How many times have you set your list of New Years Resolutions with a rush of enthusiasm, only to find your commitment gradually waning until you can no longer be bothered? We ™ve all done it. We can often come up with quite reasonable explanations for not following through too.
Sometimes we need a boost – and the energy we get from making a brand new commitment makes us feel stronger and more alive. It's a bit like the buzz we get from hearing a motivational speaker “ the trick is how to make it last.
Because if it really IS important to us, we WANT to make it last and we feel pretty crappy when we don't. Sometimes we think less of ourselves and lose confidence in our ability to stick at something. Not helpful.
Here are some research based tips on how to make New Years Resolutions last
1: Practice Self Compassion “ Did you wonder how many other people related to the opening scenario? My guess would be quite a few. That's because it is a common experience “ we all struggle to keep our resolutions if we rely ONLY on our willpower. This year we are going to bring a few more tools to the job.
Start by sending yourself kindness and understanding rather than criticism when you slip up or feel your motivation waning. Say something along these lines to yourself, with the genuine care you would show a dear friend: I know it's hard to stick at it “ it's OK, I understand how that feels. Other people feel like this too. Tune in to what feelings come up and use those words as you practice being on your own side . Do you think this will make you soft and less likely to keep to your commitment? Research shows the exact opposite. Because you are supporting yourself you are MORE likely to hang in there. If you need help with that, enrol in our online program mindfulness4mothers
2: Set a Non-Resolution instead of a resolution. What?
Let me use myself as an example. I am a reformed (well, reforming) activity junkie who only stopped when I slept, addicted to the sense of achievement I felt from successes large and small. But this achievement orientation doesn't translate well to the mother role. I was wearing myself out (motherhood is a marathon not a sprint after all and this unrelenting pace was frying my nerves!). What's more, I cannot connect with my children if I have an agenda for what needs to be achieved next. And that is where all the joy of mothering is: in that connection.
Self-Control expert Kelly McGonigal's research has shown that when we make a commitment about future choices “ Next Year I will give up my addiction to Busyness “ we relax and let ourselves off the hook for today and indulge the very habit we are trying to change. We just tick off three more things before we go to bed pretending we will take better care of ourselves tomorrow.
Instead, we should set a resolution to reduce the variability in our self care rather than setting a stretch goal to transform the habit of a lifetime. In sounds strange but if you are currently doing just one thing to take care of yourself “ like pausing even just once a day to breathe slowly for two minutes – make your resolution to stick to that. It seems counter intuitive but this provides more motivation to gradually increase. Try it and see for yourself!
3: Consider the Consequences: When you feel tempted to skip the break you have planned for the day, instead of telling yourself you have too much to do, ask yourself: Am I prepared to accept the consequences of not slowing down and looking after myself today and every other day of the year? When we don't buy into our own story of pretending we will do it tomorrow, and instead give ourselves the reality check of the consequences of always putting it off, we are being honest with ourselves and tend not to give in to the craving.
4: This to Shall Pass: This brings me to one of my favourite findings about cravings. They pass. When we crave a piece of cake or the buzz from a job well done, the craving can feel so strong that we believe we have to give in to it “ that we have no choice. It's all we can think about and we think it is the only way we can feel ok again. So we give up and give in and feel bad afterwards. Research has shown that cravings actually subside. So if we are armed with that knowledge, we can delay indulging the craving – made easier by:
- being curious and exploring what the craving feels like
- reminding ourselves of our positive goal and it's reward,
- removing ourselves from the environment in which cravings are triggered and
- recording our success each time we get through to the other side “ well done you!
5: Accept Yourself as You Are Now: It sounds counter-intuitive again but often we set self improvement goals that are actually a subtle form of aggression towards ourselves: I will be a better person when I live mindfully, I will accept myself when I can stay calm no matter what . Research has shown that when we befriend ourselves as we are, we free up the positive energy for change. Ironic isn't it. It's actually easier to make a change from that place. And it's also a happier place to be! So try a little self acceptance. Not of the new improved you, but you as you are right now. None of us are prefect so embracing imperfection is part of self acceptance. Practicing the self compassion outlined in point 1 helps enormously with this.
6: Is it REALLY important to you? Or is it just something you think you should do? If you want to tap into your strongest motivation, take the time to think about what really matters to you in life. What you want more of, what you want to offer the world or your family, what you miss in life. And look for small opportunities in your everyday life to start living that vision more fully. What small decisions would reflect that reality? If you are clear on the value underneath the behaviour you are seeking in your resolution, you are more like likely to find the energy and commitment over the long term to translate it into day to day decisions. You start looking around with curiosity for small opportunities to turn it into a reality. I am committed to parenting as much as possible with an open heart and kind and accepting presence. The more I carry this resolution around with me through my day, the more I notice opportunities to make choices that are consistent with that value. I don't always succeed but because I practice self compassion, I am understanding about that and more quickly return to the centre of my commitment again. It's energising and fun rather than a grind “ I am working with myself not against myself in living this resolution. It's becoming who I am.
7: Build on What's Here: Don't try to change the world or reinvent yourself. If you are on your way to something, then strengthen that. Once I resolved to learn how to nap “ because I had read how good naps can be. But I had never been able to nap in living memory. I failed because it is not how my body works and I couldn't reinvent myself. Far better that I committed to a sensible sleep habit that worked with my energy levels so that I felt less like I needed a nap during the day.
8: How to Make it a Habit: Of course, it helps to get some guidance from the study of how we form habits too “ because we are hoping this resolution will turn into a habit. Here are some fast facts from my upcoming course on how to establish healthy
- Start small. Willpower is like a muscle and gets worn out if you push it too hard
- Do it every day “ irregular schedules undermine success. This is another reason to start small. I meditated for only 5 minutes a day when I was establishing my mindfulness habit
- Anchor it to another established routine as a trigger or reminder to do it. For instance, put your mat, cushion or chair out the night before and meditate as soon as your alarm goes off “ your alarm is your anchor and reminder
- Build up slowly once you are confident your first small step is in place. For me, increasing to just 15 minutes was a good second step
- Chunk it down into realistic bites: If you want to meditate for 20 minutes, start at two lots of 10 minutes first
- Accept slip ups with self compassion (see point 1). EVERYONE slips up. Don't criticise yourself, but get back on the horse again as soon as possible. Expect to slip up, but plan for it by having plan b in place for when you will make up the lost time
- Be patient and stick to a pace you can sustain. Habits are hard to form and following all these tips sets you up for success. Trying to be a hero quickly though, sets you up to fail.
Happy New Year everyone and if you need help to establish a mindfulness habit that will deliver greater well-being for you and your children, sign up here: mindfulness4mothers