Are you making New Year resolutions for 2019? Here are our 6 TOP TIPS to help those changes stick!
Now the last of the turkey and most of the Christmas chocolate mountain has been eaten, it is natural that our thoughts turn to the New Year as a chance to refresh or reinvent ourselves in the year ahead.
Are you looking forward to starting afresh? That’s great, but quite often we find that while it’s not too hard to stick with the changes we want to see in January - the real challenge comes later in the year. After all, in the very first month, thanks to our shiny new resolutions our enthusiasm and motivation levels are still very high.
In December we have a tendency to overindulge. We overeat, over-spend and party hard, leaving us very ready - come January - to sweep away any bad habits or behaviours with aplomb. To put it frankly, we are desperate to sweep off the cobwebs and start again!
However the truth is that, although our intentions may be good, it is often February or March where, despite what feels like our best efforts, we find ourselves slipping back to living a life that is pretty indistinguishable from the life we were living the previous year.
We’re also familiar with the usual New Year drill: ‘Eat less; eat healthy; more exercise; find a work-life balance’. Perhaps there are some other goals you have for 2019, such as travelling more or finding a better job?
At the Solution Focused Studio in Farnham, we work every day with people looking to make effective and long-lasting changes in their lives. Using our knowledge of neuroscience, Clinical Hypnotherapy and Solution Focused Brief Therapy, we help people harness the power of their brain to reach their goals....... so with the benefit of our experience we wanted to help you get ready for 2019 by suggesting SIX useful tips to help you achieve your resolutions!
1) Paint a detailed picture for your brain to give it a clear direction
Resolutions or goals such as ‘lose weight; eat better; be fitter’ are commendable, but actually extremely vague for the brain. Our brains need a very detailed picture if it is going to help you achieve your goals, and this means clearly defining what it is you are trying to achieve. Visualisation is your friend.
Having a mental picture sounds obvious, but it is surprising how many people don’t have a very clear and achievable plan for how they are going to lose weight or eat healthier as part of a lifestyle change.
As we say at the Studio: not painting a detailed picture for your brain is a bit like getting into a taxi and asking to go to a town. Yes, you’re being clear you want to be taken somewhere, but which town? Where in the town? How much money do you have for the fare?
Also, part of your brain might have been quite comfortable and happy on the amount of food it was eating or the amount of exercise with was doing. If you try to make changes without being very, very clear on WHY you need to make the change, you may well find that a part of your brain (you might have heard this referred to as the ‘chimp’ brain) hunkers down because you haven’t convinced it to also make the change.
Many studies involving athletes, musicians and basketball players, to people wanting to lose weight, have shown success when visualisation techniques are used - the power of our imagination is very well known. It is fair to say that where the mind leads, the body follows.
It is so important to harness the power of the brain and have it working ‘on your side’, otherwise you’ll feel it pull you straight back to your familiar old patterns and habits.
Suggestion: Write down a list of the changes you want to make and the reason why. Set aside five minutes at bedtime, before you fall asleep, to refresh and strengthen the mental picture of what you are trying to achieve.
2) How will you know when your goals have been reached?
Linking to the previous point, make sure you also have a clear and detailed picture of how you will know when you have achieved your goal. What is your destination and how will you know you are there?
‘Lose weight’, as we have said, is far too open-ended, as is the mental note to ‘get fit’. How will you know when you have reached the level of fitness you want? Will it be when you are able to run five miles? Will it be when you are able to walk up and down stairs without getting out of breath? Will it be when you are easily maintaining three exercise classes a week? Similarly, if your goal is weight loss, will it be when your old trousers fit? Will it be when you feel healthier or lighter? Or if your goal is ‘spend more time with the children’, how will your week look when it is achieved?
Having a destination is another way of painting that detailed picture the brain needs, and reassuring it that there is a defined end to the process – a time when those changes will be achieved and maintained.
Suggestion: If you have a few spare moments during the day, imagine yourself having reached your goal. What does it feel like? What great things will happen when you reach your goal? Make sure you repeat this daydream regularly to ‘up’ your motivation.
3) Watch the language you use – stay positive!
Language is very important to us – not just the language we use to converse with others, but also the language that we use when thinking to ourselves.
Which sounds better and more defined to you: ‘eat fewer carbs’ or ‘eat more green vegetables’? ‘Weight management’ or ‘weight loss’? ‘Cut down on alcohol’ or ‘add two evenings a weeks where I only drink lime and soda’?
