How can I transform my life this year?

Dr Petra advises a reader who wants to change her life in 2017
Dr Petra advises a reader who wants to change her life in 2017 (posed by model) Credit: Drazen Lovric

I want to change my life. I’m fed up with everything and I want to be completely different by this time next year. What advice do you have for someone who wants to transform themselves?

It’s that time of year where we feel tempted to reinvent ourselves. Often motivated by overwhelming media coverage about New Year resolutions; plus messages from the self-help market, public health campaigns, and gurus of all kinds encouraging us to overhaul our lives.

My first question would be to check if you really do need to change, or just feel pressured by tradition. 

Wanting to change everything is a very bold plan, and you may want to consider if redesigning every aspect of your life is necessary, feasible, or liable to become self-defeating.

Many people who set out with grand ideas for change in the New Year have given up by February, and may feel even more deflated at the thought of not managing to achieve their goals.

So, if you want to make changes it may help to be both realistic and organised in your approach.

Why do you want to change?

It may be you’re just fed up and fancy something different. Or you could feel anxious about world events this past year and want to alter your life as a means of coping with 2017.

It may be things within your personal life have got you down and you believe a radical change will benefit you.

Maybe friends, family or your doctor have recommended lifestyle improvements.

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Ask yourself :

  • What has prompted this desire for change?
  • What does ‘change’ mean to me?
  • If I make changes, what benefits do I expect to see?
  • What will happen if I can’t turn things around?
  • Who, or what, can help me reach my goals?
  • Are there any barriers that might stop me from achieving what I want?
  • What would happen if I did nothing?

Spend some time reflecting on your answers to these questions, writing out your thoughts, or talking it over with a friend.

Creating a plan for change

In no particular order, you might consider making changes in these areas: friendships, family, relationships, work, physical and mental health, your appearance, finances, hobbies, volunteering. 

Imagine your life 12 months from now. If all your dreams came true, what would it be like? What would you be doing? How would you feel?

As you do this, can you spot any resistance (for example you don’t think you deserve or could attain the things you truly want), or find it difficult to really focus on what you want to happen?

Ask yourself:

  • What are you happy with at present? (The things you can celebrate and leave be)
  • What have you zero control over changing? (the things you’ll have to let go of for now)
  • What are the things you aren’t happy with and you know you can take steps to alter?

Once you’ve thought about what you want to happen and where you would like to see change, you can begin to chart a way to get what you want.

How to go about it?

You might use collage, cartooning, wish lists, writing a diary, drawing up a schedule for the year ahead, or creating a map of where you are now and where you’d like to be in twelve months time.

Some tools to help you on your journey You might be itching to get started, and there’s no reason why you have to spend a lot of time planning if you’d prefer to dive in and try out new things.

However, if you are not quite sure what to do, or know what to do but don’t yet feel able to manage it, the following resources could help:

Assertiveness and confidence building books and courses can let you feel stronger, negotiate things more effectively, and make better decisions about what’s going on in your life.

Not everyone needs therapy but if you are struggling with your mental wellbeing or need support in making life decisions then this can be a good option. Your GP can refer you (it's worth knowing that there can be a long wait list and in some areas no counselling services at all) or you can pay yourself.

Life coaching is another option if you need motivation and structure.

You may find as you begin to make changes that some of the things on your list become more important, or cease to be an issue

If your current dissatisfaction is due to underlying physical or mental health problems, see your doctor. Particularly before you decide to embark on any major changes to diet, exercise, smoking cessation etc.

Consider joining support networks or groups (on or offline or set up your own), for extra motivation.

You might find inspiration in some of the suggestions from this previous column on feeling happier.

You may find as you begin to make changes that some of the things on your list become more important, or cease to be an issue. Being flexible and open to change is good. As is allowing yourself to sometimes take risks, experiment, or just wait to see what happens rather than pushing on without reflecting on how things feel in the present.

Ultimately this should be something pleasant - a positive gift you give to yourself.  

So if at any point it is making you feel miserable be willing to let go of your plans, stop trying, take a break, and start again.

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Petra Boynton is a social psychologist and sex researcher working in International Health Care and studying sex and relationships. She is The Telegraph’s agony aunt. Follow her on Twitter @drpetra.

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