Don’t act on NY Resolutions until you’ve read this!

2011-year-resolution-400x400The temptation will be strong over the next week to join in with others and declare your New Years resolutions for 2013.  An admirable gesture for sure, however the reality is that the majority of people leave their resolutions long behind by March.  So how can you be different? What can turn your good intentions into sustainable long-term behaviours?

The truth is that whatever the new behaviour is (eg. Starting to exercise, stop smoking, flossing your teeth) it’s something that you are currently NOT doing as you would wish …. hence the need for the resolution!  So, whatever it is there are reasons you aren’t doing it.  Unless you know what they are and have strategies to overcome them, you are wasting your time declaring your upcoming change.

The well known phrase fail to plan, plan to fail’ is 100% correct.  Most psychologists view behaviour change as occurring through a series of steps or stages.  We may initially be resistant to change, then we contemplate doing things differently and many people make some quick plans and then launch themselves into whatever the new behaviour is.

STOP.

You rushed it and that’s why so often it doesn’t work.  Successful behaviour change comes about when you think and plan, then think some more, and then do some more planning!

Let me illustrate two quick examples of how you can considerably increase your chances of changing your behaviour.  I’ll use examples of both starting a new behaviour and stopping an existing one.

Starting a new behaviour – Going to the gym

Why do I want to start exercising at the gym?

  1. It will improve my cardiovascular fitness and strength
  2. It will help me to lose weight
  3. it will help my confidence?

So why haven’t I been going to the gym?

  1. I haven’t been prioritising it into my weekly schedule.
  2. When I have the opportunity to go, I do something else, for example when the alarm goes off in the morning, I roll over and go back to sleep.
  3. I think about going to the gym and then I tell myself it’s going to be hard, and I will be sore, and I’ll probably make a fool of myself.

What do I need to do differently to overcome these obstacles?

  1. Prioritising – Get out my diary and make an appointment with myself to go to the gym. Decide whether mornings or evenings will suit me and the family better.
  2. Not seizing the opportunity – go anyway! I know I don’t feel like it, but I know it will feel good once I’m done.  I also need to have my clothes out ready to make it easier. So I’ll lay them out the night before for a morning session. Or I’ll put them in a bag in the back of my car in the morning so I can go straight from work.
  3. Negative self-talk – challenge the helpfulness of what I’ve been saying to myself.  “Yes, it will be physically uncomfortable at first and I might be sore, but long term it will be really good for me to go”.  “I might feel self-conscious, but I’m a long way in front of all the people who stayed home in bed!”  “That’s why I’m going to get a trainer to plan out a program for me initially, so I can learn what to do”.

What resources do I need to change my behaviour?

  1. sandshoes,
  2. gym shorts and a tshirt
  3. a gym membership,
  4. access to a personal trainer to design my initial training program.

When will I start?

I’l ring the gym now and schedule to get a program from a trainer.

How will I know when I’m successful?

I’ll be regularly going to the gym 3 times a week and I’ll notice a difference in my appearance and how my body feels.

What if I relapse and stop going?

  1. I’ll first forgive myself!
  2. I’ll then review why I haven’t been going and make plans to overcome those obstacles.

Behaviour 2 – Stop eating high sugar and high fat desserts every night.

Why do I want to stop eating the desserts?

  1. They are calories I don’t really need.
  2. I’ve just started my gym program and this isn’t helping my efforts.
  3. I don’t feel good after I’ve eaten them.

Why do I currently eat desserts every night?

  1. They are in the freezer!
  2. Habit
  3. My partner eats them with me
  4. It’s what I do when I watch tv to relax.

What do I need to do to overcome these obstacles?

  1. In the freezer – throw them out and don’t buy any more!
  2. Habit– Change the habit, think about something I would rather eat instead like a piece of fruit or some yoghurt and have those foods available.  Remember you don’t need to totally abstain!  Perhaps you might have your treat dessert twice a week.  Plan which nights that will be and have that then.  Reducing your intake from 7 nights a week to 2 will make a big difference.
  3. My partner eats them too– talk to your partner about your decision to make a change and see if your partner would like to make the change too.  It will be easier if they do, but if they don’t, make the commitment to do this for yourself.
  4. It’s what I do to relax– Remind yourself why you are making this change.  Enjoy the fruit or whatever alternative you go with.

What resources do I need to change my behaviour?

  1. A dessert alternative

When will I start?  

I’ll go grocery shopping this afternoon and buy some fruit alternatives.  When I get home I’ll throw the old desserts out (or put them to the back of the freezer for my two allocated nights).

How will I know when I am successful?

When I have been regularly eating healthy options for my dessert.

What if I relapse and stop going?

  1. I’ll first forgive myself!
  2. I’ll then review why I haven’t been going and make plans to overcome those obstacles.

SO WHERE DO YOU START?

