Make Mindfulness our New Year’s Resolution!
by Janette Grant 10th January 2018
Ok…hands up those of you who made New Year’s resolutions and who are already struggling to keep to them? We know that New Year’s resolutions have a powerful effect on our psyche with the promise of new beginnings, a new chapter, and hopefully the chance to achieve all those things we desire. But don’t beat yourself up when you falter…it’s a fact that over 90% of people fail to achieve their resolutions!
Clearly then, most of us are going about this in the wrong way! A much better idea would be to make Mindfulness our New Year’s Resolution and then instead of resolving to Lose weight, Exercise more, Save more money etc., we could have an Intention to be more mindful and the rest will naturally follow. After all, making changes in our life is driven by our intentions and at the heart of every goal lies the desire to be happier. Research has proven that the benefits of mindfulness extends to improved well-being, mental and physical health, better sleep and reduced stress, which all contribute to an improved level of happiness.
The word intention comes from the Latin intendere –‘to turn one’s attention’. And whereas resolutions are hard and firm – we are resolute in our expectations; intentions are flexible and about where we direct our attention – they are about being mindful. Most of us though, spend our lives with little intention and findourselves looking back thinking ‘Where did all those years go?!’ Isn’t it time we live as if it matters?
We can use mindfulness to help us be more intentional with our lives. Think about how we set our minds up for anxiety; we start our morning worrying about all the work we have to do in the day – our mind keeps the worrying going and then we arrive at work and everything we deal with is clouded by our anxious mind. Some bad news arrives and we continue to focus on the difficulties of our situation because this is the mindset we are stuck in. If however, we intentionally aim to bring more mindfulness into our lives, we will naturally begin to deal with our daily issues with more balance, flexibility and compassion.
‘Be the change you want to see in the world’ – Gandhi
Change begins with intention; how do we want to be in this world? One of the most common mistakes, which most of us fall into, is setting rigid resolutions and then when we falter we find ourselves in a negative mindset once again: ‘I’ve failed again…what’s the point?!’ But what if we set an intention and then develop an action plan to achieve this intention, instead of just thinking of ourself as a failure and giving up? To achieve this we need to remember the following:
- Accept we are likely to stray – it is very likely that we will sometimes stray from the goals we have made – we may have committed to exercise regularly, but then we fall ill; or we aim to meditate every day, but then we get bogged down at work and days go by without practice. This will happen and so….
- We should not judge ourselves – the fact that we have strayed from our goals is not a good or bad thing – it’s just natural sometimes when we are trying to make a change in our life. Simply notice we have strayed and where, so that we can notice it sooner next time. If we find ourself judging: ‘I can’t do this! Why did I think I could?!’, we should just notice our thoughts just as we noticed our straying behaviour and go on to….
- Refocus our thoughts – and gently bring ourselves back to our action plan or decide if we need to revise our goal. No-one is perfect – by striving for perfection we are merely setting ourself up to fail – so we should be as kind to ourself when we do stray as we would be to our friends. We just need to compassionately guide ourself back to the object of our focus.
Choosing to practise mindfulness for our New Year’s resolution will help us to develop our awareness of the feelings driving our behaviour and give us the space to recognise these difficult feelings so that we can make deliberate choices towards more helpful behaviour. We will then understand why we allow our plans to slip; life happens and we cannot always completely fulfil our commitment. But this does not make us failures and when we understand this, we can go on to realise that it can take up to four months to change a behaviour, so missing the odd gym session, or eating the odd biscuit does not mean we should just completely give up on our intention! Mindfulness can teach us to accept, let go and move forward.
Another thing to remember is that most of our goals centre around our desire to stop doing something, which is focusing our thoughts on negative behaviours. And what happens when we try hard NOT to do something? It then becomes all we think about! Mindfulness can help us focus on the positive and what we will gain from achieving our goals – instead of thinking ‘I need to lose ten pounds’ , we should be focusing on how much healthier we will be. How do we want to think, feel and behave? What will achieving our goals do for us? Mindfulness helps us recognise the bigger picture and a greater sense of self. We must seek pleasure in the simple things and set our intentions not on what we hope to lose, but what we will gain.
How to practise Mindfulness for our New Year’s resolution
- Consider our intentions – some of the more common resolutions are to lose weight, exercise more and spend less money. But we need to check that these are your intentions. Do you want to feel better about your body? Do you want to have less financial worries? Think about the personal meaning behind the resolution and this will then help us maintain our intention.
- Focus on the process and not the result – resolving to lose weight and save more is just focusing on the result and ignoring the process of getting there. Research proves that we achieve so much more when we focus on the process, rather than the result – completely focusing on results means we are less likely to achieve them! Instead of focusing on losing those ten pounds we should focus on going for walks and eating healthy foods – we will most likely then achieve our goal of losing weight anyway. Focus on the process – the present moments in which transformation will occur – rather than the single result.
- Recognise and change our ‘habit-loop’ – changing our behaviour starts with self-awareness and we need to look at the habits we want to change and recognise what sustains those habits. For example, if we want to spend less money, we need to be aware of how, when and why we spend it. Is it a regular habit to click on those BIG SALE store emails and impulse buy? If so, unless we change this habit we will struggle to save money! The key to changing our behaviours is understanding our habit loop – the cues that set off a particular action and the rewards that lead us to continue doing it. For example, instead of checking our social media with a coffee in the morning, we could use this as the reward for ten minutes of exercise or meditation and then eventually this will become a routine. But we have to change our habits – not just intend to ‘exercise more’. So we need to look at our less mindful habits, which are presently enabling the behaviours we want to change and when we break down a habit into its various parts, we can work out which part needs changing to support the transformation to our routine.
- Be Kind to Ourself – whatever intentions we set, there will always be times when we don’t achieve our expectations. The basic lesson we learn from mindfulness is that we are constantly beginning again – each breath, each day. We can start meditating
and experience a brief moment of awareness, but then our mind starts wandering, we take a deep breath, awareness re-arises and then our mind is off chattering again! When our mind wanders, we should gently bring our attention back to our breath, without judging or berating ourself. The moment when we notice our mind has wandered is the moment of insight – the practice of mindfulness itself. This is the same for our intentions – we need to bring a kind awareness to our behaviour when we fall short and begin again…
- Consider our Resolution Alternatives – if we find the pressure of New Year’s Resolutions too much, we could consider these alternative ways to help with our intentions for the year:
- Make a Vision Board compiled of images which represents what we want for ourself in the coming year. This will give us a great visual reminder of our intentions to eat more healthily, exercise more or make time for some mindful meditation.
- Choose a Word of the Year that encapsulates the feelings, attitudes and behaviours we intend for the year ahead. It can be something like breathe, trust, focus etc. and this word will guide our choices and actions. Then instead of giving ourself strict expectations we can just ask ourself if a particular behaviour matches our word and our intentions.
New Year’s Resolutions are about growth and improvement and bringing health and joy into our life. Practising Mindfulness for our New Year’s Resolution will bring awareness to our habits and give ourself compassion and kindness as we strive for meaningful transformation. It’s not that our goals are unachievable, but that we aren’t starting from the right place to succeed in our intentions. To achieve anything we must be aware and it’s only from awareness that we can successfully manage our thoughts, feelings and behaviours and intentionally move towards our goals. So let’s put Mindfulness at the top of our New Year list.