1. Don’t give up alcohol – experiment with drinking differently
Dr Richard Piper, CEO of Alcohol Change UK
The most important thing with alcohol is to get into a situation where you are happy with your drinking. I used to be a very heavy drinker: 60-90 units a week. I can’t tell you how life-changing cutting down has been. To me, life is in colour without drinking, whereas before it was very grey and drab.
I would encourage a sense of experimentation in January. It doesn’t have to be all dry. Try to do things a bit differently. If you usually have a drink at a gig, try a dry gig, or go for a meal and have the alcohol-free options. I used to think going out relied on alcohol, and that without it everything would fall apart. Now going to the pub with my mates is the good bit and the alcohol is optional.
2. Don’t try to lose weight – make it a bonus, not the focus
Elle Linton, personal trainer
I don’t subscribe to dieting. I understand that weight loss is often a goal, but you have to nail the basics first so your body can thrive.
Make sure you eat well, varying your diet rather than counting calories. The more variety you have, the happier your gut will be. Your gut health is linked to all kinds of things, from the way your brain works to the condition of your skin and your energy levels. If you have more energy and feel better mentally, you are more likely to want to move more and eat well.
When people are looking to lose weight they think they should do lots more exercise. In fact, as with everything, if you want to increase what you are doing you should do it gradually, otherwise it can put stress on your body, which can hinder weight loss. Stress upsets many different systems inside you, so trying to relieve stress is probably the number one thing to do, above everything else.
3. Don’t try to sort out your entire home – declutter one area at a time
Vicky Silverthorn, home organiser
When you chip away at your home in tiny bits, such as your sock drawer, you still get a mini euphoric feeling that you’ve made an impact. And when you finish on a high, with a sense of completion on that small area, you are more likely to carry on to the next area. A huge part of this sorting is lessening the number of choices you have to make daily. If there is excess stuff in the way it crowds your brain, and makes everything feel more stressful. While I was cooking recently, I pulled out my junk drawer in the kitchen, and by the time the vegetables were cooked, a first edit of that drawer was done.
4. Don’t start writing a novel – keep a diary first
Rae Earl, author of My Fat, Mad Teenage Diary
The greatest way to start a novel is to be a diarist first. Even Graham Greene used to write 500 words every day. Getting into a diary habit is fantastic, because you will start to notice the people and places around you. All of these fuel character and plot, and help with dialogue. And you can practise your voice, how you sound when you are really you, rather than the you that you are on social media.
The other great thing about a diary is it can help you work out all the things that are stopping you writing a novel. It could be the neighbour coming round for another cup of tea, or your mother asking you to sort out her internet.
They are also good for winning an argument as you can go back and check things: if you’re a diarist, the moral high ground is constantly yours.
5. Don’t attempt to shout less at your children – learn to say sorry when you do
Sarah Ockwell-Smith, parenting expert
Don’t be tempted to try to become the perfect gentle parent who never shouts or loses their patience with their children. There is no such thing as a perfect parent, every single person slips up, including me, a so-called expert. You’re only human, and parenting is really hard work: life gets in the way, and it is impossible to stay calm all the time.
Instead, lower your expectations of yourself and aim to be “good enough”; this is far more realistic. The most important thing, and perhaps the best parenting-related resolution you could make, is learning to apologise to your children after you slip up. Psychologists call this “rupture and repair”: it simply means recognising that you’ve been shouty, or over-punitive, and making things right with your child.
6. Don’t cut out all ultra-processed food – make a few easy swaps
Priya Tew, dietitian
Can you bake flapjacks and swap those for a cereal bar, cook a meal from scratch instead of a ready meal, or make your own bread once a week? Reducing ultra-processed foods, rather than cutting them out, is more achievable in the long term and enables you to still enjoy the foods that bring you pleasure, too.
Cal Newport, author of A World Without Email
If you find yourself spending way more time than you think is useful or healthy mindlessly scrolling social media, resist the urge to quit these services all at once. Those who succeed in sustainably repairing their relationship with technology tend to start by first developing higher-quality alternatives to these distractions.
These include rediscovering hobbies, spending time with people you care about, seeking awe and beauty in nature, and producing things of tangible value, such as uplifting art or joining a useful community organisation.
When you have filled your life with meaningful pursuits, the allure of shallow distraction diminishes. So take a month or so to upgrade your analogue life before you turn your attention to simplifying your relationship with the digital.
8. Don’t obsess over more sleep – embrace waking up, and rest will come
Dr Guy Meadows, co-founder and clinical lead at Sleep School
Instead of fixating on achieving the elusive eight hours of uninterrupted slumber, focus on nurturing a healthier relationship with your sleep. Getting frustrated or anxious when you wake up during the night is counterproductive. In fact, the more you react this way, the longer you’re likely to stay awake. Night-time waking is entirely normal – it is rooted in the way our sleep cycles function.
Learn to welcome those moments of wakefulness and use them as opportunities to cultivate self-kindness through rest and mindfulness. Instead of tossing and turning in bed, engage in a quiet activity such as practising a breathwork exercise or reading a comforting book. Paradoxically, by accepting night-time waking rather than resisting it, you create a sleep-conducive environment where your brain feels safe, allowing sleep to occur naturally.
