The Only New Year’s Resolution You’ll Ever Need...

Are you worried you might not have the willpower to keep your New Year resolutions this year? Sorry to be a downer, but you’re probably right! According to a study at the University of Hertfordshire, 78% of us fail to keep our New Year resolutions and are left feeling disappointed with ourselves.

The problem is, we make these wild utopian promises to ourselves of making big changes in our lives with immediate effect. “From tomorrow, I’m not going to smoke another cigarette” or “From now on, no more fights with my mum”. When we slip up, we see it as confirmation that we just don’t have what it takes, that we’re not disciplined enough so we might as well give up. One fag becomes a relapse into chain smoking, and a little chocolate indulgence spurs a return to munching uncontrollably in front of the TV. “Oh well, there’s always next year…”, we say. Sound familiar?

Unfortunately, it's not so easy to change old habits. Willpower isn't enough. We need mindfulness skillpower! But how do we develop that? One approach is called 'urge surfing’, and here’s how it works:

  1. Recognise: Imagine you’re sitting in front of the TV and suddenly crave a bar of chocolate. The first step in mindfulness is to simply become aware of such an urge, i.e. recognise it. You can even name it in your head: “Urge to eat a bar of chocolate”.
  2. Acknowledge: Most of us have been told that we ought to 'get rid' of such urges once they arise - control them, because they are bad. Or distract yourself by thinking of something else. Unfortunately our brains don't work that way. Research has shown that the more we resist something or try to make it go away, the more it will persist. Therefore, the second step is to simply acknowledge to urge to have a bar of chocolate. Allow to urge to be there.
  3. Investigate: Once you have acknowledged the urge to have that chocolate bar, investigate how this urge feels like in your body. Is it a tension in your chest, a watering mouth or a tickling sensation? Check in and find out for yourself. If you wish, you can even close your eyes during your investigation.
  4. Kind Surfing: While you are investigating the urge, just try to be with it for a few seconds, maybe even a minute. Surf the urge and while doing so, be kind to yourself. It's not easy to surf an urge, so do not expect too much from yourself too soon. Even if you only stick with the urge for half a minute and then go ahead and have that bar of chocolate anyway, you’ve still exercised that part of your brain and could be better equipped the next time an urge comes along, so well done!

The more you observe your urges, the more mindful skillpower you will develop. Research has even shown that this skillpower is like a muscle in your brain that you can grow – just as you can grow your biceps in the gym. But as with the weights, don't expect to lift the heaviest weight the first time you go to the gym. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix, especially when it comes to our brains – just as our biceps, they need time to grow and change. So be patient and kind to yourself. It's all about training.

Conclusion: don't set yourself fixed goals as New Year resolutions that are doomed to failure. Instead, make the resolution a goal to develop mindful skill-power!

One way to do this could be to join one of our courses in the New Year. The Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) will help you develop your mindful awareness and a sense of balance, or if you are thinking you’d like to change your relationship to food in the New Year, check out our Mindful Eating course where you’ll learn and practice lots of valuable techniques around eating. We’ll also be running a smoking cessation course in 2014, so watch this space...

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