How to keep those New Year Resolutions

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By Gaiti Rabbani

The start of a new year is a defining point, an opportunity to start afresh. A New Year’s resolution is ultimately an intention to change behaviour – I want to read more, I want to wean myself off social media, I want to get active and fit – most resolutions involve trying to be healthier in some way.

The reality is that it takes more than just good intentions to change our behaviours. Changing habits can be hard and initially requires more energy as we focus our attention on things we otherwise do on autopilot. That said, it can be done through conscious effort.

Think of the brain as a muscle that needs retraining; the brain has the ability to adapt, known as neuroplasticity, which involves creating new patterns that will strengthen by repetition until they become the new default.

Follow these simple steps to help you on your way to change and keeping those New Year’s resolutions.

Be Specific

Resolutions should be as realistic and as specific as possible; broad goals aren’t measurable, so they are difficult to commit to. Break your goals up into smaller more doable goals so you can see, enjoy and celebrate progress.

Make sure to plan exactly how you will implement your resolution. Want to adopt an active lifestyle? List the activities. Consider how often will you do them. How will you include these into your existing schedule and budget?

A friend recognised that she had become sedentary as she poured all her energy into her writing pursuits, so Rita decided 2019 would be her year for active living. Narrowing down her options, she settled on weekly Pilates classes with friends (exercise) and a set of 5 indoor rock climbing classes (adventure) with colleagues for a start. Investing in a set of classes, scheduling them in straight after work and enlisting the support of her active buddies will help Rita discover new activities and stay on track for a more active lifestyle.

Your chances of success will be much higher if you plan and introduce specific behaviours that will help you reach your goals.

Identify the Triggers

You might find that being in a particular place or with certain people can prompt an old and undesired habit that no longer serves you. If you can identify and avoid those triggers, you can avoid the habit. Want to cut down your time on social media but find yourself scrolling through Facebook just before bedtime? The trigger: setting the morning alarm on the phone perhaps. Solution: leave the phone in the living room and buy yourself an alarm clock.

Introduce a New Behavior

If you can’t remove the trigger, then find a different behaviour you can adopt in place of the habit you are trying to break: If the goal is to reduce alcohol intake and your trigger is social situations then you may find yourself isolated and bored by cutting out all social activities. Why not order a mocktail or sparkling water with lime instead? Stay close to a good friend who can encourage you along. Snacking in front of the tv? Replace the chocolates and ice- cream with nuts and fruit.

Find Your Mantra

Sum up the trigger and the new behaviour in a motivational sentence that is meaningful to you e.g. ’Each time I find myself (old habit), I will (new habit)’. Use affirmative language and talk about what you will do rather than what you won’t do.

A client and small business owner, Trina, found herself overloaded with tasks, always busy yet never able to make progress. The underlying cause was her inability to stay focussed and organized so she engaged the help she needed to plan and prioritise her activities. Trina’s mantra – ‘Each time I feel myself going on walkabouts (off plan) I will check back on my objectives to stay purposeful and productive.’ She did, and she was!

Surround yourself with reminders of your newfound mantra: strategically placed, colourful post it notes, calendar alerts and diary notes.

Know the Payoff

There’s a reward to our good and bad habits. Is it comfort, familiarity or something deeper; perhaps social or emotional?

A client who felt overwhelmed by all the demands on his time from friends and colleagues struggled to say ‘no’ and put his own needs first. Upon deeper reflection we identified that feeling needed, and therefore important, was Ric’s unconscious reward. The reward stimulates the pleasure centre of the brain. Firing up the pleasure centre creates the cravings and addictions that can be detrimental to our own wellbeing. Finding an alternative reward based on new behaviours is important.

In this case with some awareness and deliberate action, Ric has learned to push back on excessive demands and free up time to play his guitar again – rewarding and pleasurable at once!

Be Patient

Habits can be hard to change, it’s so easy to slip back into hard wired patterns. Be patient with yourself. It’s all about a positive mindset; rather than scolding yourself for what you ‘should’ have done – missing that yoga class or indulging in another Gelato Messina –tell yourself what you will do. Remember the mantra?

Commitment is your key to success. Check in on your commitment level regularly, ranking it on a scale of 1-10. Does your mantra still empower and motivate you? If you find your commitment waning, ask yourself why…what’s changed? Is it time to re-prioritise and make a new plan?

Get support

Many of us don’t have the support mechanisms to inspire the behavioural changes that our life goals require. Share your goals with friends, colleagues, loved ones. Know who to call for support when you feel yourself slipping back into old patterns. Find an online forum. If all else fails, reach out for professional support.

Remember ‘We first make our habits then our habits make us,’ John Dryden. To convert your resolutions into action, make sure they’re sufficiently motivating, achievable and specific.

Now get out there and make 2019 your best year yet!

If you’re looking for support to bring your health and fitness goals to reality this year, talk to one of the RISE Coaches.

Article contributed by: Gaiti Rabbani. Gaiti is a Neuro Leadership-certified Coach and uses neuroscience-based methodologies in her personal and professional coaching engagements. At weekends you’ll find her on the Pilates Mat teaching our regular Saturday and Sunday morning classes.

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