9. Don’t commit to an unrealistic savings plan – nudge yourself into small gains
Laura Whateley, author of Money: A User’s Guide
Rather than focusing on how much you should be saving, and feeling like a failure when there is nothing left at the end of the month, set up a few automatic ways of putting aside tiny sums frequently without noticing. Many banks now let you round up every spend on your debit card and save the difference: say you spent £3.50 on a coffee, the cost would be rounded up to £4, and 50p transferred automatically from your current account into a separate “roundup” savings pot.
Apps such as Plum and Chip analyse your bank account and move small amounts into a savings pot based on what you can afford. Or consider a savings challenge (Monzo lets you automate them): save 1p on 1 January, 2p on the 2nd, through to £3.65 on 31 December and you’ll have nearly £700 by 2025. Use cashback sites to earn a percentage of your shopping on everything from groceries to utility bills.
Turn your active focus on more frugal living. Before you buy anything online, leave it in your basket for 24 hours, unsubscribe from tempting email newsletters, and nudge yourself out of spending by paying with cash or forcing yourself to type out your bank card details at every checkout.
10. Don’t try to change your partner – commit to nagging each other less
Susanna Abse, psychotherapist
New year resolutions arise largely out of shame and guilt. Many people spend a lot of their time preoccupied with their shortcomings: fretting over their weight, their drinking and, of course, their love life. Perhaps the best resolution any couple can make is to try to mutually push back against this, to agree not to create an atmosphere that amplifies these feelings of failure.
The “You never”, “You shouldn’t” or “You should” conversations we have with our partners are nearly always unhelpful, and erode loving feelings. So stop the mutual critical voices that so many couples live with; celebrate and accept each other’s limitations. After all, we all want to be loved for ourselves and not for our rock-hard abs.
So stop tutting when your partner reaches for the ice-cream, and telling them off for not using their gym membership. Instead, be mindful of not making your loved one feel any worse about their shortcomings than they already do. Celebrate the qualities you chose them for in the first place, and turn down the dial on the negative, picky voices that seem to sit so unkindly in most of us.
11. Don’t plan lots of big trips – find wonder on your doorstep
Katherine May, author of Enchantment: Reawakening Wonder in an Exhausted Age
Once-in-a-lifetime trips are all very well, but there’s so much wonder to be found on your doorstep. Make 2024 the year that you step outside every day, for however long you’ve got. If you have a minute, just stand and breathe, or look up at the moon each night. If you’ve got 30 minutes, go for a short walk. If you’ve got longer, explore a place you’ve never been before. Get to know your local landscape deeply, in all weathers and seasons. It’s free, sustainable and you’ll get a daily dose of joy, instead of waiting to go away.
12. Don’t aim to eliminate work stress – establish healthy work/life boundaries
Polly Robinson, executive coach
It can be hard to set boundaries between work and your personal life, especially when we are working from home or constantly available via email. Use your phone’s “do not disturb” function to turn off notifications from work contacts in the evening and days off. If you work away from home, use the return journey to reflect, think about the good things that happened that day and let go of more challenging aspects, while exploring what could be different next time. Writing this down can help to get it out of your head, even if you wake up in the night worrying about work. Use the notes or reminder function on your phone, or carry a notebook to write down the things you need to do tomorrow – and let it go until then.
13. Don’t feel under pressure to make new friends – nurture your inner circle first
Elizabeth Day, author of Friendaholic: Confessions of a Friendship Addict
What friendships should you nurture the most? The ones that start with a generosity of spirit – the idea that we think the best of each other, whatever happens, and that if we have an issue, we are able to speak about it with loving clarity. You might only encounter one or two people in your life for whom this holds true. That’s fine!
According to Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary psychology, we should think of friendship as existing in layers. The first layer consists of the people you’d call at 4am in a crisis – and we only really have enough time to pursue these sorts of friendships with up to five people. They are the ones you should pay attention to the most.
14. Don’t stop buying clothes – just buy more secondhand
Isabel Losada, author of The Joyful Environmentalist
The evils of the fast-fashion industry and also the not-so-fast fashion industry are well known, so take a year off shopping for new clothes. Apparently, we wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. So I’d like to make an appeal for the other 80%. A fun way to do this is to turn all your hangers the wrong way round. When you wear an item, replace the hanger the logical way. With this simple game you can see, immediately when you open your wardrobe, which clothes you have worn and which clothes are still waiting hopefully.
But you can make an exception with charity shops. It’s good to browse in these and rescue beautiful items, many of which are thrown away when not bought. My top tip is to head for the menswear and look among the jumpers. There is often a luxury cashmere jumper with only a moth hole or two. Wash carefully, sew up the holes and stay warm until spring.
15. Don’t train for a marathon – work on your 5K
Cory Wharton-Malcolm, running coach and Apple Fitness+ trainer
The beauty of the 5K lies in its versatility. Regardless of where you are on your running journey, the 5K can be fun as well as rewarding. If you’re starting out, it’s a great milestone to aim for. If you’ve been running for a while, it’s a great distance to start experimenting with pace to help you push for a PB. It can also help you become a more efficient runner by building endurance, speed and strength. This helps you in the 5K, but also in longer distances from half marathons to marathons.