Quite often we use resolutions that make us feel negative or lacking. For example, digging at ourselves to ‘cut out junk food’ can easily be changed for a goal of ‘increase my green vegetables at each meal’. Both goals will have the same effect, but one is more attractive and positive than the other. ‘Stay hydrated’ can be defined as ‘increase by one glass of water at each meal’.
In order to ‘cut down’ on something, why not set the goal or resolution of ‘adding in’? The brain will naturally be attracted to a positive suggestion that will be of benefit to you, whereas if it is only asked to focus negatively on something it ‘can’t have’, there will be a natural tendency to feel deprived. Once we feel deprived of something, because of how the brain works, we stand much less chance of sticking with the planned change.
Suggestion: Review your resolutions and write them in a positive tone, changing the language to ‘adding something in’ rather than just focusing on the cutting down. Even if the goal is to ‘cut down’, simply plan to add something in it’s place and focus on achieving that.
4) Take small steps and celebrate success!
Long-lasting change is more likely to occur when we break larger tasks or goals into small, achievable steps. The reason for this is obvious – if we feel something is achievable we are more likely to do it and much less likely to lose motivation.
From the perspective of the brain, small steps mean that it can adjust better to any new changes to it’s usual routine.
The notion of going ‘cold turkey’ is quite difficult – occasionally achievable – but for most, still difficult. If you are changing a habit or pattern, let the brain adapt to your new way of thinking or behaving so it naturally becomes just another part of you.
For example, if the goal is cutting down alcohol, then (if you aren’t going ‘cold turkey’) substitute half of your usual alcohol with a non-alcoholic drink you like for the period of two weeks. This way you are signalling you are making a change, but not signalling you are being deprived and easing any withdrawl. Celebrate the end of that stage with a (non-alcoholic) treat, and then decide if you are happy at that level, or if you need to reduce the alcohol down further to, for example, just weekends.
This helps the brain to adjust and the pattern – the ‘new normal’ if you like – and will simply become a part of your new lifestyle. The brain will let go of any notion that the alcohol is ‘essential’ and the urge to drink it at your old levels will naturally lessen. When you see the positive effects of less alcohol eg. losing weight, feeling brighter on a morning…..this will also help you see the benefits in long-term change.
Also, humans like to have rewards. When we achieve something and have recognition, we get a boost of positive chemicals in the brain and this will encourage our feelings of self-esteem and make us more likely to want to repeat and maintain the behaviour.
If you are making changes it is really important to congratulate and compliment yourself when you have met your smaller goals.
Suggestion: Plan, in advance, when and how you are going to celebrate. Remember not to undo your good work, so choose a healthy and productive way of celebrating!
5) Enlist help!
While resolutions are generally a personal thing, remember that it can be easier to make significant changes with the help of someone. Whether this is a professional therapist, personal trainer, group or a friend who is making similar changes, it can add to your motivation and levels of success. Humans are sociable animals and we receive a boost to our motivational brain chemicals when we interact with others – use this fact to help you stick to your resolutions and start thinking about who can help you.
Another way of enlisting the help of others is to prepare them for the changes you are making so they can’t sabotage your good work. You can let them know that you don’t drink anymore or that you don’t really have a sweet tooth. If you are making other lifestyle changes, you can start preparing those around you for the fact you will be around more (or not, if you are looking to increase your travelling!). Remember that others close to you may be impacted by your changes and so it is fair and helpful to give them some notice.
6) Take steps to address any anxiety
So many of our issues have their roots in raised levels of anxiety. Damaging or unhelpful habits or behaviours can result from not taking steps to address the anxiety or stress when it arises - they are the symptoms of neglected mental health or wellbeing.
Anxiety could be the source of your insomnia, overeating or drinking – even skin and digestion problems. Low levels of motivation can also be a factor and this is why getting help with your anxiety can get you back on track, because not understanding how anxiety works can hold you back.
We invest quite a lot in hair, beauty, grooming, fitness, food and fashion, yet one of the most important investments we should make is in our wellbeing and mental health. Even if that is not necessarily going to a therapist to work on your issues, it could be investing in some productive reflection time, switching off the phone and social media- taking yourself away for a break or spending time in deep relaxation.
Suggestion: Spend a few minutes now to focus on whether your New Year resolutions are to change unhealthy habits. Are these habits really a symptom of something else? Are your anxiety levels an issue? If so – what positive steps could you take to address them? If you were less anxious tomorrow, what would be different?
We wish you the best of luck with your New Year resolutions and a happy and healthy 2019. If you would like to hear more from the Solution Focused Studio, go to our webpage where you can read our blog, follow us on Facebook or contact us if you would like to hear more about how we help people with Clinical Hypnotherapy and Solution Focused Brief Therapy www.solutionfocusedstudio.com
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