Chai Brady explores seven ways to make New Year’s resolution a solid reality
Don’t give up on your resolutions, especially if they’re for your physical or mental health.
That’s the message a professional addiction counsellor wants to expound. It could be as small as forgoing your cheeky weekly chipper, to more insidious habits such as smoking or alcohol.
Creating a definite plan and forgoing the lone route to achieving your goals are very concrete paths to success according to Sean Harty, the Chairperson of Addiction Counsellors of Ireland.
There are some simple – albeit sometimes tough, depending on the lifestyle change required – steps that those looking to fulfil their 2019 aims can focus on to make their New Year hopes a reality.
New year, new me?
Starting a new resolution in the New Year, although it is popular, is sometimes not seen as the best way to begin a lifestyle change as the pressure, bad weather and research shows many people generally find them hard to keep.
However, Mr Harty says that a person willing to challenge themselves to improve their life is always welcome at any date in the calendar.
“I think anytime is a good time to look at improving the quality of your life. Usually a resolution is a person’s own choice to have a look at something that’s maybe impacting on their life,” he says.
“A New Years’ resolution can be an incentive, because a New Year can be a new beginning. Obviously if there’s an incentive or an added bonus of doing so for the New Year that’s fine.”
Everyone can slip up, even if they’ve painstakingly devised and contemplated methods to avoid and dismiss their unwelcome habits, but it’s certainly not the end of the world if you submit to temptation.
This is often the case for people dealing with spiking their unhealthy comforts, but it doesn’t mean you have failed, it’s just another opportunity to begin afresh with a good record behind you.
“If there are triggers or relapses that’s okay too,” says Mr Harty.
“If you’ve failed once, it’s part and parcel of the resolution that obviously may be difficult. For example cigarettes.
“If you fall off the wagon, well then you just start again, to give yourself the benefit. If you’re two weeks in and you’ve done without a cigarette and you pick up a cigarette, some people are disappointed and feel they’ve lost the two weeks for example. As it happens they’ve done the two weeks, they’ve had a relapse, so therefore they know they can do it for two weeks, so just start again. Don’t give up. Keep at it and if you fail that’s okay,” Mr Harty says.
Everyone will have triggers, it could be a certain time in your daily schedule, a smell, sound, word or something even more innocuous. But when you’re triggered, the compulsion to do exactly what you promised yourself you wouldn’t may become overwhelming.
What can you do in a situation like that? Mr Harty says triggers will often be part of the challenge of someone’s attempt to refrain from something they adore – despite that relationship being toxic. Creating parameters can significantly help.
He says: “From a professional point of view, when we look at a resolution, it has to be specific, it has to be realistic, measurable and it has to be time based. That’s the four indicators we go on.”
“So a trigger really could be anything. If the mood is low, if something has changed in the person’s life, or they’re going through a bad patch and they revert back to their comfort food – in this case it could be chocolate – then that’s a trigger, with any pressures or something that’s unexpected happens, to go back to your old habits, like eating chocolate.
“You watch out for them, if it happens once again, you move on and watch for the same triggers and if the mood is low or something else happens: share it with a person.”
Sharing and support
Keeping your New Year resolutions private, preferring to make changes without someone looking over your shoulder or giving unwanted advice or policing can seem tempting, but it’s often not the best option.
According to Mr Harty: “You need support, everyone needs support. If a person makes a resolution they need to tell the family, co-workers, because that support is vital.
“Making a resolution in your own head and not telling someone, thinking ‘I’ll surprise people, I won’t smoke for a month, two months I’ll give them up slowly’, you’re missing out on so much support that’s out there by doing that.”
Choosing your support base could be the best option, rather than opening up to everyone regarding something that may be intensely private to you, but having that fall-back could be the difference between success and regressing to the same routines.
Is it always necessary to completely change your behaviour? Not according to Mr Harty, who says remaking a lifestyle isn’t integral to fulfilling your hopes.
“You avoid situations where possible,” he says, “Say if you always have a cigarette after a cup of coffee, or after dinner: We’d say have your coffee and have a plan of action following your coffee. It’s the same for alcohol, avoid the situation if at all possible. If you’re genuinely trying to cut down on your drinking and you decide to go to a party every night, you’re not doing yourself any favours because they are triggers.
“And you are watching people doing what you want to do, so you’re making yourself very vulnerable by landing yourself in those situations.”
Avoiding every situation in which you risk temptation isn’t the only way to beat a habit or possible addiction, testing yourself and overcoming it could be a great way to build confidence, thus taking back power from something that may be dictating some of your actions and affecting your wellbeing.
Mr Harty says that “you just need to be mindful of your surroundings and especially in the early days of your resolution, or the first few weeks, not to put yourself in a situation that will make it more difficult for you to stick with your resolution for the New Year”.
Replacing unhealthy habits for healthy ones could be the answer for many. For those with food related New Year resolutions, for example, there are many healthy alternatives available.
“Chocolate versus a Belvita, a low calorie snack in the morning at work rather than taking out a bar of chocolate. You know it’s to replace the unhealthy habit with the healthy habit and when you see the benefit, that in itself gives you the encouragement to continue,” Mr Harty advises.
“If someone has an issue with their weight, and they cut out chocolate and they weigh themselves after two weeks and they’ve lost X amount of pounds or whatever, that’s a really good incentive for them to continue on with that – so the rewards are there.”
Although counselling may seem to some a drastic measure, or relegated to those with more ‘serious’ issues, it could be the answer for anyone regardless of their preconceptions about the necessity.
Mr Harty says: “By going to counselling, making a resolution on January 1 and at the same time engaging with a counsellor, again you have the professional support of a counsellor, it’s in a safe, non-judgmental environment and you do stand a better chance.”
“I know that from dealing with people, say they’re doing okay for two weeks, let it be drink say, they’re going to a party and they think ‘will I take a drink’ or whatever.
“They know they’re meeting me the following week and we’ve built up a therapeutic relationship, or a professional relationship, sometimes that alone in itself [makes them think] ‘because I’m meeting Sean next week I don’t want to have to go in and tell him that I drank on Friday night’.”
In addition to this, he says, counsellors can also give advice on protection methods, when a person knows that in the near future they’ll be putting themselves in a position in which they’ll be tempted to break their resolution and want to make a “safe exit”.
“For example, to have someone to pick you up if needs be, pick up the phone, ring someone and say listen I just want to go home, or whatever it is.
“You’re giving them the tools to hopefully get through the Friday night and then the next week when they come back to you, and if they found it difficult then that’s fine, you go through that with them, but you’re helping them to get through the different stages of the change in their lifestyle.”
Mr Harty also recommended websites funded by the HSE for help with certain substances people wish to leave behind: drinkaware.ie, yourmentalhealth.ie and drugs.ie
Regardless of the resolution it can be tough to turn a new leaf, but with the right support and intention, it should be no problem to aim for abstention.