Did you make New Year's resolutions this year?  If so, how are you doing?  Do you like the thought of a new year and a fresh start?

Or are you one of those people who feel cynical about resolutions?  Perhaps you've tried on previous occasions to make a change and it hasn't worked.  You maybe started full of enthusiasm, only to find a gradual decline into the habit you're trying to change, a growing sense of failure and eventual abandonment of the goal.  You shrug your shoulders and decide you're not cut out for resolutions.  However, you may also be left with a lingering sense of guilt because the change you wanted to make was a positive one.  You genuinely wanted to lose weight, to drink less, to cut out the crisps, sweets and chocolate, or to exercise more.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to improve ourselves and it doesn't have to wait until the start of the New Year.  If you've already "failed" in 2019, why not take another look at what might have gone wrong and make some adjustments so that 2019 can still be the year where you make a difference?

Identifying the Motive for Change

Let's just stop for a moment and think about where the desire to change is coming from.

The festive season is often a time of excess.  It can include excess spending, partying, drinking, and eating.  As December ends and January looms, many people experience guilt over their behaviour and feel fearful about what it means.  Will they be able to pay the credit card bill? Will their work clothes still fit? What will people think of their festive behaviour?

This can lead to self-punishing behaviour: a knee jerk reaction to decide to change.  People may embark on an extreme de-toxing purge in the New Year.  The diet clubs and gyms fill up and the alcohol sales go down. There's a saying that gyms fill up in January and empty by Valentine's Day.

Sometimes the need to orchestrate physical change is not fuelled by the honest desire to be healthier.  It may come from a place of fear and dislike of our bodies.  We feel shame as we look at the rolls of fat around our waist or our thighs.  We worry about what people will think of us and we may have deep seated beliefs about what is an acceptable body.

We may not be choosing change because we love ourselves and want to have a healthier lifestyle.  We may be trying to change to make others love us.

If we're trying to change for others - to obtain their appreciation and approval - we may be setting ourselves up to fail.  It can be difficult to define an end point when others are involved.  The goal posts may constantly shift and change according to someone's mood or what we perceive they deem acceptable.

So it is wise to think about our motivation.  Is it to avoid guilt, shame and fear? Or is it a healthy desire to grow as a person and to look after our bodies so we can live healthy and fulfilling lives?

It may be that rather than chasing an "ideal", with the aim of satisfying other people, a helpful change might be to improve the way we view ourselves.  This may mean seeking therapy or it could be that we need to do something that boosts our self-esteem. Examples would be pursuing an activity that interests us or mixing with like minded people.

Preparation Helps

Hands up those of us who have a vague desire to do something different and embark on a change with little or no planning?  Planning can make the difference between success and failure.

If, in the second week of January, you're already struggling with your resolutions, it's not to late to draw breath and start again. Acknowledge your commitment to yourself and have a rethink about how to achieve your objective.

It may be helpful to know that ingrained behaviours come almost naturally to us.  There is no need for us to think if our habit is to reach for a biscuit when we're making a cup of tea.  However, change takes conscious mental effort and that effort is in short supply.  We wake up in the morning with our willpower refreshed but it runs down during the day, which is why many dieters find it more difficult to resist cravings in the evenings. Therefore, it's helpful to have plans in place to support us when our willpower is depleted.

Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

Consider the following:

  • Choose something that matters to you, not to someone else.
  • Setting realistic, specific goals within a time frame can help.  Realistic goals mean tackling one behaviour at a time (planning to give up smoking, drinking and over-eating all at once is a big ask).
  • Breaking goals down into smaller steps will help them to see more achievable.  You can also plan small rewards as you meet each of the smaller steps as this can help to motivate effort.
  • Decide on whether you need complete abstinence, or want to reduce a particular behaviour such as the number of cigarettes smoked or the amount of alcohol consumed.
  • Keep a checklist of the positive results of the change - why it is you are aiming for this goal.
  • Keep records of your behaviour as you work towards the change.
  • Acknowledge and reduce the triggers that fuel the behaviour.  This may be about recognising stressors in our lives and doing something about them.  It may involve not visiting the pub, not mixing with particular people, removing ash trays, reducing our workload.
  • Support is an important aspect of change that we often overlook.  Telling family and friends of our intentions so that they can support us can help. Seeking professional help to identify the triggers for excessive consumption of alcohol, drug taking or emotional eating can make a difference.

Forgive the Relapses

Preparation and support can help in maintaining change.  However, most change can involve a relapse, particularly after the first flush of enthusiasm and positive change has occurred.

It's helpful to see relapses as part of the cycle of change.  Rather than judging ourselves a failure, a relapse can be seen as further information to help us in our quest.  What caused the relapse? Was there a trigger of some sort? What was it? How can we address it?

If we can see change as a process of growth, rather than an end point in itself, we may be more prepared to go on trying.

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

There is more information on being kind to ourselves when we're failing in the following blog: https://thegoodenoughmum.com/598-2

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