For a long time, any attempts I made at self-improvement generally centered around three key themes: do more exercise, spend less money, grow my hair. I spent a significant amount of time day dreaming about being ultra fit and debt free with hair that hung around my waist. Most years, I made some kind of vague New Year’s resolutions but, inevitably, they failed. How much exercise is ‘more’, exactly? How much money is ‘less’? How many inches of hair growth would I be satisfied with? I was constantly moving the goal posts to accommodate my laziness until eventually they were right back where I started.
When my cousin came to stay and ring in 2013 with me, I was still bumbling along. Still getting out of breath climbing the stairs, still living in fear of my bank balance and still sporting a bob. On New Year’s Day, we sat together in my tiny apartment in Sweden, where I was studying at the time, and drew up a list of New Year’s resolutions. Unsurprisingly, my themes hadn’t changed from the past however many years, but without really meaning to I translated them into much clearer, more actionable goals. And it worked because, for the first time ever, I stuck to them.
2013 Resolution #1: Run two hours without stopping in 2013.
I very deliberately chose this resolution over ‘complete a half marathon’ even though they basically equated to the same thing for me. Race day could come and all manner of things could potentially go wrong. You might get injured, you might catch the flu, you might trip over at mile 8, twist your ankle and have to pull out. I did end up running a half marathon in 2013 but I could equally have just gone out on any Sunday morning and as long as I ran for the allotted 120 minutes, however slowly, I still would have been able to tick this off my list. This also, although unintentionally at the time, set the precedent for what will forever be my top tip for anybody who wants to start running and that is to run for time, not distance.
I had a lot of hard work to do between January 1st and October 18th, when I ran the half marathon. Building up to my two hour goal meant incorporating running into my daily life. For pretty much the first time ever, exercising became a habit. I woke up and I went for a run, it just became something I did and, far more than being able to run any set distance, that’s what changed for me. Previously I had seen myself as an inherently inactive person and when I did occasionally do some exercise, that was the anomaly. Over the course of 2013 though, my view of myself shifted. Now I was a runner – somebody who could run, who did run and who enjoyed running – and even when I went through periods of not running, it was still at the back of my mind that I was a runner which meant I’d eventually start running again.
2013 Resolution #2: No clothes shopping for the first six months of the year.
I think it’s safe to say that I was definitely a bit of a spendaholic. My brain was wired to associate any kind of party/occasion/event with buying a new outfit. At one point I had 20 pairs of tan shoes, for god’s sake. Who needs 20 pairs of tan shoes? Not me, that’s for sure. So I went cold turkey. I stopped spending endless hours browsing the Topshop ‘new in’ pages. I stopped scouring ASOS for sale bargains. I stopped spending my Saturdays peeling clothes on and off in clammy changing rooms. Then, somewhere along the way, I stopped wanting to. I still think that if you’re going to wear clothes, which generally you do have to given that nudism isn’t widely accepted in the UK, then you may as well dress well but I stopped believing that it actually matters what your anti-nudity costume looks like.
I can honestly say that I haven’t been on a shopping spree since. Instead of lusting over new clothes, I now really begrudge handing over cash to replace jeans with holes in. Admittedly, my bank account doesn’t actually look that much healthier these days but kicking the shopping habit freed up more funds for adventures and outings and cake dates, i.e. the things that do matter.
2013 Resolution #: No heat styling or hair dying for the first six months of the year
Bear with me a while here. I know that you don’t care about my hair or how long it is or how healthy it is. Trust me, I really do know that and I don’t care either anymore but the point is that I used to care so much. I was a pretty uncool child as it was. When I was twelve, my best friend was the school librarian and I was the single-handed instigator of a save the chickens campaign. Curly, unruly, frizz-prone hair was an added curse that I really could have lived without, especially when every other girl in my class was swishing around their perfectly straight pony tails. I spent the entirety of my teenage years either straightening my hair, crying about it or refusing to step outside if there was even a drop of moisture in the air. That’s over seven years that could have been spent worrying about much more interesting things.
I had always been pretty desperate for my hair to grow but the endless abuse from heat and bleach pretty much ruled out any chance of that happening so in 2013 I decided to give it a proper go. Giving up styling was a purely vanity-driven resolution but the resulting embrace of my natural and God-given hair was one of the best things I ever did. Suddenly I could go outdoors in the rain without the world falling apart. I saved so much money and even more time. Sweat was no longer the absolutely enemy. Free from the shackles of my straightening iron I realised that my hair didn’t actually impact on my happiness.
You might be wondering why I chose only to commit to the latter two resolutions for six months and not a full year and I have to say that I can’t really remember. It worked well though because after half a year, old clothes and wash-and-go hair became a habit, just as running did*. Three years later, I’m still sticking to them for the large part. I’m fitter and healthier than I’ve ever been with a much less warped understanding of what matters and what doesn’t.
By focusing on the actions rather than the ideas, I managed to make my ideas happen for the first time. As a highly disorganised person, I used to turn my nose up at goal setting. To somebody who revels in grey areas and spends most of their life wading through self-made chaos, it sounded austere and inflexible. Perhaps it is, but it is also indisputably effective. 2013 was the first year I stopped letting myself down and it acted as the catalyst for a lot of pretty great things that followed. And once you’ve had one great year, you kind of want them to keep on coming. So, inevitably, they do.
*There are tonnes of fantastic articles about habit forming and the psychology of it by people who are much better informed on the subject than I am that I recommend taking a look at. In particular, I love Benjamin Spall’s piece on ‘Stacking Habits: How to Finally Stick to Your Morning Routine’ and my friend Sam’s blog about how he stuck to his cold shower habit is also very much worth a read.
If you enjoyed reading this and you’re feeling generous, it would mean the world to me if you would consider sparing a few pennies for my chosen charities Young Minds and Beyond Food. You can do so by donating here –http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/runthecoast