First I’d like you to copy the questions I have listed below and put them into a word Healthprocessing document.  Take the time to go through the questions and answer them for yourself.  Print the answers off and put them somewhere where you’ll see them and start moving towards change.

  1. Why do I want to stop/start                               ?
  2. Why do I currently                          (insert the current barrier here)?
  3. What do I need to do to overcome these obstacles?
  4. What resources do I need to change my behaviour?
  5. When will I start?  
  6. How will I know when I am successful?
  7. What if I relapse and stop going?

The psychological benefits of breakfast

This post was first written on Inshape News in July 2012.

The nutritional benefits of breakfast in relation to weight loss are well established and I’m sure will be well described by my fellow writers.  It is also important to consider the psychological benefits that can be gained when you sit down in the morning and tuck into a bowl of something healthy.

Consistently, studies demonstrate that memory, creativity, processing and other brain functioning are all enhanced following consumption of breakfast. Further, your morning meal can boost your energy levels and leave you feeling more alert and ready for your day.

One advantage of regularly eating breakfast is the discipline activated and required to maintain the routine. Self-discipline (or self-regulation) is the process of consciously managing your health. Whilst challenging for many, the decision to make proactive steps towards your health will have far reaching benefits. When we self-regulate we are likely to feel more in control of ourselves, and our tendency for impulsive behaviour decreases.

People who self-regulate are able to plan and set goals, reflect on their own behaviour and organize themselves appropriately. Other things we know about those who self-regulate are that they are more likely to seek out information and advice, will try harder and persevere for longer. These qualities are beneficial in all aspects of our health and well-being. So the habit of eating breakfast will provide more than just nutrition for your body and have an impact on your metabolic rate. Eating breakfast will set you up to increase the likelihood of making better health choices through the rest of your day – impacting on your long-term weight and health.

Self-regulating to ensure you eat breakfast is made easier with some planning and organization, however it is worth the effort. Also make sure you add some variety. Perhaps have a few cereals to choose from or cook some eggs in different ways. Creativity in our lives is helpful for our motivation levels. Ultimately, treat self-regulation like a muscle — the more you work it the stronger it gets. Self-regulation gets easier with time and its benefits to your waistline will be worth it.

Facing depression

This post was first written on Inshape News in July 2012.

Depression can be experienced in many forms and with varying severity, from mild to severe or psychotic. However, there are a number of strategies that a person can adopt which will assist with their functioning and general well-being.

These are as follows:

1.  Enhance the positive areas of your life. Engaging in activities that you enjoy is a helpful step towards overcoming depression.  Ask yourself, “What have I stopped doing that I used to enjoy?”

Perhaps it is:

  • Reading a book.
  • Catching up with friends for a coffee or meal.
  • Exercising.
  • Going to the park.

To overcome depression, spend some time reflecting on the positive aspects of those activities and remember times when you did them.

Try to increase the number of positive activities and events in your daily routine.

2.  The way you think. One role for our mind is to generate our everyday thoughts. The way we think directly influences our mood and therefore our resulting behaviours. For example, if we think we are lazy, we may feel sad, which may result in us not being physically active. How we interpret our lives can be constructive and helpful or negative and harmful. How we think is an active choice. Negative thinking is an unhelpful habit that we can overcome with practise and persistence.

Just because we think something, doesn’t necessarily make it true. When you feel depressed negative thoughts can weigh on your mind. You may doubt yourself, wonder if you can cope, or feel like it’s all too hard. To overcome this, start by listening to that inner voice. Ask yourself, “What are you saying to yourself?”

Being aware of your negative thinking serves two purposes:

  1. Knowing your internal ‘chatter’ can act as an early warning sign that your thinking is not being helpful.
  2. Knowing your internal ‘chatter’ allows you to take action towards more helpful thinking.

Listen to your self-talk. Ask yourself, “Is it positive? Is it helpful? Would you speak to others the way you are speaking to yourself?”  If the answer is no, then challenge these negative unhelpful thoughts and replace them with something more beneficial. There are various self-help books that can assist you to do this or you may wish to seek guidance from a counselor.

Replace negative thoughts with positive, helpful thinking. Challenge yourself to think differently and create new positive thinking habits.

3.  Make positive choices. Often when we are feeling depressed we turn to food, alcohol, and cigarettes, as well as being inactive or reducing our social contact as a way of coping. Unfortunately these strategies may have negative consequences for us, especially if they are over used, particularly in the long term.

Broadening your decisions and considering the range of options you have may help you to consider other behaviours or actions that will benefit you.

If you’re feeling down perhaps you could go for a walk or if you find yourself seeking solace in the fridge choose fruit or another healthy choice.

Depression is a serious condition affecting a large proportion of the population. It is important that in cases of a depressive disorder — particularly a severe one — that a person seek assistance from an appropriate health practitioner. Psychology offers a number of therapeutic approaches and strategies to assist people in facing depression. It is important that you take steps that will best benefit you. Seeking help and adopting some of the strategies mentioned in this article may be helpful for you.

