start is a time for us to reflect on our goals, as well as understand how we can become our best possible selves and what it is we want to achieve.’
‘But it has to be a new start that you continue to improve upon, usually over a lifetime; otherwise, it’s just a day or two when you didn’t check social media, or eat chocolate. You get people who are constantly starting a new diet. They plan it all out, join slimming clubs and do the grocery shopping, but the crux of it is whether they’ll stick at it.
‘We join gyms or go for runs, but when we don’t look or feel different the next day, and when we don’t get immediate results, we look for the next new start.’
So how can we implement a new start that sticks? Tanya and Phil offer some tips:
Drill down and work out why you want to make a new start, suggests Phil. ‘Is it because something or someone in your life is bugging you or are you dissatisfied with everything? Do you feel you need a new goal, like a new job or a new home, or do you feel you need to give up chocolate, go to the gym or take up conversational Italian to get you out of a rut?’
Learn From Failure
Use failure as a tool for learning, suggests Tanya. ‘Don’t obsess over failure,’ she says. ‘Every single human being on this planet has failed at something but the most successful have used their failures as lessons and have learnt from them. If you feel you’re always failing, you could see a qualified therapist. They will peel back the layers to find out why you feel that way.’
Own Your Decision
Take full responsibility for your decision to change, urges Phil. ‘Realise this is about you, so you’re not going to rely on other people’s comments about what you’re doing,’ he says. ‘You may think announcing your big change on social media is a good idea and a lot of people will comment: ‘Well done you!’ But if they’re constantly reading about one new start after another, they’ll ask: ‘Haven’t we heard this before?’ Sometimes, all you need is for someone to raise an eyebrow and you’ll get demoralised and give up.’
It all starts with one thought, states Tanya. ‘You’ll never see a pro golfer or an Olympian athlete questioning their ability before a big event. They know if they allow that thought to enter their minds, they won’t perform to the best of their ability,’ she says. ‘If you can visualise yourself and the way you want to look or be, you will then have the motivation to keep to your new start, whether that means eating the right foods or continuing to exercise,’ she says.
Have A Master Plan
Once you know your goals, work out how you’re going to make them happen, says Phil. ‘If your goal is to climb a mountain, you know you need to buy some equipment and do a certain amount of training,’ he says. ‘If your goal is to open a vegan restaurant, you’ll need to find premises, do a business plan and source some suppliers. Are you going to run a marathon in two years’ time? Maybe you could start with a couch to 5k plan.’
Break The Loop
Habits stem from certain beliefs which may be linked to trauma, says Tanya. ‘We may bite our nails if we’re nervous or smoke when we feel stressed,’ she says. ‘By going deeper and addressing the root causes of these behaviours, you can break them and end the cycle of feeling as if you’re failing. If you can’t break the loop, the battle never ends.’
Once you know what needs to be done, get moving, advises Phil. ‘Look at what you want to achieve and decide what you can do to achieve persistent progression,’ he says. ‘If you want to run a marathon, put your trainers by your front door before you go to bed or plan to meet a running buddy so you’ve no excuse in the morning. You may need to take big, bold moves, like enhancing your skillset, enrolling for a course or writing your CV.’
Unpick Your Excuses
If you’re not achieving your goal, ask yourself why, suggests Tanya. ‘Many people say they don’t have enough hours in the day to exercise, but we all have 30 minutes a day or two or three times a week,’ she says. ‘If you don’t have that time, you need to reassess what’s going on throughout your day. Are you going to bed too late so you can’t get up early, or could you prioritise your job list?’