We all know how difficult it is to keep New Year’s resolutions on track, and setbacks can happen, but an expert psychologist from Jean Hailes for Women’s Health says the best way to recover is with forgiveness and kindness.
“We make New Year’s resolutions seriously, but they are often difficult to keep. New Year’s resolutions are generally about making significant changes and we can put a lot of pressure on ourselves to keep them, forgetting that it is usually easier to make change in small steps.
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“Big resoultions can set us up to fail if we fall short, which can lead on to self-criticism and feeling defeated about making changes in the future,” says Jane Fisher, Jean Hailes Professor of Women’s Health at Monash University.
Professor Fisher points out that this reaction is in stark contrast to how we would respond to a friend in the same situation.
“If a friend slips up we would reassure them by reminding them of their successes rather than their failures. We would help them feel more confident in pursuing goals. But we can be less kind to ourselves and criticise ourselves for being weak and perhaps give up our aspirations altogether.”
Trial and error is an important part of the change cycle. Not every step towards a healthier life will be the right one but having the confidence to try something new, with your goal firmly in mind, is the key to long term change.
“If you experience a set-back, don’t be too hard on yourself. Take a deep breath, be proud of what you have achieved and adjust your plan. Above all, be kind to yourself. Celebrate the milestones and reward yourself when you reach your goals, however big or small they may be,” Professor Fisher says.
“Self-confidence is closely linked to emotional wellbeing. When we feel confident our physical and mental wellbeing improves and we are better able to tackle life’s daily challenges. It can be a very rewarding and positive cycle.”
Professor Fisher’s tips to be kind to yourself:
- Pay attention to how you speak to yourself. If you catch yourself saying self-critical things like ‘I am lazy and will always be unfit’, ‘I am less self-disciplined than others’ ‘I’ll give up eventually anyway’, try to stop the thought and practise re-framing.
- Re-framing your thoughts involves turning them around into something more positive and constructive, such as “I have been working hard and have lost fitness, but this year I am going to change those patterns in small ways so that I can become healthier again”. It will feel unfamiliar at first, but keep practising and it will become more natural.
- Set goals that are realistic. One of the reasons that resolutions are hard to achieve is because they’re too ambitious, such as ‘this year I will run a marathon’, or they are too vague, with no road map to get there, like ‘get healthy’. What you’re really trying to achieve with a resolution is the creation of a new habit. Aim to change small behaviours consistently such as having a banana with breakfast instead of banana bread.