We’ve all been there: we’ve taken a long, hard look in the mirror and decided that we’re not quite where we wanted to be in life. And, given the year we’ve just had, we’ve had more time to reflect than ever before. 

Life in lockdown put things into perspective for many of us. Relationships fizzled out, careers changed and many of us simply realised that we weren’t being our authentic selves. Now, you’re probably itching to make some serious changes in your life. So where do you start? 

Let’s face it: 2021 is going to be stranger than most. But that doesn’t mean you have to put your life on hold. Despite what’s going on, you can still make small, but meaningful steps forward. That’s not to say there won’t be any hurdles or obstacles along the way. But, with a little grit and determination, it is still possible to change your life for the better. 

So what do you want to achieve? You might want to get fitter, save for a rainy day or change your career path. Or maybe your goals are a little bit more abstract. Instead, you might pledge to develop a better relationship with your partner or to get your mental health in order.

Whatever goal you have in mind, the first, and arguably most important, step is deciding you need to change. And, for many of us, there’s no better catalyst for this than the New Year. It’s a time for self-reflection and change. And as we count down the seconds and pop open the bubbly, there’s a sense that anything is possible. That, if you could make a few changes, you could have the whole world at your fingertips. But the sad reality is, so many of our New Year goals and resolutions fall flat. 

Fast-forward a week or two and it might even feel like we’re back where we started, stuck in a loop repeating the same toxic habits and patterns. But, even if your resolutions have fallen by the wayside, it doesn’t mean you can’t make meaningful changes in 2021. Remember it’s not all or nothing. Making meaningful change is by no means easy. It won’t be plain sailing and it won’t happen overnight. But stick with it. Because, who knows, the rewards might just be extraordinary…

Examples of how you can improve your life

Here are a few simple ways you can become a better you:

  • Exercise more: It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or a pro, taking part in any daily exercise can do wonders for your mental wellbeing. That’s because it releases happy hormones such as, endorphins and serotonin, which give you a positive feeling and a natural energy boost. 
  • Better cope with stress: More of us are stressed than ever before. In fact, a study by the Mental Health Foundation found that an alarming 74% of people felt so stressed that they’ve been overwhelmed or unable to cope. So what can you do? From setting boundaries to switching to a less stressful career path, there are plenty of big changes you can make to curb your stress levels. But, sadly, stress is an everyday part of life. We all have to deal with it at some point, so it might be helpful to equip yourself with some stress-busting techniques like meditation, too. 
  • Cultivate healthy relationships with others: All relationships — whether platonic, romantic or familial — have their ups and downs. Over the past year, you may have found things trickier than most. If tensions have become frayed, why not work on nurturing these relationships in 2021? Commit to spending quality time together, actively listen to each other, set boundaries where needed and, if lockdown puts geographical boundaries between you, find ways to show gratitude and appreciation from afar, whether that’s through a gift, a letter or a phone call.
  • Sleep soundly: There’s nothing more frustrating than when you can’t get to sleep. But the worst bit is, if you don’t get enough shut-eye, it can have real repercussions on your mental and emotional wellbeing. You can tackle this head-on by monitoring your sleep, switching off your devices an hour before you go to bed and taking time to unwind before you sleep. The ‘Get a good night’s sleep’ collection on Self-care, our audio and video therapy library, is a good place to start if you want to work on your sleep hygiene. But, if problems persist, it may be worth speaking to your GP or a therapist too.
  • Better your mental health We’ve all heard the statistics. According to the NHS, one in four of us will experience mental health problems in our lifetimes. Yet, many of us sadly suffer in silence. It’s an all-too-common reality: you downplay your mental health problems because you don’t want to bother anyone. Or maybe you’re dealing with the uncomfortable symptoms of a mental illness (e.g. hallucinations, compulsions or mood swings) and don’t know where to turn. There are plenty of professionals you can trust, and by taking the first step and reaching out, you could completely turn your life around.

How to make positive changes in your life

We know just what it’s like to feel like you’re chasing an impossible goal. You might think ‘What’s even the point of trying?’ because it seems so out of reach. But chances are you’re a lot closer than you think — and we’ll be here to guide you, every step of the way. If you’re feeling lost, directionless or simply need a nudge in the right direction, here are a few tips to help you make the positive changes you want to see in your life:

Identify your goals and motivation

Sometimes it can be difficult to put our finger on our goals. If you can’t visualise what you need to do to change, getting clear on your values can be a good place to start. From loyalty and service to others, to creativity and courage, our values act as a compass. They guide us towards better decisions, so that we can live an authentic life. And when you’re being true to yourself, it’s only natural that things will fall into place. 

