Resolutions, but this time different

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While writing this last blog post of the year, I’m lying exhausted on the couch. Not exactly an energetic end of the year. But a healthy end at least. That is, if you consider running a 15k competition healthy.

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Though it went quite well, the last three kilometers killed me. There was a strong headwind and in addition to that, I had to stop to tie my shoe. Considering the circumstances, I am not dissatisfied with my time of only 21 seconds slower than my PB, which I ran just 25 days ago in Jeddah.

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But I’m drifting. I was going to write about new year resolutions. Although I think they are quite useless ’cause no one ever remembers them by the end of January, I do like to reflect on the year that passed and think about what I would like to achieve in the new year.

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To prevent making lots of resolutions and forgetting about them all I came up with something new. Instead of focusing on everything at once, concentrate on one resolution at a time. For 12 months, you can create 12 new, wholesome habits that will help you make the most of 2014. I’m still working on my own plan, but here’s how your year could look like (this article appeared originally in the Saudi Gazette on December 28).

Wholesome resolutions for the New Year 2014

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The end of the year is not only a time of reflection, but also of making resolutions for the New Year, which are often doomed to fail. A 2007 study of over 3,000 participants conducted by British psychologist Richard Wiseman, for instance, showed that 88 percent of those who set New Year resolutions failed, despite the fact that 52 percent of the study’s participants were confident of success at the beginning.

The reason? “Willpower, like a bicep, can only exert itself so long before it gives out; it’s an extremely limited mental resource,” writes Jonah Lehrer, author of “How We Decide” and “Proust Was a Neuroscientist” in the Wall Street Journal. In other words, willpower is like a muscle. Give it too much and it will drop all resolutions on the floor.

The solution? Instead of promising yourself to change your entire life at once – lose weight, quit smoking, be nicer to people around you, start exercising – and give up on them before the end of January, why not focus on one resolution at a time and achieve much more? Here is what your 2014 resolution list could look like.

January: Focus on wholesome foods

The first month of the new year is a great time to clean up your diet. Agree with yourself to cook at least one nutritious meal a week, made from fresh and organic produce. The rest of the time, try to avoid processed foods and include as many fresh fruits and vegetables as you can in your diet.

February: Get active

Once you have improved your diet, it is time to get active. The weather is still cool, so it shouldn’t be too hard to take a 30-minute walk every day before or after dinner. Nevertheless, do not limit yourself to a daily walk; find other ways to move more, such as walking to the grocery store, taking the stairs, and walking to your colleague’s desk to discuss something instead of picking up the phone or e-mailing. Sitting is the new smoking: an Australian study published in October 2012 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine estimated that every hour of TV that people watch, presumably while sitting, cuts about 22 minutes from their life span. In other words, try to get on your feet as much as possible, even if only for a minute.

March: Take up a new hobby

Apart from losing weight and exercising more, the resolution to take up a new (or old) hobby is a popular one, but gets usually lost when the daily grind of the new year takes over. This year, focus on finding a new hobby throughout the month of March, and make sure you start with it right away. It doesn’t matter whether it is learning a new language, playing an instrument, gardening, or taking tennis classes, as long as you are willing to invest some time in it and enjoy it. It will make you realize there is more in life than work and house chores.

April: Get more sleep

Sleep is one of the most underestimated activities, or so it seems when you see statistics about how many people suffer from a lack of sleep or sleeping disorders. Irritability and moodiness are just two short-term consequences of a bad night’s sleep, but chronic sleep deprivation is associated with numerous disorders, including heart attack, stroke, obesity, depression, and injury from accidents. So no matter what you are busy with this month, make sure you get those eight hours of sleep every night!

May: Drink more water

As the Holy Qur’an states, human beings were created from water. Our bodies are made up of approximately 60 percent water. No wonder drinking plenty of water is essential for good health! And it is not only necessary to maintain the balance of body fluids, which we lose continuously from skin evaporation, breathing, urine, and stool, especially during the summer months that are around the corner. Water also helps control calories when you substitute sugary drinks and caloric foods with plain water and water-rich foods, it energizes our muscles, helps our kidneys to cleanse our bodies, and adds radiance to our skin and hair.

June: Quit smoking (or other addictive substances)

You should not actually have waited until mid-2014 to stop smoking, but if you still haven’t slashed the habit, do so before the holy month of Ramadan, so you will suffer less when fasting. Those who already quit or never smoked, could try to get rid of their caffeine addiction. While a few cups of coffee or tea provide your body with much-needed antioxidants and may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and type-2 diabetes; continuous consumption of these beverages may raise blood pressure and interfere with the absorption of important vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, iron, and vitamins B and D.

July: Volunteer

The holy month of Ramadan, which coincides with the Gregorian month of July, is the perfect moment to support the less fortunate with your time. Join an existing organization, or set up your own group of friends to make the city you live in a better place, whether it is by distributing meals to the poor, entertaining orphans, or cleaning up the streets and parks.

August: Spend more time with family and friends

Perhaps the reduced working hours during Ramadan already gave you the opportunity to spend some quality time with family and friends. Keep this habit in that case! The summer is still in full swing and your children have lots of free time to play with their parents. If you’re planning a vacation during this month, it will be even easier to spend time with your family and close friends.

September: Meditate (and reduce stress)

Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years and by people from all walks of life and religions. It is one of the most effective ways to reduce stress and create a sense of peace and balance. September, when the hectic life starts again after summer break, is the perfect month to pick up the habit of meditating daily, even if only for a couple of minutes. So set a timer for two, five, or 15 minutes (or as long as you wish), sit back or lie down and repeat a calming sound, word or phrase to prevent your mind from wandering. Beginners can also count their breaths: count one breath in, one breath out, and continue through 10, then return to one again. Every time your thoughts wander, start back at one. It is ok (and probably inevitable) that your mind drifts, but bring it back to the present every time it does.

October: Limit your time online

Smartphones, tablets, laptops, PCs – they were all invented to make our lives easier and save us time, but in reality they are giant time-consuming monsters. Or at least when you do not control yourself. Agree with yourself (and convince your spouse and kids) to spend a maximum of one hour online for leisure purposes, such as checking your private emails, Facebook, Twitter, or the news. You will be amazed how much free time you have all of a sudden, which you can spend doing other useful things, such as reading an inspirational book or novel.

November: Love more

For one month (and feel free to continue when the month finishes) practice loving kindness and compassion in everything you do and every person you meet. Be friendly, open, and forgiving, both towards your loved ones as well as strangers. You will receive a massive amount of love in return and end up with numerous new friends that will enrich your life.

December: Declutter your home

The year 2014 is coming to an end. What have you achieved? And what would you like to focus on during the next year? Reflect upon this, but also take some time to declutter your home. Throw the useless or broken stuff and donate the things that are still in good shape but you do not want or need anymore. If you feel overwhelmed by the amount of clutter in your home, start small. Tell yourself to spend 10 minutes a day organizing your home, and start with a small room, closet, or even just one shelf. If you do this for an entire month, you will end up with a decluttered house as well as a peaceful mind.

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I wish you all a joyful end of 2013 and a happy, prosperous, and healthy 2014!

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