New Year resolutions: the power of do over don’t

Anna Brech

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The average New Year’s resolution falters after just 12 days, and it’s perhaps little wonder when you consider how we make them.

A typical pledge is not only punitive (“I’ll never eat Brie from now on”) and unrealistic (Brie again) but it can also be maddeningly vague (“I need to be more cultural this year”).

Research shows that we stand a far better chance of achieving goals when we make them specific, measurable and crucially, from a positive place.

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As life coach Tony Robbins says, “People are not lazy. They simply have impotent goals — that is, goals that do not inspire them.”

If you set resolutions that you truly want to do, rather than simply trying to avoid, cut down or generally “be better”, you stand a far higher chance of following them through.

Here’s how to flip “don’t” to “do” on some of our most common New Year’s resolutions, for goals you will actually keep (and with a dose of Flash Pack adventure in the mix ?).

The weight one

Don’t just: try to lose weight

Do: come hiking in the Himalayas

Urgh. Is there anything more uninspiring than the prospect of shedding weight post-Christmas? As Bridget Jones so wisely points out, we’ve just spent two weeks in a state of unhampered gorging (Mince Pies, Bailey’s, all the cheese) then “suddenly we are all supposed to snap into self-discipline like lean teenage greyhounds”.

Far better to sidestep the whole sorry saga, and instead train for a happy goal that will naturally inspire fitness. Step forward: trekking in the Everest foothills. Let loose in a lost world of fluttering prayer flags, gilded stupas and remote Sherpa villages, with a challenging nine-day hike that will persuade even the most stubborn Pavlova-induced padding to be on its merry way. Plus, you’ll have the prospect of adventure to spur you on as you hit the gym for training beforehand.

The diets one

Don’t just: go on a diet

Do: learn the art of Balinese cooking

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that diets don’t work. Neuroscience shows that when we deprive ourselves of food, our bodies produce hunger-inducing hormones that make eating more rewarding. It’s very hard to battle against the effects of this, because you’re fighting your own biological impulses.

Read more: “My 30s life – why I’ve stopped looking for perfection”

A savvier approach is to gradually introduce healthy eating habits that will naturally keep your nutrition in check. Where to start? Let Bali be your muse. This tropical island is something of a Mecca for fitness and vitality, with a wealth of organic vegan cafés, and enough local fruit and veg to fuel a lifetime of smoothies.

Learn the art of seasonal Balinese cooking with family-run recipes in a community-run cooking class in Ubud, before bringing your mind into the equation with a series of wholesome yoga classes and jungle treks.

The wellness one

Don’t just: say you’ll spend time on wellbeing

Do: book a yoga break in Morocco

Let’s face it, if you say you’re going to spend more time on wellbeing, it probably won’t happen. What are you going to do? Magically develop a penchant for meditation? Carve out more time “for myself”? Odds are, you’ll be sucked into the relentless churn of life and just carry on as you have before: with zero time for anything, let alone your emotional wellness.

What you need is to actually feel the benefits of wellbeing, before you can go forward and commit to it. And Morocco is the place to begin. This lovely country of contrasts has a way of dialling you right down in a way that everyday life can’t rival. Head to the hazy Atlas foothills, and you can’t help but chill: especially when you’re on the rooftop of a Berber guesthouse, mint tea in hand.

The same goes for glamping in the Agafay desert. Round the whole thing off with yoga classes by the Atlantic ocean, and you’ll have racked up enough internal calm to make it a lifelong habit.

The no-booze one

Don’t just: swear off booze completely

Do: recharge in the hills of Kerala

Vow to cut out booze and the odds are you’ll either a.) Barely limp through the month, full of deprivation and woe (and with a new-found appetite for the sauce) or b.) Be mainlining wine by Jan. 14. Dry January is a noble aim, but the all-or-nothing approach won’t do much to negate overall alcohol dependence. “At a drop of a hat I would scrap dry January in favour of people abstaining for two days a week – I think that would be far, far better,” says Ian Hamilton, an addiction lecturer from the University of York.

