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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Keefe

How are your New Year's Resolutions going?

We are nine days into 2019 and like many people, you may have resolved to do something differently in the New Year, to start something or to stop. I am interested in what you have resolved to change, where the idea came from and how the change is going. If its all going well and you have made the change without much trouble, that's great.: keep going! But if like most people, you are struggling to stick to your resolution (to run every day, go to the gym, spend less time on social media, quit smoking, drink less), then it may help to think about why you are finding it so difficult and what you might be able to do about it:

One reason I think so many of us struggle with Resolutions is that we try to make these positive changes in January, right after Christmas and New Year's Eve. The contrast between the lights, parties, warmth, fun and escapism of the festive period and cold, dark, hungover, broke, January, could not be starker. Adding stopping something we enjoy or starting a new healthy practice such as exercise, stretches the will power of the most determined, so my first suggestion is to not be too hard on yourself if you are finding it tough. It would be more productive to spend time thinking about what has been driving the behaviour you would like to change.

If you take #DryJanuary for instance: stopping drinking for a month is a good idea, with all sorts of health and social benefits. The point has been made before that there is a downside if on February 1st you just return to drinking far too much for the rest of the year. But what was making you drink so much in the first place? Your answer might be that you don't have a drinking problem, its just that you over did it a bit at Christmas and just want to prove to people that you can give up and that may well be true. But there could also be deeper and more worrying reasons: this may sound harsh, but it could be that you are in fact struggling with alcoholism and will need some extra support from an #addictions therapist to stop completely. Even if you are not an alcoholic, you might have been drinking too much for a while to cope with or avoid a difficult situation in your life, at home at work or in life in general. Perhaps there is a situation which is causing you stress and anxiety, making you angry or sapping your confidence but which you find really difficult to face. Drinking, even just once or twice a week, can be a way to avoid or put up with a situation without doing anything about it. Have you ever found yourself thinking, "I can get through another few days of it because I'll be having a drink on Friday and can forget all about it for a while?"

Even much healthier activities can be part of avoidance: let's say you are training for a #Marathon or #Triathlon. If you are, you have my respect and admiration but again, have you really thought about why you are doing it? If you genuinely love #fitness, challenging and pushing yourself to the limit, that's great and I can understand why you would want to. The problems come if you use #exercise to avoid dealing with difficult situations: exercise releases powerful, mood-enhancing drugs such as dopamine and endorphins which make you feel wonderful after a workout. It can also stop you thinking, giving you a rest from your thoughts (I'm not exactly sure how this happens but it may be because during exercise, the body diverts blood from non-essential areas to those parts of the body directly involved in the activity at hand, the "working muscles": the pre-frontal cortex, the "executive" part of the brain, which does your conscious thinking, may not be essential when running, so get's less blood and operates at a lower level for a while, literally stopping you thinking so much.)

We all need a break from our thoughts sometimes and the brain can feel refreshed afterwards. The problem comes when there are issues in your life you really do need to think about, reflect on and decide upon and you are using #exercise to avoid this. I'm not saying don't exercise: it really will help reduce stress and anxiety but the the problem with activities which help you avoid a problem is that the problem is still there when you stop. The issues which made you drink will still be there in February and at some point you may need to deal with the stressful situation which made you want to do a #Triathlon:

Talking to a #psychotherapist could really help you unravel and understand what is happening for you, what is really causing you stress and anxiety and get the most psychological benefit from the #exercise or #DryJanuary, leading to positive, lasting change.

Whatever your reasons for making a change and whatever your actual resolution, you may be finding sticking to it a real struggle. Somewhere inside you, there might be a quiet but persistent voice, whispering to you that you are weak willed and useless, that you never stick at anything and might as well give up. You will never amount to anything.

A #lifecoach might call this a set of "limiting beliefs." A #EMDR Therapist might call them Blocking Beliefs or Negative Cognitions and there are many other terms besides. Whatever you call this whispering, negative voice, there are things you can do to silence it, help your confidence and motivation to make lasting, positive change in your life.

An #EMDR therapist could help you identify the "Proof Memories" and "Touchstone Memories" associated with these beliefs about yourself. Proof memories are memories of occasions where the belief seemed to be confirmed. A touchstone memory would be of the original experience which caused you to first have the belief about yourself.

So, say your New Year's Resolution is to start jogging and train to run a #10k in the Spring. You really want to do this to get fit. Your limiting or blocking belief might be that "I never stick at anything difficult, I always give up." The proof memories for this belief might be of previous years when you have set a resolution and not stuck to it. But behind this could be an earlier memory of constantly being told by a teacher, older sibling, parent, bullies at school, that you are useless and will never amount to anything. Or it could be connected with other traumatic experiences such as abuse or assault. These memories, perhaps because they were so painful at the time, may have become stuck in the brain in an unprocessed state, in the non-verbal part of the brain. You may not be aware of them all the time but they are there, working away, sapping your self-confidence, especially when you try to challenge yourself.

#EMDR can be used to process and resolve touchstone and proof memories, dissipating the power they have over your thoughts and beliefs about yourself. #EMDR can also help you identify an alternative narrative about yourself through finding the inner resources / traits to succeed at whatever it is you are trying to do:

A therapist might ask you what resources and characteristics you need to do the training and run the race: perhaps you say "self-discipline and determination". The therapist will ask you about occasions in your life where you have been self-disciplined and determined. If you really can't think of any (and you will be amazed at the good things you can find out about yourself when you look at your life through the eyes of a therapist who has your best interests at hear and wants to help you feel better about yourself), you can use a character from a book or a film who has those qualities. EMDR techniques can then be deployed to help you use these positive memories, characters and your emotional responses to them, to build up a sense of yourself as a self-disciplined and determined person and challenge the whispers which say you are not.

So if you have made a #NewYearsResolution, well done for trying to make a positive change in your life. If you are struggling to actually make the change, I hope this blog has been helpful in encouraging you to keep trying and showing you ways you can be helped. And if the whispers have stopped you even making the resolution, again, don't be too hard on yourself: if you want to make a change in your life, there are ways you can be helped. Good luck!

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