Once you get clear on your values, you can then start to think of the goals that make them a reality. Pick goals that genuinely motivate you, rather than caving to what other people want. Because if you’re not bothered about the outcome, chances are you won’t put in the legwork to make it happen.

Check-in emotionally

Let’s say your goal is to switch jobs. If you really want to light a fire in your belly, take a moment to think about the pain that the situation is currently causing you. Are you exhausted because of the long night shifts? Stressed out because of the mounting deadlines? Or simply disappointed that the job doesn’t offer the independence you were promised? 

Identifying these emotions can be a great motivator. That’s because you’ll know that the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of your stomach will subside once you achieve your goal. Alternatively, you could look at the situation from a different point of view. Imagine what it would be like to achieve your goal. In this case, visualise how you’ll feel when you’re sitting at your new desk at your new job. Does it bring a grin to your face? Do you feel so excited that your heart could burst? Channel this energy into changing your life for the better. 

Embrace failure

It happens to the best of us. We’re raring to make big changes in our lives but then we stumble at the first hurdle. It can leave us feeling dejected, inadequate and put a dent in confidence. You might even want to throw in the towel. But don’t listen to that niggling voice in your head. Just because you make a mistake doesn’t mean you’re back at square one. One small stumble doesn’t mean that you’ll never reach  the finish line. 

From accidental scientific discoveries to college-dropouts-turned-billionaires, history is filled with many happy mistakes. So why not reframe how you see failure? What if you saw your mistakes as an opportunity to grow, learn and experiment? Chances are you’d be more likely to bounce back from your failures. And who knows, that ‘big mistake’ might just help you change your life for the better. 

Challenge your inner critic 

Always putting yourself down? Chances are you have a harsh inner critic. 

We all have an inner critic, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Initially, it even served a purpose. We developed this inner voice as kids, and it helped us stay clear of embarrassment and shame. But, as we get older, this voice can get louder and more critical. Worse still, it can hold us back from making meaningful changes in our lives.

Want to silence your inner critic? You could tarnish its credibility by giving it a silly voice or question the evidence behind its claims. It’s a great learning lesson because once you tackle your inner critic, it’s much easier to be your own cheerleader. And when you can hype yourself up, you’ll find that making big changes isn’t so scary. 

Devise a clear action plan

Feeling overwhelmed? When we have an abstract goal in mind, it can be overwhelming imagining how we’ll ever get there. If it seems impossible, try and break down your goal into smaller, more manageable chunks. If you want to fine-tune your aims, the acronym SMART might be just the ticket. 

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-framed — and it can make your goals seem a whole lot more achievable. So, for instance, instead of saying ‘I want to develop a better relationship with my child’ a better alternative might be ‘I want to go to play park with my child once a fortnight’. Apply this tool and see if it works for you. 

Break bad habits (and make better ones) 

Not all habits are bad. When we wake up in the morning, we might instinctively glug down a glass of water or go for a run. But sometimes, habits can lead us astray. Maybe you turn to comfort food when you’re blue, your cigarette breaks are becoming more  and more frequent, or you rely on self-harm as a crutch to deal with painful emotions. These habits can be troubling but remember you’re not alone. We’re here to help you get back on track. 

Habits take practise and repetition to form, and the same applies when you’re trying to break them. So don’t be discouraged if it takes longer than you expected. First, you’ll want to identify what triggers your habit. For instance, you might realise that you often pour yourself a glass of wine after a tough day at work without giving it a second thought. 

Next, see if you can replace that bad habit with a more positive one. For example, instead of drinking away your sorrows, you could de-stress by going for a walk in the park instead. If you need a helping hand breaking tough habits once and for all, you may also find it helpful to listen to the BOLD Steps episode of Self-care. 

Cut out the procrastination

Procrastination is a trap that so many of us fall into. It’s often seen as synonymous with laziness. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Procrastination is something we actively do. And, more often than not, we drag our heels and put things off, not because we’re work-shy, but because we’re trying to avoid distress.

If you’re a procrastinating pro, there are ways you can get on top of it. Let’s say you need to study for an important university exam. First and foremost, stop catastrophising and thinking of the worst-case scenario (i.e. failing the test). Instead, focus on why you’re doing this task, and the benefits of completing it. Then you’ll want to break the task into realistic chunks. Instead of waiting around for “when you have time to get started” make a conscious effort to schedule study time in your calendar.

Lean on others 

Feel like you’re going around in circles? If you want to make meaningful change, but always end up where you started, try digging deeper. Could your bad habit be serving any kind of psychological function? Maybe you’re using it as an unhelpful coping mechanism to manage painful feelings? If there’s something deeper going-on under the surface, therapy could be the solution. It’ll help you get to the root of the issue and give you the best chance of making real change.