Read more: Can adventure help you live longer?

To evaluate your relationship with alcohol in a broader sense, and develop longer-term healthy habits, pop somewhere like Kerala on your hit list. India’s green and serene coastal state is a great place to charge your batteries and take time to reflect: whether you’re camping out in the cloud forest of Munnar, or kayaking the backwater canals.

Alcohol isn’t widely available here, so it’s a good chance to cut back and reevaluate your relationship with booze, while carving out headspace at the same time.

The new skills one

Don’t just: vow to learn a new skill

Do: escape to the coast of South Africa

Unless you book straight onto a photography/dance/language course, it’s just too easy to make excuses when it comes to learning new skills. It’s a nice idea in theory, but then you have a manic week, the sofa looks inviting or pub-with-mates gets the upper hand instead.

Again, this is one where you need to experience first-hand the surge of energy and happiness that comes from learning. And South Africa can be your guide. This action-packed escape is packed with opportunities for trying new things, from a surf lesson in Knysna Lagoon to paddle-boarding the Cape Peninsula and abseiling Table Mountain.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re any good at these newly-acquired skills; the point is, you’ll get a hit of confidence and joy just from trying. And that’ll give you the resolve you need to book a class when you get back home.

The get fit one

Skiing in Canada

Don’t just: pledge to do more exercise

Do: workout in the Vancouver mountains

Aah, fitness. Workouts won’t happen unless you make them happen. And sure, you might hit the gym for a few weeks post-Christmas, but what about after that? Most of us retreat back to our comfort zone: that familiar, chair-hugging status quo.

Read more: 5 fitness challenges to test your limits

Instead, look to supersize your stamina with a series of adrenaline-pumped holidays that bring some joy back to the whole shebang. Take winter-time Canada, for example. Here, you can (deep breath) zip down the slopes of Sun Peaks, snow-shoe through the fir-tree forest by twilight, take a snowmobile safari across the endless white horizon, ice-skate on an Olympic rink and master the art of snow tubing.

In fact, there are very few moments where you won’t be on the move, and it’s just the reminder your subconscious needs that exercise is, y’know, fun. Hold the front page…

The culture one

Don’t just: say you’ll go to more exhibitions this year

Do: dive into Vietnam and Cambodia

Book clubs, pop-up galleries, interactive theatre. We have such lofty ambitions when it comes to our cultural nourishment, and yet, this zeal rarely translates to reality. Even when world-class displays lie just a bus ride away (hello, Tate Modern), more often than not, they end up eluding us. Or if we do go, it’s a one-off event rather than a default impulse.

If this is you, fear not: Vietnam and Cambodia is here to help. This lovely nook of south-east Asia is packed to the brim with cultural influences that will light you up from within. Who could fail to feel inspired after a sunset trip to the ancient Khmer kingdom of Angkor Wat? Or after sailing through the towering limestone karsts of Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage site? Throw hill crafts, Vietnamese cooking and karaoke into the mix (a must-try Vietnamese rite), and you’ll have enough cultural ammo to have you running to that next expo.

The relationships one

Flash Pack’s Jordan adventure

Don’t just: have a vague idea of meeting new people

Do: travel with a group of like-minded strangers

Meeting new people is a muscle that depletes a little as we get older. It’s not like we can’t do it: we just forget how it works. And merely pledging to get out there and start conversations is not enough to get the ball rolling. You need to dive in and do it, no matter how uncomfortable it feels at first.

Read more: Detox with a New Year wellness escape

How? Book a trip with strangers, of course. “What if there’s no-one like me?” is a very common fear when it comes to this scenario, but it’s an unfounded worry. When you travel with Flash Pack, you’ll be matched with people of a similar age and life stage, meaning the common ground is already there.

Over and again, Flashpackers remark on the great chemistry of their groups, with adventure providing the catalyst for genuine, lifelong friendship. Unlike your loved ones, when you travel with strangers, you take more risks, meet new people and open up your world. What’s not to love?

Images: Shutterstock, Flash Pack, James Hall

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