For evidence that resolutions are a waste of time, just look at how the gyms, yoga studios and pools are full to the brim in this month, and by February, everyone seems to have given up and there’s space in your swimming lane again.
But if it wasn’t possible to make lasting changes to your life, I wouldn’t have a job. I see clients transform themselves in the space of a few weeks. Here are 10 strategies for sustained improvements to your health, happiness and life satisfaction that have worked for me and my clients.
Lasting change cannot happen unless you are deeply committed to it. That doesn’t mean that there’s no part of you at all that doubts it’s possible, or that is resisting in some way, but it does mean that a big part of you really wants it.
That commitment can often come from a place of despair. If we are totally fed up of feeling anxious, not sleeping or feeling unfulfilled at work, we tend to have the necessary motivation to do something about it. Until then, we keep making excuses!
They say that worrying is praying for what you don’t want to happen. To make a positive change to your life, you have to focus on what you do want.
I always start my coaching programmes by guiding clients through a visualisation of a perfect day in their life in five years’ time — from where they’ll be living, their morning routine and what they’ll be doing at work, to their ideal evening followed by going to bed feeling that they love their life.
Vision boards, drawing the change that you want to see, mantras and affirmations are all good ways of helping you to do this.
The key that unlocked personal growth for me was mindfulness and meditation. What these tools give you is the ability to observe your thoughts, feelings and behaviours from a third-person perspective. It’s amazing how much things can change just from you observing them without judgment, as opposed to it being unconscious or automatic.
I’ve seen massive changes in people’s health and happiness as they’ve learned to accept their emotions rather than fight them, particularly anger, sadness and fear..
What keeps us stuck is reacting to feelings with thoughts like, ‘I hate this feeling, I want to get rid of it it. It should have gone by now.’ Or running away from an emotion, driven by the fear that if you let yourself feel it, it’ll never leave you.
I had one client who pretty much cured her depression and chronic fatigue through one breakthrough moment of realising it was okay to feel miserable. When she stopped fighting the feeling, she was able to let go of it.
5. Taking action
There’s a wonderful saying in Italian: ‘Tra il dire e il fare c’è di mezzo il mare’, which literally means, ‘There is a sea between saying and doing’, or ‘Easier said than done.’
We love to give advice, listen to podcasts and read books about things that can improve our lives in some way, but until you do something differently, nothing will change. That’s the hard bit.
6. Being consistent
Going to the gym once won’t make you fit. If you want to build your client base, it’s not enough to offer someone your services once. If you want to be more mindful, one meditation won’t last long.
Your new behaviours need to become habits.
One of the best ways to ensure you are consistent is to have someone you’re accountable to. A coach, friend or colleague who will notice if you fall off the wagon and get you back on track.
7. Moving from blame to responsibility
I know someone’s not going to improve their situation when they insist on blaming Brexit, their parents, a selfish colleague or their genetic make-up for their problems.
Blame is a totally disempowering, negative mental state that will keep you stuck.
Only when you accept that you have played a role in creating your problem will you see that you can get yourself out of it.
8. Stop punishing yourself
Many people, including myself, have an unfortunate tendency to beat themselves up most for the behaviours that they most want to change.
I used to have a real problem with being late for things. Each time I was late, I would feel so much shame and have an inner dialogue along the lines of:
‘You’re such an idiot! Late again. You’re so incompetent. Other people don’t find it hard to be on time. What’s wrong with you? You never seem to be able to change this. It’s such a basic thing to get right and you can’t do it. They must be thinking you’re an idiot.’
Of course, this negative self-talk keeps you stuck. Far more helpful is to let go of the shame, remember that you’re not the only person that struggles with this and look at what’s happening objectively. In my case, I needed to drop the behaviour of always trying to squeeze in one more thing before I left to go somewhere and aim to be early instead.
I remember very clearly the moment when I asked one of my first coaching clients if she wanted to carry on past the eight sessions we’d agreed to. She said she wanted to give up because she thought she wasn’t getting anywhere.
Then I read back to her what she had said about her situation in our first session — how negative she had been feeling and all the things she was struggling with.
She couldn’t believe how much had changed in two months. She was calmer, happier, more organised, focused and less anxious.
That moment of reflection and celebration was the encouragement she needed to keep going, and for over two years now, I’ve seen her make steady, consistent progress in both her personal and professional life.
‘The struggle ends when gratitude begins.’
Neale Donald Walsch (author).
It might not be obvious how appreciating your current situation might help you change it. When I was really broke, for example, I couldn’t see why or how I would appreciate that.
But in fact, one of the moments that helped me transform my relationship with sales and money was acknowledging that this struggle was a gift: it would teach me what caused me and many others to struggle with money, and how to earn a living doing what I love.
But most important of all…
If I could ask you to do one thing this year, it would be to develop a consistent meditation practice. It is the most powerful tool I know of for self-transformation and it will help you with all of the strategies above.
There’s a great free app called Insight Timer, where you can find three of my meditation recordings, as well as those by 3,000 other teachers.
Wishing you a healthy, happy and successful 2019!