Even though the days of September marking the new school year are a distant memory, it's hard to shake the feeling that the end of summer is the start of the real new year. So what better time make a resolution to reinvent your life for the better? Whether you want to achieve your lifelong dream or just get fitter and more productive, here are five small, practical steps for improving yourself.
Exercise on a Monday
Countless studies have shown that regular exercise can do far more than just improve your physique - it can have a positive impact on many other areas of your life, from reducing anxiety and depression to boosting your energy and even helping you to perform better at work.
But, as anyone who has ever tried to start a new exercise regime knows, it's the motivation that's the hard part. Like pulling off a plaster, thinking about exercise is far worse than actually doing it - making hard and fast the best approach.
That's why you should always exercise on a Monday. According to Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, exercising on a Monday is a great habit as it sets a positive psychological pattern for the week - so even if the rest of the week is all cake and after-work drinks, at the very least you'll have the peace of mind that you did some exercise at the beginning of the week to counterbalance it all.
Ditch the to-do list
Writing a to-do list may seem like the best way to keep track of your daily tasks, but while many of us are good at writing them, most of us aren't very good at actually following them. If this sounds familiar, don't fret - according to a recent study by Daniel Markovitz, founder of TimeBack Management, the system of rolling to-do lists are actually flawed, ineffective and set you up to fail.
Instead, Markovitz recommends taking the more proactive approach of 'living in your calendar' - instead of simply listing our tasks in a haphazard fashion, we should instead think about each task, work out how long it will take, and schedule a time and day to do it. This way, Markovitz believes, you'll have a more realistic idea of what you can achieve, feel less stressed and be more productive.
Create a vision board
As we get older it's easy to lose track of the goals and dreams of our youth - it doesn't have to be that way. If you'd like to get back in touch with your life goals, why not try making a vision board?
A vision board is just like a moodboard (the kind you might make when redecorating or planning a wedding), and its job is to help you visualise and realise positive things for your future. The concept may sound a bit New Age-y at first, but they're very popular in America, and life coach Martha Beck has written extensively about their merits for O: The Oprah Magazine.
Your first task is to collect images, words and phrases that you're drawn to; don't try to over-think this stage (or actively look for images you think you should pick, like big houses or flash cars), but instead go with your instincts. Then simply arrange the images on a large piece of paper or card. The final stage might sound odd, but just go with it - after completing the vision board, forget about it. Don't hang it up in a prominent place, or spend hours starring at it every day - just put it away and carry on with life knowing that subconsciously you now have a stronger focus on where you want to go.
Do a technology detox
We're all logged-on, plugged-in and switched-on 24/7, but what is our hyper-connectivity doing to our health and well-being? A recent study from the University of Worcester showed that although smart phones helped people stay on top of their workload, they created more stress overall as people got caught up in constantly checking for new messages and updates. In the most extreme cases people even experienced hearing 'phantom' vibrations when in fact no message had been received. A second study from the University of Chicago even suggested that social media is more addictive than cigarettes.
If you sometimes feel overwhelmed by your constant connectivity, you could be in need of a technology detox. The trick is to start small with a few simple boundaries, such as never putting your phone on the table during meals, moving your chargers out of the bedroom, and keeping your phone with them in another room overnight. If all this seems easy, move onto the next stage by giving up your phone, computer and even TV after 8pm. Over time, try to bring the time of this nightly detox forward, and eventually try to have at least one technology free day every weekend.
As children we're all told it's better to give than to receive, and although this may seem counterintuitive, it might actually be true. The theory was first put forward in a scientific context in the 1950s by psychiatrist Hans Selye, whose book The Stress of Life suggested that one way for people to lower their stress levels was to help others.
Since then, numerous studies have looked at the relationship between giving and well-being - in 2006, neuroscientist Jorge Moll found that just the mere thought of giving money to charity activated the primitive part of the brain associated with the pleasures of eating and having sex.
So there's no doubt that giving is good for you. But where to start? JustGiving has information on hundreds of charities, so you can find a cause you care about and donate quickly and simply. If volunteering is more up your street, then head to Do-It - an organisation that puts volunteers in touch with charities in need of extra pairs of hands. Either way, the opportunity to give something back is just a few clicks away.
If you're up for even more reinvention, why not sign up for My Special K? You'll get a free, personalised slimming and fitness plan along with expert health, beauty and fashion advice - all the support you need to reinvent your lifestyle and get you started on a new healthy path. Visit our signup page for more information on what you could gain.