There are many things we feel duty bound to do at the start of a New Year, like staying up past midnight, miming the words to ‘Auld Lang Syne’, finishing off the last of the quality street by 11.57pm and of course, setting New Year resolutions (you might use the word goals, plans or changes if you pretend you’re not into the ridiculous idea of resolutions!).
It is part of human nature to want to evolve, to be a better version of ourselves; and as we have free rein to express our more relaxed and overindulgent tendencies during the festive period, it makes sense to want to put a line in the sand and decide we need to stop the craziness as we survey the consequences of our actions. (think: empty wine bottles, zero bank balances, the inability to wake up before 10am and the feeling of an unbearably tight waistband). Instead of simply reverting to our previous habits, the New Year brings a whole new opportunity to start again, we no longer want to return to our former November self, we want more, we want to be much better than that, it’s a new year and that calls for a whole NEW YOU!
Unfortunately, the mere striking of 12 bongs of Big Ben and the purchasing of a new journal (even one with room for SMART goals and a timetable) will not guarantee success. According to Forbes only 8% of people making resolutions actually feel that they have succeeded by the end of the year.
I have been working with clients that want to change their habits for 15 years, I have also tried and tested many methods, theories and tools in my own personal journey towards health guru status* (*an as yet, incomplete project – status variable!). Behavioural change is a complex issue and one that fascinates me; I know for sure that just having information about what we ‘should’ do and then using a ‘mind over matter’ approach is not enough. Obviously I believe in the power of the mind (I am a hypnotherapist, after all) but I also believe that the mind is more than an analytical device in our head that controls everything. Together the mind and mind-body communicate a myriad of feelings, instincts and logic that determine what we do.
So what can you do to turn your resolutions (goals, plans, actions etc.) into reality?
Firstly add some preparation time into the equation – the idea of turning into a calm, dynamic; wealthy, philanthropic; natural looking model/beefcake is a tantalising one when you awake a little after 10 on the first day of January. However, it is necessary to explore what you really want, why you want it and if it is realistic. If you were making any change in your life (moving house, buying a car, going on holiday) you would do some research, consider practicalities and listen to your feelings before making decisions. It is no different with personal behaviour change:
Step one – Ask yourself what you want to change and why? Decide if the change will really achieve the ‘why’, if it doesn’t think up a better one.
Step two – Now list the benefits of changing and pay-offs to not changing. Write down the first thing that comes into your head, even if it seems childish or slightly bonkers – we like to believe we are logical, rational beings but our habits are often linked to emotions and sub-conscious beliefs. Next give each benefit and pay off a rating of 1-10, neurologically our brains are wired towards reward; they drive us to experience pleasure and to avoid pain. If any of the pay-offs outweigh the rewards then return to step one and consider if there is something else you need to change first.
Step three – Forget the quick fixes, changes that last, take time to establish. . We understand this when it comes to exercise – if you want to go from a non-runner to a marathoner, you build up your running time gradually and yet when it comes to other habits we throw ourselves in with reckless abandonment. Jumping from takeaways to juice fasts and social media obsession to meditation and mantras is quite a shock to the system. Breaking your long-term aim into smaller actions keeps things manageable and helps your mind and body to adjust. Be specific about what you will do and when you will do it.
Step four – Remember your habits are not separate to your work, relationships or your home life; they all overlap and impact on each other. Each action needs to be realistically practical whilst living the life you have now. If it isn’t, go back to step three and make those actions more in keeping with whom you are right now, rather than who you might like to be.
Step five – As human beings we have an inner drive to fulfil our deep instinctual needs, beyond the basics of food, sleep and procreation, we also need to experience: connection, routine, autonomy, solitude, excitement and purpose. You can tap in to your very own inner Mr Motivator (unitard optional) by thinking about your current life circumstances, and rating each of the 6 ‘needs’ on a scale of 1-10. If you have scored any of the categories as a 4 or less, then consider working on that as a separate goal. Next check the step by step actions you decided on; do those actions meet three or more of those needs? If they don’t then go back to step four and tweak your actions. If they do – write down why and smile smugly to yourself, as you are definitely onto a winning plan.
Step six – What is often overlooked when we change our habits, is that we are all in a constant state of flux, the seasons change, we have different demands and responsibilities made on our time, our relationships transform – so the plan you make is never meant to be permanent. If you find it stops working or your life changes in some way, check back over each step to ensure it is still relevant to you. It is a good idea to do a four monthly review, we may live in a twenty-four/seven society but our bodies and minds still respond to the seasonal changes that take place and we need to adjust our plan accordingly.
Step seven – Ask for help if you need it, sometimes talking through these steps with a friend or a professional reveals a new level of understanding. You might also find support groups; online forums or creating your own friend’s network can also give a boost to your morale and help keep you on track. If you are really struggling with making changes and feel like your behaviour controls you, you may have an addiction and need specialist help. Addictions can come in all forms, including but not limited to: the internet, shopping, sex, food, exercise, gambling, as well as drugs and alcohol. There is lots of support available and talking to your GP is a good place to start.
Finally, a tip for the ‘all or nothing’ thinkers out there, you know who you are, those of you that are either on plan 100% or you don’t bother. Consider setting yourself actions with maximum and minimum amounts, that way you can be flexible and still stay on target. It may seem like a cop-out to the die-hard perfectionists but over the long term you will achieve much more.
So, what do you do if you’re reading this after the First of January – which is very likely as I am actually writing it on the Eighth? Do not panic, the new year does bring with it a certain sense of ‘an official start’, but there are many other ways to replicate this – pick a date and circle it on the calendar, do your preparation and your off. If you like the idea of it being more symbolic then choose a birthday, an anniversary, a Saints Day or a seasonal marker like the solstice or the equinox. There is also the Chinese New Year, which starts on 21st January, the Buddhist New Year which starts on 13th April, the Ethiopian, Jewish and Islamic New Year all start in September if you don’t find this blog until August J
Whatever you are working towards and whenever you start, enjoy the process; I would love to hear how you get on!