Use Blue Monday to change your life and set goals, says willpower expert

Loughborough psychologist Dr Ian Taylor offers some tips for the UK's official 'most depressing day of the year'.

Mondays suck let’s be honest, but the start of this week is going to cause even more groans as it’s officially the ‘most depressing day of the year’.

January 20 marks Blue Monday – the name given to a day in January, that is supposedly the saddest and most dismal day of the year due to a combination of post-festive bills, little sunlight, cold weather and the abandonment of New Year resolutions.

Despite it often being seen as a day of negativity, the day is, in fact, said to have been originally coined to provoke a positive outlook and act as an opportunity for new beginnings and change.

Dr Ian Taylor a psychologist at Loughborough University, is encouraging people to think positively as he explains those who use Blue Monday as a time to reflect on resolutions are actually much more likely to stick to them.

Ian Taylor
Dr Ian Taylor, Loughborough psychologist.

People set all sorts of resolutions and goals at the beginning of the year without thinking too much about the suitability of starting their new healthier lifestyles at that time, writes Dr Taylor.

For example, joining a gym costs money so why would you do this after arguably the most expensive two weeks of the year? Why would you try to adopt new routines when the children are still off school? Why would you start running in the coldest, darkest month of the year?

It just doesn’t make sense.

Blue Monday, on the other hand, is a much more straightforward time to make lifestyle changes and set goals.

Generally, people are in their usual life routines by mid-January. Children have gone back to school, the party season is over, and so any changes that are made are more likely to stick compared to the chaos of New Year’s Day and the days after.

Take Blue Monday as a chance to reflect on the first few weeks and how new resolutions have gone.

If they have failed it’s ok, challenging goals are often not completed the first time. Most Olympic medals are not won by athletes at their first Olympics but at the second or third time of asking.

So, if your resolutions are going well, then great carry on. But if not, ask yourself why not.

image of a desk with a coffee, notebook, pen, glasses and plant
Challenging goals are often not completed the first time, says Dr Ian Taylor.

Old habits are often triggered by four things that can easily be changed: specific events, times, locations, or other people. You need to play around with these triggers and change them.

If you’re trying to eat healthy, for example, but 11am is cake time at work then you need to do something else at 11am. If you’re trying to cut down on alcohol but socialise with people who drink a couple of pints at lunch, then you need to find another social circle at lunch.

It’s important to make a real change to one or more of these triggers, otherwise, you’re just relying on willpower and that’s probably why you’ve struggled with your resolutions so far.

Your willpower is an excellent tool to get you started on your goals, but reduces over time and evaporates into the ether, leaving in its absence… powerful temptation.

By resetting your goals and ambitions on Blue Monday, you are much more likely to stick to your goals because you’ve had a practice period in the first few weeks of January and you’ve learnt what works and what doesn’t.

Also, the chaos of the festive aftermath has disappeared, and you’ve settled into a routine which makes it easier to make realistic changes.

There’s no law saying that resolutions and lifestyle changes can only be made on the first of January.

Dr Taylor’s top tips:

1) Don’t rely on willpower – willpower is very fragile and it will eventually run out. If you want to start a new behaviour (like exercising), try doing it in the morning so the temptation to not do it has less time to act.

2) Find the trigger for that bad habit and make a real tangible change to that trigger and your routine.

3) Think of the first weeks of January as a practice – Decide what got in your way of achieving your new resolutions and plan so you avoid them from now on

4) Reduce the effort – For example, if you plan to go for a run after work have all your kit ready so the effort of getting ready is reduced and the effort of resisting temptation is less

5) Were your resolutions too hard? Aim for shorter-term benefits – focussing solely on long-term goals will not give you the regular motivational boosts and feelings of accomplishment you need to keep going

6) Don’t dwell on failure – failing is part of the process and the best goals are challenging. If you’ve broken your resolutions already, it doesn’t matter, there’s no reason why you can’t try again.