A Mindful Approach to New Year Resolutions

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With Christmas done and dusted, it’s time to turn our attention to the impending new year… and those dreaded resolutions!

After the indulgence of the festive season, it’s no surprise so many of us resolve to get fit and healthy in the new year. But if you find yourself struggling to keep your new year’s resolutions, you’re not alone. So many of us fall off the wagon within a matter of weeks that a 2012 survey pinpointed 10th January as the date we tend to give up.
A brand new year does seem to be the perfect opportunity to turn over a new leaf. The post-Christmas come down, however, rarely puts us in the right mindset to stick to it. As someone who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder, I find January a tough month. That’s why a few years ago, I decided to stop making new year’s resolutions. The disappointment when I couldn’t keep them up just exacerbated my January blues!
That said, I do think there must be a way to set a new year’s resolution and keep it. After all, some people do manage it. So, what’s different for them? According to an article in Popular Science, it’s all to do with mindset.
The article states that the fundamental reason we fail to keep our resolutions is because “we usually focus on goals or tasks that we haven’t been able to achieve over the past year.”
So, by setting a goal we’ve struggled to keep so many times before, we’re setting ourselves up to fail.
The article also touches on the power of habit. These behaviours and actions we carry out automatically are hard to break. The combination of difficult goals and deep-rooted habits, means keeping our resolutions really is an uphill struggle.
The good news is that understanding the obstacles we create for ourselves is key to success. Once we become aware of this, we can tune into what’s happening when we desperately want to skip the gym or reach for a chocolate bar over fruit. This is where mindfulness comes into play.
For most of us, the classic resolutions of healthy eating and getting in shape, are tied up in negative emotions. Past failures, associations of pain from exercise and lack of gratification from healthy foods, all lead to negative thoughts when it comes to our resolutions. Practising mindfulness allows us to view our resolutions in a neutral or positive light. Instead of dreading a gym session because it’s hard, we see the action of going to the gym free from any emotions. It sounds difficult, but knowing how mindfulness can help is the
first step in achieving your goals.

How Mindfulness Helped Me

Like I said, I’ve never been good at sticking to my resolutions. But, this got me thinking about how my approach to exercise has changed as a result of mindfulness. When I was a teenager, I was overweight, had a tendency to overeat and loathed exercise with a passion. PE was by far my most hated subject at school!
I’d tried and failed to get into an exercise routine many times. I didn’t see myself as a ‘sporty’ person or someone who was meant to be fit and healthy. While I didn’t consciously set out to change my outlook, it was a subtle change in my approach that got me to start exercising (and enjoying it!).
When I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, exercise came up time and again as a way to help. I joined a gym and took things slowly. I didn’t have the high expectations I’d had before, my reason for being there had changed. I wanted to feel better mentally and any physical benefits were an added bonus. Instead of trying to run on the treadmill, I walked. I didn’t do more than 10 minutes on any cardio machine. Breaking it up into manageable chunks made it manageable and helped me see my progress.
I wholeheartedly believe that my change in focus was what allowed me to succeed. Instead of thinking about how my muscles ached or how out of breath I was, I thought about the lift in my mood after each gym session. That’s what kept me going back. By thinking positively about exercise, it became something I looked forward to.
When I built my fitness up enough to try running, I found that a big step up. I was really challenging myself and it was hard not to think about how out of breath I was! I remember reading about the difference in attitude between professional runners and people who despise running. It all came down to mindset. Those who hate running, focus on the negatives (how much further they had to go, the muscle fatigue). Athletes tune into the positives. They think about how great it feels to run, the mental clarity etc. And most importantly, they stay in the moment. (I can’t remember exactly where I read this, but there’s a similar piece in Runner’s World.)
I started to try this technique for myself and I still do it now! Before I go for a run, I remind myself of the benefits: the endorphin rush, calm mind, fresh air etc. and it really helps. I’m not saying it’s fool-proof. Of course there are days when I struggle to motivate myself, but that’s just part of being human!
I try to apply this mindful approach to all forms of exercise I do now (running, yoga, gym classes). I find it especially helpful when I’m finding it difficult to get through a gym class. I focus on how amazing it is that my body can do these things and that something as simple as exercise can have such an impact on my mental health.
My next challenge is extending this approach to other areas of my life. I’m working on it, but I’ve definitely got a long way to go! Maybe I could make it my new year’s resolution for 2018!
What have been your experiences with new year’s resolutions? Are you making any this year? It’d be great to hear your stories.
Have a happy (and mindful) New Year!

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