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Caroline Harmon

By Caroline Harmon

01st January 2010

People have been celebrating some kind of New Year for at least 4000 years. One of our oldest celebrations, how and when we choose to mark it has changed over time and still varies immensely from culture to culture. Caroline Harmon encourages us to make positive changes.

Caroline Harmon

By Caroline Harmon

01st January 2010

Caroline Harmon

By Caroline Harmon

01st January 2010

New Year’s resolutions are famed for being something we resolve to do then fail at by 5th January! Yet if we approach our goal setting properly at any time of the year we can revolutionise our lives, and our planet, one step at a time.

Forget the bog-standard ‘lose weight’ and opt for some New Year’s Resolutions which will help you, your family and the planet:

1) Start Sharing
The most common New Year’s resolution amongst the early Babylonians was to promise to return borrowed farm equipment. It’s a good time to dig out all those borrowed books, CDs and other items and return them to their owner. At the same time, why not buck the trend for ‘me’ focused resolutions and set up a year-round system for sharing your things with others? Sharing items is a great way of helping each other out, building community and reducing our carbon footprint on the earth by owning less ‘stuff’.

Get together with a few friends, neighbours or workmates and make a list of all the things you have which you are willing to lend each other: gardening tools, DIY equipment, books, DVDs etc. Think of all those things you have stowed away in the loft, shed or garage which you don’t use very often or the books or films which you don’t want to give away permanently but wouldn’t miss if someone else had them for a fortnight. If you’re worried about remembering who has borrowed what keep a list. For books, buy or make bookmarks with words such as: ‘You borrowed this from… , please enjoy it but return it soon’.

To get involved in a sharing scheme which extends beyond your immediate network of friends, consider joining a Local Exchange and Trading Scheme (LETS). Members of individual LETS schemes exchange goods and services without the use of money. For instance if one person needs a plumber someone with the skills will do their plumbing in exchange for LETS credits (often called ‘hearts’). The plumber can then use their credits to purchase another service.

Access good quality toys for your children by joining your local toy library. There are more than 100 in the UK.

2) Get Fit the Green Way
The New Year is a time when many people decide to ‘get fit’. According to the Chief Medical Officer undertaking 30 minutes of activity each day will help prevent more than 20 conditions including coronary heart disease, mental health problems, type two diabetes and certain types of cancer.

Green Gyms offer the chance to combine outdoor conservation work with physical exercise. There are over 90 of them around Britain, each offering free opportunities to do conservation work. Sessions begin and end with warm up and cool down exercises and programmes of activities are organised not only to make sure that the conservation work gets done but also to ensure that you get fit in the process.

Studies have shown that a third more calories can be burnt during an hour of some Green Gym activities than in a step aerobics class and many participants are referred to the activity by their GP. Combining exercise with fresh air and knowing that you’re helping your local environment has meant that in addition to improving fitness levels, 99% of participants have reported an improvement in their self-confidence. Most Green Gyms were originally set up the BTCV but many are now run solely by local volunteers.

Alternatively, get fit as a family. Hit the park with some sports equipment and play a game together or go for a walk as a family. One thing to bear in mind when organising whole family exercise sessions is that children tend to benefit from short, energetic bursts of activity while adults gain more from sustained activity. Try to come up with a schedule of activity which caters to both needs. For instance adults could jog around a play park while the kids have short bursts of activity on the play equipment. Or play games such as rounders, with parent’s fielding and children as batsmen and bowler.

3) Clean the House Naturally
In our quest to make our homes as clean as possible we are, rather ironically, often polluting our world. Many cleaning products contain a whole host of nasty chemicals such as surfactants, phosphates (responsible for damaging marine ecosystems), bleaches and parfum which are bad for the environment and our family’s health. There are plenty of cheap, natural alternatives available. Vinegar, lemon juice and bicarbonate of soda are all natural cleaners. Try one of the following to get started:

- Vinegar diluted with water and placed in a spray bottle can be used to clean most surfaces. Use it on windows and polish off using scrunched up newspaper for a sparkling finish.

