OPINION: How to maintain New Year's resolutions
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Dreamt up as a persuasive PR stunt by a travel company in a rather clunky attempt to boost sales of holidays in locations featuring warm, sun-drenched beaches, the third Monday of January is now dubbed ‘Blue Monday’. Frankly, marketing summer holidays to countries where sunshine is virtually guaranteed is a relatively easy sell, as outdoor temperatures here are close to freezing.
Readers of a certain vintage will recall that the sale of what we now call ‘staycations’ was once a tougher prospect and which, 50 years ago, resulted in the regular television appearance of men such as Fred Pontin, who invariably finished his TV commercial with a smile, thumbs up and a voluble reminder to ‘book early’. Some things never change, eh?
It’s easy enough to identify almost any date in mid-January when things could be better, especially in years when we’ve recently enjoyed a prolonged festive break. This year, by the time we reached ‘Blue Monday’, most of us had been back at work for a fortnight, New Year’s Eve had become a distant memory, and credit card bills started dropping through the letterbox with an unwelcome frequency.
According to folks who monitor such matters, mid-January is the time of year when we're not only cold but broke and already riddled with guilt that our New Year's resolutions to finally get fit, drink considerably less alcohol and become better, more caring individuals, have fallen by the wayside. It’s a sorry state of affairs when earnest resolutions, often declared while under the influence of alcohol, cannot last three weeks.
Fortunately, there are several ways to rectify matters when you’re feeling blue, irrespective of what day it is.
Exercise tops the list: getting out for a walk on a cold, crisp day when the sky is blue and the sun is shining is enough to release a ton of ‘happy hormones’ – serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins. There’s no need to move as fast as Mo Farah – just get outside and enjoy some fresh air.
Next, it might be worthwhile taking a second look at some of those resolutions. Was the undertaking to lose a stone by the end of January a tad, ahem, ambitious? Why not settle for something more achievable, or re-write the list of booze-inspired pledges and start again?
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Volunteering is another solution. Helping people less fortunate than ourselves is tremendously satisfying. There are loads of volunteer positions, mostly in charitable organisations, the majority of which require little else other than your time, commitment and enthusiasm.
And then there’s money, or an inconvenient shortage of it, which often becomes noticeably evident at precisely the time you need it, intensifying the ‘blue’ in ‘Blue Monday’. Fortunately, January, a month of renewal and restart, offers an opportunity to review our financial situation.
Polls regularly declare the public’s desire to tackle their personal finances at the start of the year, although the main reason why most financial declarations fail is becuase we tend to set ourselves unreasonable goals. Undertaking to clear all of our debt by next December is likely to preface disappointment which, in turn, creates a sense of negativity, making it more difficult to adhere to our plans.
One of the most effective ways of planning for the year ahead is to examine the year just gone. Assembling bank statements, bills and receipts and questioning whether a particular standing order, direct debit or other outgoing is absolutely essential can help unearth ‘financial leaks’, or at least make them easier to avoid. It can also form a solid base for savings. Cancelling an unnecessary standing order might save £25 a month – that’s £300 in annual savings.
There’s also merit in making our financial goals more specific. For example, instead of pledging to ‘save more’ or ‘get rid of debt’, targeting specific areas that require improvement is likely to produce results. In addition, establishing realistic goals helps maintain confidence, especially if you see one element of debt reducing as savings show a corresponding increase.
Finally, updating our savings goals and budget plans, perhaps once a quarter, can help us stay abreast of any changes that occur throughout the year – and probably ensure that the financial resolutions we make in January 2023 are not as gung-ho as those we made a few weeks ago, lessening the misery of next year’s Blue Monday.
For more financial advice, check out Peter Sharkey’s regular blog, The Week In Numbers.