As we head into another new year, we are again confronted with new and/or old (and yet unachieved) New Years’ resolutions. We may even wonder if it’s possible to change what we perceive as ‘bad habits’ after having unsuccessfully attempted to change them many times in the past.
Sometimes it is our mind that keeps us locked into old patterns. It can assist to notice these unhelpful thoughts to increase our chances of sticking with our 2017 New Year’s resolutions.
Here are 7 cognitive routines that can keep us trapped in unhelpful and unwanted patterns of behaviour.
1. Living on ‘automatic pilot’ rather than with full awareness.
2. Relating to experiences through thoughts rather than the actual experience.
3. Dwelling on and in the past and future.
4. Trying to avoid, escape, or get rid of unpleasant experiences rather than approaching them with an open mind.
5. Needing things to be different from how they are rather than allowing them to be just as they already are.
6. Seeing thoughts as true and real rather than mental activities that may or may not correspond to reality.
7. Treating yourself harshly and unkindly rather than taking care of yourself with kindness and compassion.
Let me give you an example of how these 7 steps could interfere with an actual New Year’s resolution such as not eating chocolate (an oldie but a goody of mine ):
New Year’s resolution: Not eating chocolate
1. Thinking “Oops, how did that chocolate end up in my mouth.” after habitually just grabbing a piece of chocolate that is being passed around at work. Yes, that’s absolutely true. I have found myself eating chocolate without realizing it because I was on automatic pilot and just doing things mindlessly!!
What to do about it? Don’t keep temptations around the house where you can unmindfully reach for them. If you have to leave the house to get to it, you cannot claim that it was ‘autopilot’ that made you do it. You have actually made a choice to indulge (in this case see my last point on self-compassion!)
2. Thinking “It will be absolutely terrible if I don’t have this piece of chocolate. I will never ever get rid of this craving.” In actual fact the craving might already have disappeared after a few minutes but I didn’t notice it because I was caught up in catastrophic thinking. My thoughts might even have made the craving stick around for longer!
What to do about it? Try to just focus on your physical sensation of carvings right here right now. Bring your mind back to the present moment whenever it wants to catastrophize or wonder into the future.
3. Thinking “OMG, I can’t imagine never eating chocolate again. What will I do on my birthday? What will I do on my kids’ birthday? What will I do on anyone’s birthday ever????” With this kind of thinking we stop focussing on the craving or issue in the moment, and try to fix all the cravings we will experience over a life time in this one minute.
What to do about it? In this instance the advice from Alcoholics Anonymous comes frequently to my mind “One day at a time.” Focus on this moments craving only. Things will appear much simpler and much more achievable!
4. Responding to a craving for chocolate with an attitude that says “I can’t have this. I should not feel this way. This should be easier.” or any variation of this theme will make the craving feel worse and derail your resolutions.
What to do about it? Try to imagine you have never felt this sensation before and try to explore it with curiosity and openness.
5. I think this one ties in with #4 when we think that things ‘should be’ a certain way. In our example that might show up by us thinking that giving up chocolate ‘should be easier’ or that it ‘should show an effect on weight/size’ straight away.
What to do about it? In these instances, think about your reason for quitting chocolate. Why is this goal important? This might help you to persevere through the tough times. And again, just notice the effects of no chocolate on your body without an agenda of how it should feel.
6. Having thoughts like “I will be a social piranha if I don’t eat chocolate.” or “Life will be meaningless” (yes, that’s actually one of mine ), can seem very overwhelming when we buy into them. What often happens in these instances is that we believe that our mind is 100% correct in its assumptions rather than looking at this thought as one option amongst many. Yes, sometimes it might be awkward if you don’t eat chocolate but there will also be plenty of situations where it will be no issue at all or even seen as a good thing. Mindfulness asks us to notice our thoughts but to realize that they are just an idea, they are not reality. It is then our job to test this idea or theory to see if it holds true in our real life.
What to do about it? Try rephrasing the thought to ‘I am having the thought that life will not be fun without chocolate.’ or even ‘I am noticing myself catastrophizing.’ Phrasing things this way will highlight that this is a thought, not necessary an actual fact.
7. Way too often we set goals and then put ourselves down and criticise ourselves harshly if we do not achieve them. This can be due to us setting unrealistic goals which set us up for failure. Research has shown that people on a diet who harshly criticize themselves for ‘falling off the wagon’ will eat more unhealthy food than people who are kind to themselves when they end up not sticking completely to their diet plans.
What to do about it? Reassess your goal and make it more achievable if you have set the bar too high. Remind yourself that you are human and not perfect and that making mistakes is part of the experience of being human.
If you want to know more about mindfulness or want to start a regular Mindfulness practice join us for our Monthly Meditation Mondays at Zest Infusion. Find more information on our website or to book call our office on (07) 3822 9983 or send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zindel, S. (2016). The Seven Drivers of Old Habits of Thinking. Mindful Magazine retrieved from: http://www.mindful.org/the-7-drivers-of-old-habits-of-thinking/?mc_cid=9fce2dd72d&mc_eid=686f096695
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