 

Hmmm, whether to turn left or right?

In 1998 I watched the movie ‘Sliding doors’ and it’s underlying question has remained with me: how different might your life be dependent upon even the small decisions you make?

The movie follows lead character Gwyneth Paltrow’s life according to whether she does or doesn’t catch the train home after being unfairly sacked from her job. The movie shows in parallel the very different lives that would follow based upon that one small event.

Every day we are faced with hundreds of decisions: from what to have for breakfast, which route to travel to work, and whether or not to ask for that promotion.  The thought that every fork in the road could lead to very different destinies could feel immobilising as we consider every possibility and outcome.

However there may also be times that by following our usual course of action our routines limit and preclude us from taking a risk with the opportunity in front of us.

The truth is that without a crystal ball we can never be 100% confident of the consequences of our decisions or how another decision may have turned out. So the lesson then is to move forward with confidence, knowing that at the time of our decision we did the best we could with the information and options we had in front of us.

When making a decision these general guidelines may be helpful:

1. List your options.  Very few situations have only one possibility – brainstorm all the possibilities, even the seemingly unrealistic or ‘silly’ ones.

2. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of the options – what will be the likely outcomes? what is the ‘cost’ to you and others of the action? which outcome is likely to receive the most resistance?  why? and how could you overcome it?

3. Visualise the outcome.  Take the options you have considered and see in your mind what that decision may look like.  Consider that decision in future terms – how may you feel down the track if that was the decision you made?

4. Listen to yourself.  So often people tell me of times when they didn’t listen to their ‘gut reaction’ and regret their decision.  Whilst intuition isn’t always right for us, it is certainly can be a good starting point.

5. Implement your decision.  Here’s your opportunity to take action.  With energy and enthusiasm, take action on your decision.  Be committed to the choice you have made.

6. Evaluate your decision. This is your opportunity for learning and growth.  Was the outcome what you expected?  Would you do anything differently next time?  What would you do next time?

Clinical experience tells me that time spent in the past, in the land of regret and ‘what if’ only facilitates guilt, disappointment and depression.  You made a decision and whether or not you achieved what you hoped for, the question is: what are you going to do now? All you control is in the present.  The past is for our memories and the future is for our aspirations.

The wonder of life is that it is filled with opportunities and decisions to be made.  The doors will continue to ‘slide’, the journey is deciding which ones you will step through.

 

Achieving those new year resolutions (in June)!

Around December 28 each year I receive phone calls from journalists seeking comments regarding New Years Eve.  In particular, New Years Resolutions and why we are not successful in keeping them!  Each year my answer is the same, most people don’t spend enough time planning for the changes they intend to make.

Behaviour change can be tricky – it isn’t just a case of deciding you’d like to start something new or tweak something you’ve been doing and then it just happening.  The reality is that for behaviour change to stick it requires thought and planning.

You want to start or change the way you currently do something, perhaps you want to start exercising or improve your food choices.  Your first consideration needs to be:  Why haven’t I been doing that behaviour prior to now?  The answers are crucial, because in part they will help you to understand your barriers to change.

When we know our barriers to change, we can plan ways in which we will overcome them.  Consider the barriers below and some possible solutions.

Barrier Solution
I don’t like exercising in the mornings Exercise in the afternoons or evening
The morning is the only time I have to exercise, and I don’t like exercising in the mornings – it’s hard to get up! Lay your clothes out the night before.  Set the alarm and remind yourself that once your feet touch the floor, the hardest part is done!
I don’t know what exercises I should do, I’m not even sure where to start See a qualified professional and have them design and teach you an exercise regime that will work for you
I’m not ready to start exercising, but I want to some day. Perhaps start by increasing your incidental exercise – park further away at the shopping centre, hop off the bus one stop earlier, take the stairs rather than the lift or escalator.
I feel tired and sluggish in the afternoons and a chocolate bar always makes me feel better. The sugar hit from the chocolate bar will be short lived – perhaps take some nuts or fruit or a yoghurt to work ready for your afternoon snack.
Once I start a packet of biscuits, I can’t stop If you’re going to have a biscuit, take what you want to have out of the packet and put the remainder away in a slightly inconvenient spot – the harder you have to work to get to it, the more time you have to think about it and may change your mind.

Do you make new year resolutions in 2011?  I wonder what you were determined to do 6 months ago?  Did you do it – for a while?  Are you still doing it?  The more time you can spend planning for how to make change work, the more likely you’ll achieve your goal.

And of course the good news is that change can start as soon as you’re ready … no need to wait until December 31 to start planning!

Next week we’ll discuss the language around change.  With a few simple phrases you can significantly increase the chances that you will make those changes.