Vajra Blue

Mindfulness and Compassion. Understanding trauma in young people.

5 ways to make your resolutions stick


It is that time of year when we all usually decide that we need to change something about ourselves. We drink too much, we are killing ourselves through smoking or eating too much chocolate. We were going to exercise more, cycle to work or get better at being organised.

Somehow we usually seem to find something that we can use to beat ourselves up. We are not good enough, so we must stop doing something in order to make ourselves better people. Very occasionally we meet people who do not make negative resolutions, but instead make resolutions that are positive. They choose to take up more sensible ways of behaving or decide to do something new.

Somehow, these people seem to be able to carry through on their decisions much more effectively, whatever new habit they have decided to adopt.

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My own experience in giving up smoking twenty years or so ago, seems to back this up. Whenever I beat myself up for smoking, and decided to stop at new year, I only ever felt deprived, and being unconvinced about what I was doing, I inevitably failed. It was only when I decided that I would take up a healthier lifestyle, part of which involved smoking less, that I eventually succeeded – albeit by developing a serious butterscotch habit. Getting rid of the extra weight was easier that stopping smoking, as part of my new lifestyle involved running every day.

So what should we do if we want our resolutions to stick, and so deprive ourselves of another reason to beat ourselves up.?

1. Make our resolutions positive.
The language that we use is important. It significantly effects how we see things.  One recent piece of research investigated the effect of words on our behaviours. Two matched groups of people wer given a list of words to read in the morning. One set of words was positive in its meanings while the other was negative. Both groups in the study tended to show behaviours in line with the tone of the words that they had read at the start of the day.

The language that we use to talk to ourselves about what we are doing can make a huge difference, negative language makes failure more likely and positive language leads to greater success. How we think about what we are doing contributes to whether we succeed or not.  If we feel we are depriving ourselves of something then we will be negatively biased against what we are trying to achieve and then it will be a much harder struggle, if we are chosing to do something positive, and feel good about it, then we will find it much easier to achieve.

2. Keep our resolutions small and time limited.
If we picture ourselves just stopping for ever it can be very daunting, and we can convince ourselves that what we are trying to do is impossible. If we set ourselves the target of doing something for the next week, day, hour, or even ten minutes then we will see that as manageable. Each small success adds up, and soon our new habits will take on a momentum all of their own. We soon go from being a smoker, to a person who is not smoking at the moment, to someone who is now an ex smoker.

To get reasonably good at something we have to practice it for about twenty hours. One of the bits of wisdom that floats around, is that if we wish to develop a new habit we have to do it for twenty days, which would seem to be one of those old saws that is actually backed up by research. If we want to become a world expert then we have to do it for about ten thousand hours. It is much easier to start small and work up to the harder target! We only need to get as good at our new habit as we want to.

3. Be kind to ourselves.
One of the reasons we seem to fail with our resolutions is the negative approach we take to ourselves. We are bad people for eating chocolate not good people who are adopting a healthier lifestyle.

Self compassion is a good habit to develop, and will be of great benefit if we are trying to change how we live in the world. Please check this link for further information.

4.  Don’t catastrophise when we slip.
Taking up new habits is quite difficult and in many cases we are setting out to change something that we have done automatically for many years. It is inevitable that we will slip up from time to time.

This is not evidence that we cannot do something, but an inevitable consequence of trying to break old habits and develop new ones.

Usually we slip when we are on autopilot, when we are tired or feeling under stress. When I gave up smoking, I was surprised when I found myself checking my jacket pocket for my cigarettes fifteen years after I had stopped. It helps if we can observe ourselves as we go about our daily routines, to try and spot the “at risk” times when we are most likely to struggle.

Taking a few moments to check how we are feeling, to take a few deep breaths, and to come back to the here and now, can help here. Developing a mindfulness practice is always a good resolution!

5. Share our intention with other people.
If we make a commitment in front of others, it not only provides us with an extra layer of support in what we are trying to achieve, but will also reinforce our will power. It is easier to keep to something if we have made it public, and this will strengthen our resolve by making us reluctant to let others down.

So if you have been struggling with our New Years Resolutions it is perhaps time to refocus and start again.  This time with a focus on self compassion, mindfulness and positive intentions.

Have a great 2015 and may it bring you the prosperity that you need.

Author: SandySB

Child and adolescent psychiatrist. Parent. Blogger.

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