Sunday, 4 January 2015

It’s that time of year.  People are making and breaking New Year’s resolutions in equal abundance.  So many more new year’s resolutions fail than succeed.  Why is this so? Should we just ditch these resolutions altogether or is there a way to change our attitude towards them?  I’m offering a free workshop Mindful New Year’s Resolutions worth keepingthis Thursday 8th 6-7:30pm at the Psychological Society of Ireland Headquarters, 2nd floor Grantham House, Grantham Street, Dublin 2.  Pre-booking is essential by e-mailing or calling 01-4433307 and limited to the first 60 registrants.  You can also find ACT Now Ireland on Facebook or on their website

Tips for how to make New Year’s Resolutions worth keeping

1.     Connect to why you want to make this resolution.

If it’s just because you think you “should”, “have to”, or “must”- this is rarely enough.  In fact, let’s put this to the test- imagine yourself doing something that you naturally enjoy doing and now imagine that you have to do that exact same thing.  Notice what happens in your body and if you feel more or less inclined to do this exact same thing- something you previously enjoyed.  In my experience, about 90% of people have an adverse bodily reaction and feel far less inclined to do the thing they now feel is compulsory to do.  If you notice yourself saying “should” and “have to”- see if you can connect to the reason to do this beneath the “should” and “have to”.  For example with a fitness goal- connecting to the underlying benefits you would like to enjoy- more energy, increased life expectancy, better overall physical and mental health.  Write down these bigger reasons and review them often.  If you cannot connect to a bigger reason that feels vital to you- I would suggest letting go of this resolution now.

2.     Acknowledge that it’s human to make mistakes.

 The only thing I can guarantee with absolute certainty to every single person who makes a new year’s resolution is that we will all go off course.  That is part of our human nature.  The key thing here is how we relate to ourselves after we make these mistakes.  Do we continue to berate ourselves?  Do we use this lapse as a means of falling off the wagon completely?  Or do we acknowledge that this happens everyone, learn from our lapse, and get back on track.

3.     Hold yourself accountable.

 If this really matters to you, tell someone you know and trust who will keep your best interests at heart.  Of course, you don’t go telling the person who gives everyone a hard time when they are trying to make a change in their life.  Here’s the thing- be very clear to the person in terms of what you want from them in terms of support.  We all need different levels of support- some people like an occasional text message, some would appreciate a quick call more often.  Be very clear about what it is that you want from your ally and what you would like them to do if, and when, you go off track.

4.     Make a recording of why this is important to you.

At this point it is abundantly clear that you will go off track.  We all will.  If this is something that is truly important to you, make a voice recording no more than 3-5 minutes long explaining why this resolution is important to you.  The more you can connect to this at a feelings level- the more likely you are to come back on track.  It is even better if you can foresee the obstacles that might get in your way and coach yourself through these.  It can be good to share this recording with your ally.

5.     Take one to three minutes daily to reconnect to why this matters.

Unfortunately, it is not enough to connect to why it’s important to make this change once.  You need to reconnect to why it’s important often.  It is better to spend 1-3 minutes daily connecting to why this is important than to spend a day once a month.  Some people connect to why this resolution is important through a mindful meditation, others journal while others express themselves creatively.  How is not as important as taking the time to make this a priority in your life.

6.     Acknowledge that unwanted emotions will arise.

If it was a piece of cake to make this change, chances are you would have made the change already.  The reality is that it is tough to make changes.  Especially to well-established routines.  You will have all kinds of unwanted emotions and feelings arise.  It’s important to remember that this is par for the course for everyone.  You don’t need to like, love or want how you’re feeling.  You simply require a willingness to have these feelings if they are bringing you closer towards your resolution.

7.     Acknowledge toward and away moves, rather than right/good and wrong/bad.

It is all too common to label ourselves as good/doing it right when we are acting in ways that represent how we went to be in the world.  And conversely we label ourselves as bad/doing it wrong when we are in acting in ways that we are not proud of.

Instead, see if you can identify what it is that you want to move toward, for example a healthier lifestyle, and then whenever you engage in any action, no matter how small, toward that, you can acknowledge that as a toward move.  And whenever you engage in any action that brings you further away from your goal, you can acknowledge this as an away move rather that a bad move, or labelling yourself as doing it wrong.  This is a much healthier way of looking at things and can get you back on trap much quicker.

8.     Check in with your older, wiser, more compassionate self.

Before embarking in any meaningful change, it is useful to connect in with your older wiser self.  Have you ever had the experience of looking back at your life 5/10 years ago and very clearly seeing what it is that you could have done differently.  Retrospective thinking really is 20:20 vision.  You can imagine connecting to your older, wiser, more compassionate self for some guidance- from their experienced perspective- what might they recommend that you do differently? They are not there to judge or ridicule but rather to help you move toward where it is that you want to go.