- Bicarbonate of soda can lift stains from carpets and be used to clean shower curtains. Put a bowlful in the fridge to soak up odours.

- Two parts olive oil mixed with one part lemon juice is the ideal solution for cleaning hardwood furniture. Olive oil can also be used sparingly to clean fingerprints off stainless steel.

4) Eco Friendly Healthy Eating
Forget dieting, this is about eating delicious, eco-friendly food which will naturally be healthier for you! The key to success when changing shopping and eating habits is to make small changes regularly rather than trying to revolutionise your diet overnight. Aim for one change per fortnight for three months then keep these changes in place for the rest of the year. There are several ways to get started:

- GO ORGANIC -* According to the Soil Association “no other food has higher amounts of beneficial minerals, essential amino acids and vitamins than organic food”. The Soil Association found that when 27 food products were tested for mineral and vitamin C content, in 14 cases the organic crop had significantly higher levels and in only one case did the non-organic crop come out better. Organic vegetable box schemes are often the cheapest way to introduce organic produce to your diet.
- START EATING SEASONALLY -* Seasonal food contains more nutrients than food forced to grow out of season or transported long distances from abroad. It also tends to be cheaper, tastier and has less environmental impact than out-of-season food. Even at this time of year there is still plenty that is in season in Britain including brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celeriac, kale, leeks, parsnips, swede and turnip. The Cookery Club has two seasonal food charts – one for fruit, one for vegetables. At The School Food Trust You can download a seasonal food chart.
- START EATING LOCAL -* Local food is fresher, has travelled fewer miles and boosts the local economy. Look out for stockists of local food or your local farmers market.

How to keep your New Year’s Resolutions

1) Be Realistic
Don’t make resolutions for the sake of making them and only make resolutions that you really want to keep. There is no point in vowing to start making all your own clothes as of January 1st if you don’t know how to sew; you will be setting yourself up to fail. A more realistic goal would be to attend a sewing course in the first half of the year and make two items of clothing in the second half. Similarly, don’t plan to achieve everything by the 5th January – set steps to complete along the way to achieving a goal and set interim dates by which to achieve each step. You could resolve to do something which will take all year in 12 bite-sized steps you can tackle each month.

2) Be Positive
So many New Year’s Resolutions are framed in negative terms: ‘I won’t…’ or ‘I will stop…’ Instead think of something positive that you will begin to do: ‘I will start…’ or ‘I will learn…’

3) Three’s a Crowd
What two things do you most want to achieve this year? Make those your new year’s resolutions and really focus on sticking to them rather than making more resolutions than you can ever manage to keep. Other goals can wait for another year.

4) Think Things Over

Deciding to make a huge life change or quit a long-standing habit on the spur of the moment on New Year’s Eve will not give you the best chance of succeeding. Instead, find a little quiet time between Christmas and New Year and use it to think seriously and dream big about what you would like to achieve, when you would like to achieve it by and what steps you are going to take to get there.

5) Involve Others
This is a great motivator! Show your goals to your partner or friend and ask them to ask you about your progress once a month. Alternatively, make resolutions as a family and keep each other accountable. Involving your children could be a good chance to get them more involved in the household chores! You could have individual resolutions and one or two ‘family resolutions’ that you will aim to keep together. Check out this themed New Year writing paper from Activity Village.

6) Plan to Succeed
There are endless tools for goal setting. You could write a vision statement for the end of the year – where do you want to be in 12 months time? List a number of goals with steps that you need to take to achieve them. Try the SMART approach – making sure your goals are Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Time-bound. Do whatever works for you. Grab some paper and a pen and get scribbling.

7) Persevere
A few months in you might find that you are succeeding in some areas but not in others. Or you might not be quite as far along as you intended to be. Don’t beat yourself up about it! Celebrate what you have achieved then revise you goals or their timelines for the rest of the year.

Let us know what goals you have for 2009 – we’d love to hear your thoughts and dreams.