Feeling bad about those new year’s resolutions? Psychologists Trish and Aisling Leonard-Curtin tell Geraldine Walsh why it’s important to let them go.
It may only be the beginning of yet another year, but many of us are continuing the cycle of being overwhelmed despite promising ourselves that this year would be different. Dry January, the excessive need to get out walking and shed the winter cobwebs and keeping our new year’s resolutions leaves us swamped, overburdened and unnecessarily stressed. No wonder we fall back into old ways, feeling resentful or disappointed.
January is a difficult month. The sparkle has gone and the cold creeps in, making it a very challenging time. Psychologists Aisling and Trish Leonard-Curtin, (who married in 2017) recognise the somewhat unrealistic expectations we give ourselves at this time of year.
Their bestselling book, The Power Of Small, published by Hachette Ireland, encourages us to relinquish the overwhelming moments in our lives and consciously step outside our comfort zone by embodying The Power of Small instead.
Encompassing mindfulness in a way to enable us to break everything down into small manageable steps is the basis of The Power of Small making these changes doable and, most importantly, noticeable. Avoiding being trapped in the big promises of life is a big ask, but with the insight of Aisling and Trish, it’s entirely possible to see ourselves through difficult times and manage everything else that comes our way.
Aisling and Trish have given five tips to help you make more manageable, sustainable and healthy changes for a richer and more meaningful life.
Give yourself permission to let go of unsustainable new year’s resolutions
You can breathe a sigh of relief if you’ve resolved to radically change your health, well-being, job and relationships in one fell swoop. We give you permission to let go of such huge and overwhelming resolutions.
Far from helping you to change your life in all areas, these massive resolutions actually reduce your chances of following through on making any sustainable and maintainable changes to your life in the long-term.
Extend compassion towards yourself if you’ve fallen off the bandwagon
The default response for many of us when we break a promise to ourselves is to go into a shame cycle where we start berating ourselves for having no will power and hence being a terrible person. Far from helping us get back on track, this cycle fuels our inner critic and ultimately keeps us away from the changes that we crave.
If you’ve broken a promise to yourself, take a deep breath, refocus on what’s important to you, if anything, about this self-promise and engage in one small action that your future self will thank you for.
For example, if you want to eat healthier and you’ve just eaten two chocolate bars from a multi-pack, rather than going with the ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ mentality, extend compassion that you’ve eaten two bars and consciously choose not to eat the third.
Ground yourself in your underlying values
Many self-promises fail because they are not truly grounded in something that is important enough to you in the first place.
If you don’t have a strong enough value underlying whatever change you want to make, then you will not be willing to experience the inevitable unwanted thoughts and emotions that will arise as you start doing something new, such as eating healthily, or let go of doing something, such as smoking.
A small, yet effective, tool is to remind yourself of why you wanted to make this change in the first place each morning and throughout the day.
If you cannot connect your desired changes to underlying values, then you’re probably better off letting go of this change and choosing something new that gives you a sense of purpose.
Shift your focus from good and bad to towards and away actions
Many of us get caught in the trap of labelling our actions and ourselves as good when we follow through on our resolutions and bad when we inevitably act contrary to our resolutions.
This keeps us caught in a judgment and shame cycle. Instead, honestly and gently reflect each day on which actions bring you closer towards who and where you want to be in 2019 and which actions brought you further away.
Once you realise that your actions are bringing you away from who and where you want to be, you can choose and engage in one small towards move instead.
Small and Steady Wins the Race
Whilst it’s ever-so-tempting to create grand goals and want to reach these immediately, small and steady changes in your actions are likely to lead to the most sustainable changes.
Look at whatever goals you’ve set for yourself in 2019. See if you can break these down into small, manageable chunks. Keep making your goals smaller until you feel 80% confident that you can follow through on these actions.
The Power of Small by Aisling and Trish Leonard Curtin is published in Trade Paperback by Hachette Ireland, €16.99