Recharge. Refresh. Refocus: Spring clean your habits for the year ahead
The first day of March heralds the beginning of spring. When I was a kid, I remember when my mum used to say March was the time to spring clean. She would spend a whole day huffing and puffing, pulling out all the furniture in every room in the house to vacuum where the dust had settled over winter. She wiped down cabinets where the sun’s rays now shone to evidence their dirtiness and sorted through cupboards, binning outdated cans and jars we had kept from Christmas, in the hope that someone would have a craving for brandy peaches.
Officially already three months into a new decade, winter seems to have dragged too long. From named storms, coronavirus and floods up and down the country, life has been tough. There appears to be little to celebrate. Cast your mind back to the dawn of 2020, did you feel a new decade heralded the commitment to good intentions and healthier habits? Walk to work every morning? Join that fitness class you had been putting off? Invest in your career development, or spend fewer late nights stuck behind your desk at the office?
Perhaps the new decade made you think you would have more willpower to stick to your resolutions. I’m here to say you should not beat yourself up if those good intentions have disappeared. Research shows that 80% of our New Year’s resolutions fail with most people losing their resolve by mid-February. Through its study, the fitness app Strava has been able to pinpoint from its 800 million users the exact day on which New Year’s fitness resolutions fail. They call it ‘quitter’s day’. It was January 19th if you were wondering! But it’s not too late – with a little bit of guidance, you can spring clean your habits.
A TIME TO REFLECT ON OUR HABITS
As we approach the start of spring, rather than this being the point where you take derailment as a given and write everything off as a failure for the rest of the year, instead how can you kindly reflect upon why you did not continue with your fitness goals, keep persevering with those new habits, or the search for a new job that went off the boil?
Some people have an all-or-nothing response to failure. “I failed and that’s that”. Then comes the negative self-talk loop about feeling stupid, never sticking to goals etc. We don’t pick ourselves up to try again, or we mask it with laughter and shrug it off, because, of course, we knew we would never achieve that particular goal (yet more negative self-talk!).
So why does the announcement of spring make us feel physically and mentally much better? Physically our senses become stimulated through what we hear, see, smell and taste. Our circadian rhythm changes with the adjustment of daylight savings — there is a scientific reason why you still struggle throughout January and February, with low energy and fatigue with the shorter days. Being able to be outside in daylight increases vitamin D absorption and lifts our mood. We begin to feel more alive and you can witness this in the world around us, such as the trees blossoming along the London streets. You feel a different energy in the air. Stop, look up from your phone and you will notice these changes.
When we feel in a better place physically and mentally this is a great opportunity to take time out to recharge, refresh and refocus; to bring clarity to where you may want to make small changes or ‘spring clean’ your habits to get you back to your authentic self. Big warning klaxon — this must be through a lens of compassion and non-judgemental thinking. Undertaking any sort of mental check-in always requires kindness because — to use my spring cleaning metaphor — it is about brushing off the dust, pulling back the furniture and asking yourself what you need and, perhaps, discarding what is no longer serving you. This process can leave us feeling uncomfortable and often quite vulnerable.
Self-reflection is difficult for many of us and it honestly takes time to build up a practice of being able to check-in to see how you are feeling and to ask what you feel you need right now — that’s the self-care part. I’ve listed out a handful of activities you can use as tools to begin a practice of self-reflection and getting to know your authentic self.
Journaling: Expressive writing can be a cathartic experience and a way to translate your feelings and thoughts to paper with no judgement. We are told that connecting with others helps to make sense of our thoughts and feelings but sometimes writing things down helps to clear our mind, gain perspective and cease the rumination of negative thoughts. I prefer to write in my favourite lined notebook, but you can use journals which provide questions or prompts, such as the Positive Planner.
Your mission statement: An activity to create space to think about your own values and purpose. If you have ever seen the movie Jerry McGuire you will know what I am talking about (shout here “Show me the money!”). It may take time to think on and write down. It does not have to be a whole manifesto; a paragraph will be enough to get you thinking. This is an activity I have used with my coaching clients when they have felt ‘stuck’ and it gives them an opportunity to consider what they may want out of life and compare with where they are right now, so maybe the new job you were mulling over back in January is ideal if your current company does not align with your personal values and purpose.
People you admire: This does not have to be people you know or those you are friends with, it can be people in the public eye. Take 10-15 minutes to think of three or four people you admire most. When you have completed that, what is it about these people you most admire? This exercise often gives an insight into the qualities that you would most like to see in yourself and brings us back to knowing ourselves more deeply.
The more you build your practice of self-reflection, the more you can then provide a clear focus to small adjustments for your own personal spring clean. As a marathon runner and someone who has worked within sports teams and brands, I prefer the idea of marginal gains when it comes to thinking about how we make successful impacts on our life. It is small wins or incremental change that leads to lasting change in our behaviours; that is often why New Year’s resolutions are not sustainable, as they often are too broad and set us up for immediate failure.
Here are my tips to help you bring in those small adjustments to put a spring back in your step, when it comes to slowly moving forwards for a positive year ahead.
Taking time for you is the number one self-care rule. This will change every time. Sometimes we feel the need for connection with others. Sometimes we want to nest and stay at home to rest. The start of spring makes it feel easier to hold onto those commitments to see friends and family but can uncomfortably push against the habits we have created from the winter months of hibernating. Ask yourself regularly, what do I feel I need right now? Then do it. Like moving yourself to exercise; it is often the act of starting and, once we get going, we are fine. So make yourself accountable in a way that feels enough of a push, without the pressure or feelings of guilt.
Mindfulness is about being present. It does not mean sitting cross-legged, staring at the wall in a state of ‘zen’. Spring is the perfect time to get outdoors; walking meditation is a real thing. A book I’m reading at the moment and can highly recommend is Silence, the Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise by Thich Nhat Hanh. The author talks about being outdoors to notice the change in nature, to be able to connect with all our senses. Walking meetings are proven to be more creative due to a chemical that is released in our brain. Anecdotally, they also provide space for deeper connection — so take the one-to-one work meeting around the block or in the park. If it’s good enough for Steve Jobs…
Identify the positive relationships in your life, both in real life and online. Think about how the relationships you have with others impact on your feelings, emotions, behaviours and habits? It may feel cathartic to have a spring clean of your social media feeds, to unfollow those people who make you question or compare your life to theirs. In real life, this can be a much harder process to stop seeing friends, but perhaps you stop chasing after the friend who always makes excuses or cancels at the last minute, or you take time to have a courageous conversation to find out what is happening within the relationship to understand what’s changed for you both. Remember some friendships are like seasons and they are not meant to last and be in our lives forever.
Once you start your journey of self-reflection and understand your boundaries of giving yourself time for self-care, you can then begin those small adjustments to your habits, and refocus. For example, if you find your mission statement does not align with your current job, what small things can you begin to work on? It may not be feasible to quit and retrain in a new career tomorrow, but perhaps there are opportunities to volunteer at the weekend to become more involved or to undertake a workshop in the evenings to learn. Maybe you set yourself the goal of walking from the station home twice a week, rather than signing up for a new 12-month gym membership. Refocusing is about shifting and adjusting the clarity of where you are. Take note: this is a constant process you can undertake all year round, not just this spring.
Ruth Cooper-Dickson is a Positive Psychology Practitioner and qualified Coach, who has studied Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology.
She is the Founder and MD of the global mental wealth people consultancy, CHAMPS, a passionate runner, an addicted life-long learner and a lover of all things cake!