Make mental fitness your New Year’s resolution

  • The last few years have been tough, and it’s totally fine to not have big goals and focus on your mental health and well-being
  • A Hong Kong-based life coach recommends mindfulness, meditation, and letting go of the past as ways to start your year right
Dannie Aildasani |

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You wouldn't run a marathon without any training, so why should you face tough mental challenges without any practice?

Happy New Year! We’re sure you have plenty of New Year’s resolutions, like running a marathon, or becoming the first teenager to hop across Asia on one foot, right?

Good news! We’re giving you permission to put these big goals on pause.

With all the chaos caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s totally fair if you just want to focus on surviving right now, says Steffi Lopez Gonzalez, certified Neuro-linguistic Programming life coach, speaker and founder of the Hong Kong-based business Your Life Your Playground, which specialises in yoga, meditation and life coaching.

How to look on the positive side of life

Lopez Gonzalez suggests that for the new year, your resolution could be to focus on your mental fitness.

“Mental fitness is a set of tools, activities, exercises and approaches to life that keeps our brains fit and healthy,” said Lopez Gonzalez. She compared it to physical fitness training; you won’t get strong arms by doing bicep curls just once, and you won’t be mentally fit after speaking to a counsellor or therapist once.

Lopez Gonzalez suggests these tips to help improve your mental fitness:

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Focus on mindfulness and being present

Lopez Gonzalez recommends meditation, because it helps you focus and tune out distractions. It’s also easy to do – apps like Headspace are a great way to get started.

Another small step towards being present is turning off notifications on your phone. It’s easier to pay attention to what you’re doing if you’re not being distracted by pop-ups on your screen.

Finally, make sure you’re not “ruminating” – getting caught up in your own anxiety and letting it spiral out of control.

Steffi Lopez Gonzalez suggests focusing on your mental fitness in 2021, especially because the previous year was so tough.

“It’s easy to get lost in a flurry of what-ifs, criticism, and overthinking,” said Lopez Gonzalez. “A part of us believes that if we dwell on a problem and spend our energy analysing the situation, that we’ll somehow figure it all out and escape the discomfort we’re feeling.

“Instead, we end up spinning in a sea of negativity and become not only more anxious, but also totally exhausted.”

“In our sincere [but misguided] attempt to find some relief, this mental pattern leads to further suffering.”

What to do when you’re feeling burned out

When you feel yourself getting caught up in your thoughts, use this simple trick.

“Bring yourself back to the present through your senses,” said Lopez Gonzalez.

“Think about can you see, hear, touch, and smell. Doing this will help you focus young mind on the now.”

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Create self-care rituals

“Rituals are actions we repeat that feel special,” said Lopez Gonzalez. These can be simple things that give you peace, like setting aside time every morning to pet your cat before you log on to school.

It can be hard to make time for these rituals, so Lopez Gonzalez advises you to connect them to existing routines you already have.

For example, if you want to start meditating for 10 minutes every day, you can decide to do it right after taking a shower, but before having coffee or tea. After a few repetitions, the end of the shower becomes your mental cue that it’s time to meditate, and the ritual becomes a habit.

Meditation is a great tool for calming yourself down and helping yourself focus on the present.

Let it go

One big thing you need to do to start the new year is let go of the previous one. It’s easy to mourn the things that didn’t happen last year, but it’s not good for you.

“Accept what you can’t control, and let your best efforts be enough,” said Lopez Gonzalez.

If you feel like you “wasted’ a year or that it wasn’t productive enough, examine what productivity means to you. It’s not just measured in academics; you could appreciate how much you learned about yourself, the bonds you formed, and the new hobbies or skills you gained while social distancing.

“We had the chance to experience the world in a different way, and that, in itself, can be very useful as a tool in the future,” said Lopez Gonzalez. “I believe challenges and change force us to think outside the box. It also makes us grateful for what we took for granted.”

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