New Year, New You? Or New Year, Same Old Same Old?
It's 16th January 2019, and Christmas and New Year celebrations already seem like ages ago. So, are you the type to make new year's resolutions - and have you stuck to them thus far?
The new year is a great time to evaluate the year that has gone, assess old goals and targets, and set new challenges for the coming year. Or is it?...
It is, providing that those goals are coming from a place of positivity and growth.
All too often, we set our new year's resolutions from a place of negativity or lack. We set them from a place of being bad at something.
How often do we look at ourselves and then criticise? We might look at our body and say "I'm so fat" or pick a part of our body that we don't like... "My legs have so much cellulite..." and so on. We then make new year's resolutions based around that. "I'm going to lose weight because I'm so fat" or "I'm going to go to the gym because my legs are so ugly." We also make resolutions based around guilt. After over-indulging over Christmas and new year... I'm going to stop drinking... I'm going to stop eating chocolate... We also look at habits we don't like... I'm going to stop smoking... The list is endless.
And for the first 3 weeks or so, the gyms are packed, people stop eating chocolate, they stop drinking alcohol and they stop smoking. Marvellous!
All of these things are great, but they require willpower. Willpower is just what we need when we decide to do something and need a boost to help us through. However, willpower is contained within the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is the part responsible for decision making and behaviour, but if you think of willpower as being a little bit like a muscle (although it isn't at all, it's a brain activity) excessive use can make it become fatigued, and then stop working altogether.
Willpower is actually temporary. Its purpose is to give us that boost we require at the beginning of an activity, to get us up and running, but once it wears off, we are left to our own devices, and all too often, as with new year's resolutions, that new behaviour falls by the wayside and is replaced by the old behaviour. The very behaviour you wanted to change. This can lead to even more misery as you berate yourself for being such a failure!
Does that sound like a Happy New Year? No - it sounds rubbish!
If you set a goal to stop eating chocolate, or to stop drinking alcohol, your mind often interprets that as deprivation, and starts to crave that old familiar behaviour. Familiarity makes the more primitive part of our brain feel safe and secure - even if that old familiar behaviour is something you want to change. Our brains can be weird like that!
So, what's the answer?
The answer is to set realistic goals from a place of positivity. Have a look at the year ahead and decide what is realistic for you. What changes will help to enhance your life, rather than make you miserable because you feel deprived?
If you'd like to lose weight, you could try looking at the year ahead and implementing some small, manageable changes into your eating and exercise regime. Those small changes aren't interpreted so fearfully by the brain and are more readily accepted. The other thing, especially with weight, is to look at why you are overweight. By doing this with a therapist, you can safely explore the drivers behind the behaviours you don't want. Once they are addressed, you will find that the weight often takes care of itself. This can be said of lots of habits and behaviours you don't want. Work on the reason behind the habit and you will often find that the habit stops - permanently. That actually sounds like a much more beneficial gift to yourself than the gym membership you'll never use!
By setting realistic goals from a place of positivity, your mind will be in less conflict with itself, and less likely to go back to the old behaviours once the willpower has faded and Valentine's Day is upon us!
So why am I talking about new year's resolutions on 16th January? Because I didn't make a new Year's Resolution to write this on 1st January, because I knew I wouldn't. I decided to write it going into the third week of January, which is when the willpower begins to wear off, and we settle into our behaviours for the coming year.
Happy 2019 - I hope it is peaceful and prosperous, and that if you do choose to make changes to your life, that they are both challenging and beneficial, because challenge drives us forwards. It helps us to develop and to learn, and that has to be beneficial, right?