For many of us, setting a New Year's resolution involves more hope than actual change. But taking a mindful approach makes a big difference when it comes to developing — and maintaining — healthier habits. By making a few simple changes in your approach to goal setting, urge control, and habit formation, you can more effectively produce solid long-term results.
Taking a Mindful Approach
A mindful approach is a positive approach. Rather than applying a habitual response to a chronic problem, try to identify unhealthy and unwanted habits and replace them with positive, desirable ones.
Perhaps your resolution is to start going to the gym every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from now on, no matter what. However, as Monday rolls around, all you can think is, "It takes time, it's painful, and waiting until Wednesday isn't going to hurt anything." Even worse, doing this has been a pattern ever since you first decided to start an exercise regimen.
This is the habitual response which keeps you from achieving your fitness goals. It is little more than a self-defeating series of thoughts reinforcing why you don't like to exercise. It becomes an easy way out.
Instead, try this: Based on the understanding that your brain is activated around a quarter of a second before it produces a physical response, take an extra moment to review your mental approach when it's time to exercise. Now change your thinking from reasons you hate the gym to reasons to love it; and from reasons to put off going to how great it makes you feel in just an hour.
Do this in a calm, rational manner so that rather than talking yourself out of doing something you find unpleasant, you are giving yourself reasons to look forward to the positive benefits of having performed the activity.
According to EHE's Ana Escudero, it's recommended to do a quick body scan before exercising. That way, you can identify and assess any areas of tightness or discomfort. Do this by closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, and mindfully going over your entire body from head to toe. Typical areas of concern are the neck, back, and hips, which is where we carry most of our tension. Escudero recommends that you slowly clench and tighten each muscle group while using this time to set your intentions for the particular workout.
As she puts it, "The body achieves what the mind believes." Escudero also points out that taking this approach to each workout will help you be in better tune with your body for a more productive exercise session.
So far as learning to control urges, such as cravings for unhealthy, sugary foods, she recommends using the "apple test." The test is based on the concept that only real, wholesome and healthy food will satisfy hunger, and that cravings for a specific food are due to an emotional rather than physical need. In other words, determine whether you are actually hungry, or merely responding to a craving triggered by stress, boredom, or other impulse-stimulating condition.
By determining your interest in an apple over say, candy or donuts, you can identify both the craving and the underlying emotional trigger (stress, fatigue, boredom, etc). You can thereby cultivate non-judgmental awareness of the situation so that a self-reflexive stance can be formed. This helps you successfully change your habits for the better.
Happy Mindful New Year
There is no better time than now, with the new year underway, to begin a mindful approach to making changes that matter.
By being aware of your thoughts, emotions, and experiences in a non-judgmental manner, you can better guide your habit formation, not just for the new year, but for a lifetime.