The resolution revolution
7th Feb 2020
If you’re starting February having broken the resolutions you made in January, don’t be disheartened, try a fresh approach instead, advises Sara Niven.
The start of a new year is seen as a clean slate; time to give up bad habits and set the tone for positive changes. If you’ve sailed through the past month sticking to everything you promised yourself and are facing February feeling better for it, congratulations! If instead, you are among the reported 80% of us that didn’t (January 12th is the day we are most likely to cave in it seems) you may be feeling somewhat frustrated, guilty, even a failure.
According to life coach and NLP practitioner Debi Haden, you really shouldn’t. Not only has she stopped setting any resolutions for herself, she also doesn’t encourage clients to make any.
“It is so easy to get caught up in the whole ‘New Year – New You’ frenzy but the majority of people, if they stand back and look at their lives objectively, will usually see that they already have many positive things already going on. As a coach I’m all for positive change but not simply because it is a particular time of year. And in my experience, very few people need to reinvent themselves as a whole ‘New You!’"
All very reassuring, but with 55% of resolutions made relating to health goals, what if we know we really do need to lose some weight, start exercising or give up a harmful habit? Where does that leave us and why do such well-intended resolutions so regularly fall by the wayside?
Professor Jackie Andrade from the University of Plymouth specialises in the field of motivation. She explains:
“We are biologically programmed to live for the present rather than the rewards we receive after a delay which means a naturally stronger pull towards the tempting food in front of us today, rather than a weight loss registering weeks down the line. When people make New Year’s resolutions they are often relaxed and in a holiday mood with fewer of the normal stressors of daily life. Perhaps they enjoyed a daily walk with friends and family during the holiday period, felt better for it and vowed to make that a part of everyday life. Once back in the normal routine though, the reality of going out alone, in bad weather and tired after work is less appealing.”
If this kind of situation sounds all too familiar, is there a way to boost our resolve?
One answer could lie in a new form of behavioural change therapy called Functional Imagery Training (FIT).
Professor Andrade is one of the experts behind its development and describes it as a new way of strengthening the motivation needed to make positive lifestyle changes.
“FIT is based on two decades of research showing that mental imagery is more strongly emotionally charged than other types of thought. We tend to do this imagery spontaneously for short-term temptations. Imagine unwrapping your favourite chocolate, taking a bite and tasting the sweetness as it melts in your mouth. For many of us, this image triggers a desire to eat chocolate that makes it hard to focus on what we are doing until we have given in to the craving. FIT teaches people how to harness this imagery ability for important goals like weight loss. It combines person-centred counselling which helps the person decide what they most want to do and why, with specific imagery exercises to strengthen motivation, planning and confidence to reach their goal.”
Those who have experienced it credit the technique with a shift of mindset and Plymouth University are currently training practitioners to use it to help clients with weight management. Further workshops are planned for areas including beating addictions and exercising as Professor Andrade explains.
"For someone who has decided to join a gym but feels daunted by using the machines for the first time, the imagery might focus on the achievement of learning how to use them, the pleasure of the hot shower after working out, or even the feeling of smugness on arriving home after the session. The aim is to increase desire to do it now, reducing temptation to put it off another day."
Although it is still too new to be widespread, a database of FIT trained experts is planned and you can find out about it online.
Debi Haden acknowledges that having the right mindset is a vital part of making and sustaining change and advises giving proper consideration to the ones we want to make and how they will benefit us.
“In my experience of working with clients, the best starting point is asking them to look at how they think about themselves and their reasons for wanting change. This needs to come from our mindset and the messages we give ourselves every day.”
Solution Focused hypnotherapist and mindfulness trainer, Tracy Daniels raises the question of timing when it comes to resolutions. She runs a practice in Dorset and is experienced in dealing with clients wanting to make changes.
“The start of the year isn’t a magical time for making a commitment to a new habit – in fact it can be one of the most difficult. Sometimes it is enough effort just getting back to work, dealing with dark nights, bad weather, coughs, colds and post-Christmas bills. Setting big goals that often involve the idea of deprivation – “I will give up sugar or wine,” can feel disheartening and depressing.
“If there are changes you want to make or habits to break, there may be a naturally better time to focus on these, when motivation is higher, such as a week off work when sitting next to the coffee machine won’t tempt you into the caffeine you’ve vowed to cut down on or slightly better weather if you want to take up running but hate being cold and wet. This isn’t the same as making excuses or procrastinating. In reality, there’s never a perfect time. However, removing as many obstacles or temptations as possible can be helpful, at least in the initial stages while you are still getting used to new habits.”
If you have already tried and failed to live up to your own expectations so far this year, Tracy advises using it as a learning curve.
“Success often requires several attempts. Most people will relapse into well-established patterns of behaviour because our brains are “hard wired” that way and we’re all human! It is a mistake to get so disappointed and frustrated that you give up completely. This can be an opportunity to evaluate what worked and what didn’t. What could you do differently next time?”
To sum up, if January hasn’t provided the fresh start you were aiming for, rather than looking back with disappointment, why not look forward with a new approach and minus the self-criticism?
“We express love to others on Valentine’s Day so how about showing some of that to ourselves this February?” asks Tracy. “Every time you fall back, compassionately pick yourself up again with your goal clearly in sight. Imagine yourself pressing a reset button in your mind and reward yourself (appropriately!) for each milestone along the way.”
Find more information about FIT visit
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