• Jane Fordham

An Anti-Smug Wellbeing Post: February 1st, Any Sign of your NY Resolutions?

(Joe Wicks workout - hands up I took this photo last year but I'm still a regular!)

So I abhor those articles and blogs that start with, '20 Morning Habits of the Highly Successful.' You can usually swap out 'highly successful' with 'highly smug' and typically, extraordinarily rich, with huge staffs and frankly abnormal routines not suited to the masses. This is not one of those posts. Those of you that know me well will know I'm not what you call an elite athlete, nor a highly active or sporty individual. However you will also know, I'm a people consultant with a fascination for psychology and human behaviour and therefore motivated to share insights and best practice that may help other mere mortals, especially in these groundhog days of lockdown 3.0.

Back in November when lockdown 2.0 arrived in England, I had a strong word with myself, I looked back at the many lessons from the first lockdown, and thought 'what do I need to focus on to keep upright in the weeks ahead?' Like many millions of people, I had found spring to be hugely challenging, the shock of the situation, the uncertainty, the social exclusion and the home schooling/work juggle. So, in November I articulated four simple goals or guard rails;

  1. Move more (proper exercise and simple movement breaks from my work station)

  2. Drink more (water, less wine)

  3. Eat less (or better calories)

  4. Less mindless scrolling (keep informed, keep in touch, but don't lose hours of your day on social media black holes).

There were no hugely ambitious goals in sight but these four guidelines spilt into 'do more' and 'do less' I found to be easy to follow and allowed the inevitable wiggle room. Christmas was different this year, restricted and hard in some ways but it was a very much needed, two-week break from the marathon and trauma of 2020. I had great family time, good sleep and, time to focus on exercise, embedding my 'move more' ambition.

I should also call out the brilliant '12 Week Winter Wellness' programme from mental health campaigner Rob Stephenson and Olympian and coach, Jack Green. Conceived when the 2nd lockdown was announced this is a fabulously accessible, non judgy and thoroughly human programme that serves up balanced content each week. Subscribers feast on content on physical exercise, through inspiring imagery and poems to guidance on nutrition and financial wellbeing with regular inspiration and motivation from Jack and Rob. (I'm currently finishing off week 8, the mindfulness week). This has provided an addition, 3rd party motivation and some much needed variety.

I gave New Year's resolutions a bit of a wide berth this year. Research shows that people are more driven to tackle new goals at shared temporal breaks than at random times of the year; the ‘fresh start effect,’ but science also tells us that really ambitious NY resolutions are rarely sustained in the long-term. I stuck with my under-stated, drip drip four goals. I did notice however, 4-6 weeks in, that my motivation was definitely benefitting from early results, squats and lunges (my balance is notoriously bad) were easier and I pretty much looked forward to daily workouts. It was starting to become a true habit. When the government announced that schools would be closed the night before my kids went back, I was filled with dread. January has been hard and honestly, I've felt quite average this past weekend. However, because of this not in spite of this, I am maintaining my focus on wellbeing, sometimes including other family members, to minimise the negativity and in fact, bolster my coping mechanisms.

Here we are on February 1st and no, I'm not an elite athlete and no, I don't quite have a six-pack (the kids asked me where it was mid HIIT class last week given I was doing all these workouts!!) but I have a more sustained wellbeing and allround fitness habit than I've had for a long-time. It helps that my husband has been exercising regularly for ages and has been super supportive. Of course I could still fall off the wagon but the consultant and wannabe psychologist in me was curious to unbundle the 'why' to maintain this pattern and potentially to shine a light on some relevant to someone else. Here's my thinking;

  1. I am taking control of an element of my life that's in my gift right now against a backdrop of civil liberties that continue to be so severely hampered by macro events totally outside of my control

  2. I have set myself small, achievable goals and each week I typically set micro-goals to keep it interesting, then I can build on them and iterate. We humans need goals to drive motivation and give us some direction

  3. Significantly, my overall goal this time is 100% wellbeing. It's keeping myself as positive as possible and maximising my mental health through my physical wellbeing, it's being mindful when I'm crunching or walking the dog in the woods. Crucially it is NOT about fitting into that dress for the black tie do or being beach ready. That has changed things hugely (ref kids, 'why haven't you got a six pack Mummy?' = irrelevant)

  4. An always there truism for someone who has never excelled in sporting endeavours has really hit home in recent weeks too; effort is everything (thanks Jack Green. Also the elements on goal setting in Marshall Goldsmith's book Triggers). I can't do more than my best, have I done my best to do push-ups for 45 seconds? Yes? Great then the fact I only managed 30 seconds isn't important

  5. My personality type means I need independence, control, much stimulus and variety in my daily life. Lockdown provides the opposite so I have learnt to maximise the variety of my fitness routine; my much-loved morning dog walks in nature, yes the regular Joe Wicks workouts, the weekly live sessions with Mobgroup for Hanbury Strategy, my 7-minute workout app (sometimes I even do 2 in a row!!), content from Jack & Rob's programme, the lunchtime basketball, table tennis or footy goalkeeping during the working/school week with the home schooling kids and mud-permitting, bike rides.

Anecdotally, my January exposure to friends, to consulting clients and the wonderful folks at Hanbury Strategy tells me at this juncture in 2021, people are in two camps; those thoroughly fed-up, struggling to movitate and heave themselves into good habits in terms of exercise, consumption etc and those who have somehow been able to take a little control and establish and protect a positive routine. I promised a no-smug zone so I'll maintain humility but for me, I found if I could take tiny micro-steps that fit with my life, my psychology, to be kind and forgiving with myself but keep it going long enough to find some benefits, then maybe just maybe, we can get past that magic 21 days mark and good intentions can start to bed down into habit. Perhaps changing your mindset about the 'why' could help, seeking variety and, wellbeing buddies to help motivate and drive you on, could also make the difference. You have permission to come back and check on me on March 1, am I still chugging? Right, I'm off for a 7-minute workout before the kids are up!

Keep well and keep in touch.

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