As usual, the first two weeks of January have been full of New Year's resolutions and bold claims that 2016 is going to be the best year yet. Like every year, the conversation is dominated by references to giving up or cutting back on something: usually food, drink or a habit that is not particularly good for us, but we enjoy it. More often than not, these good intentions begin to wane after a few virtuous weeks and, inevitably, old habits creep back. The feelings that follow are ones of disappointment and frustration as yet another resolution fails and the cycle starts again the following January.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting we stop setting ourselves New Year's resolutions. In fact, I believe outlining personal goals and challenges each year is incredibly important. Instead, I think we should shift our focus and start concentrating on positive ways in which we really can make 2016 the best year yet. Is there a new skill you want to learn, or an activity you have been meaning to try for years? Where do you want to go on an adventure? What challenge can you undertake that resonates with you and will push you to grow personally?
We should all be thinking about how we can push ourselves out of our comfort zones this year: something that surprisingly few of us actually do on a regular basis. Taking up a new activity or learning a new skill can do wonders for self-confidence and, for some, can even have life-changing results, as new doors are opened and friendships are formed. Equally, the fantastic feeling of accomplishment and pride that comes with completing a personal goal really is incomparable - be that planning an adventure, doing a sky dive or learning to cook.
The notion of challenging yourself to try something new and to push past personal barriers is the very essence of the DofE. For young people taking part, the experience can be transformative as they develop skills to help them succeed in both work and life. In celebration of 60 years of incredible work with millions of young people, I've reflected on the many adults who've told me that they'd have loved to do their DofE if only they'd had the chance (safe in the knowledge that they're too old to do it!). So, to call their bluff, we're giving them the opportunity. We've set up the DofE Diamond Challenge which encourages the whole of the UK to take on a challenge in 2016. This is running throughout the year and is a one-off opportunity for people of all ages to take on a new challenge, while also supporting the DofE as it aims to further its outreach and engage with many more young people over the coming years.
The challenges already pledged are truly inspirational and represent the diversity of personalities across the UK. Endurance events are very popular amongst the athletes out there: marathons, triathlons, long walks or cycles. However, the DofE Diamond Challenge is not limited to physical activity. One Challenger has pledged to knit a 60m scarf, before dividing it up and donating it to the homeless. Many plan to learn a new language, with Mandarin being one of the most popular (but with Scandinavian languages not far behind!). We even have one Challenger who's pledged to overcome a phobia of pigeons by holding one of the birds. No challenge is too big or too small; it is a completely personal experience. For me, I'm facing up to the fact that, having had a guitar since being a teenager, I'm hopeless at it and I've set myself the challenge of learning to play it properly and playing to an audience - that hopefully won't throw things at me - and raising some money for the charity as a result.
So, this year I am inviting you all to stop focusing on the elements you dislike about yourself and, instead, to think about what you can gain from pushing yourself to try something new, unfamiliar or downright difficult. Now, where did I put that plec?
You can read more about the DofE Diamond Challenge and sign up to take part here.