Resolutions are notorious for falling by the wayside a few months or even days into the New Year. A 2012 University of Scranton study revealed that only 8 percent of people who make New Year's resolutions are successful in achieving them. This low success rate may relate to the fact that many of us are more inclined to center our resolutions on self-criticism than on real aspirations or desires. Rarely do we set a goal to spend more time joking around with friends or listening to music we enjoy. Rather, our resolutions tend to focus on "fixing" our flaws or "correcting" our failures. This negative viewpoint comes from a "critical inner voice" we all possess that alerts us of what we need to fix, while reminding us that we won't succeed. Filtering our personal goals through this critical lens only sets us up for failure. With that in mind, this year, I want to propose a new list of deeply rewarding and reachable resolutions. These activities have been proven to benefit us on every level, increasing both the quality and length of our lives.
Be More Mindful: Mindfulness meditation is an amazing method for learning to live in the moment. We do not exist in the future or in the past, yet many of us spend most of our time worrying about one or the other. By paying attention to the present with purpose and without judgment, we make the most of every minute we have. A 2009 article in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences posed, "Meditation practices have various health benefits including the possibility of preserving cognition and preventing dementia." In addition to potentially sustaining brain functionality, new studies have suggested that mindfulness meditation may slow the rate of cellular aging. The evidence that meditation practices may actually increase our lifespan should give us that extra incentive to take this time for ourselves. The benefits may mean not only more years to enjoy, but more joy in our years. You can learn more about meditation practices and benefits from mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn here.
Exercise for a Healthy Mind: Staying fit and healthy may have been the fifth most popular resolution in 2012, but the goal of exercising has more rewards than what meets the eye. In 2011, interpersonal neurobiology expert Dr. Daniel Siegel and co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute Dr. David Rock developed The Healthy Mind Platter, a regimen that consists of "seven daily essential mental activities to optimize brain matter and create well-being." One of these activities involves "physical time," in which people move their bodies aerobically in order to strengthen the brain. Exercise doesn't just make us stronger physically, but mentally as well. Aerobic exercise has been proven to help fight stress and depression. Keep your mind sharp and your spirits lifted by making it a part of your life.
Sleep the Right Amount for You: While eating right and exercising more are almost always on our agenda, we rarely give sleep the weight it deserves when it comes to our wellness and well-being. According to William C. Dement and Christopher Vaughan, the authors of The Promise of Sleep, "Healthful sleep has been empirically proven to be the single most important factor in predicting longevity, more influential than diet, exercise, or heredity." In their book, the authors correlate ignoring sleep with heart disease, traffic accidents, and "immeasurable mental and psychological disadvantages." Additionally, research shows that sleep loss hurts our cognitive performance, while a healthy amount of sleep improves cognition. So while it may not feel intuitive or productive, getting the right dose of rest is something we all should add to our agenda. Learn more about how much sleep you need from the National Sleep Foundation website.
Differentiate From Your Past: The end of the year tends to be a time for reflection. We may start to look at the worst traits we possess or the things we most want to change in ourselves. As we do this, it's important to continuously ask ourselves, "Who do I want to be?" "Whose life am I really living?" "Why do I make the choices I make?" "What actions would I be taking if I were acting based on my real wants and desires?" Without us even knowing it, so many of our behaviors are based on harmful influences from our past. We may imitate influential caregivers, adopting their attitudes or outlook. Or we may act in ways that are reactive to old experiences. Behaviors we adopted as children in response to a negative interpersonal environment can hurt us adults, especially in conditions where these behaviors are no longer adaptive.
For example, if we grew up with people who often let us down, we may be hesitant to trust anyone. If we grew up feeling under pressure and pulled on by our parents, we may feel easily overwhelmed or intruded on. It's important to identify what parts of our personality reflect who we want to be and what parts represent a negative reflection of our past. Once we identify these patterns, we must make a conscious effort to separate from these (often subconscious) influences. Studies have indicated that the more adverse childhood events you experience, the more likely you are to contract disease later in life. Thus, for both physical and mental reasons, it is vital to face the ways we've been hurt in the past and to separate from their still destructive influences in the present. By shedding these imposed layers, we can ultimately unveil who we really are. You can learn more about this process of differentiation at PsychAlive.org.
Challenge Your Inner Critic: To make any of our resolutions a success means challenging our "critical inner voice." This voice will shoot us down when we achieve victory with comments like, "So what if you lost weight? You'll never be able to keep it off." Or it will lure us to act in self-destructive ways, "One cigarette won't hurt you. Who cares what you do anyway? You should just make yourself feel good." This inner critic is formed from negative experiences and attitudes we were exposed to early in life, and it continues to be shaped throughout our growth.
The more we act according to the dictates of our critical inner voice, the louder and stronger it gets, and the more control it has over our life. We can conquer this enemy within by identifying when it is triggered and what it is telling us. By seeing these negative thought processes as an alien point of view, as opposed to a reflection of reality, we are better equipped to counter the directives of our critical inner voice. By continually standing up to and challenging this internal enemy, we become stronger in our ability to live life freely based on our own desires, passions, and goals.
Taking a positive and proactive approach to our goals gives us the best chance of achieving lasting change. As we take on resolutions that will help us to become our best selves, we must treat ourselves with compassion, sensitivity, and respect. We must be brave in our battle to challenge deeply engrained behaviors and steadfast in our journey to live free of imagined limitations.
On January 18-20, Dr. Lisa Firestone is hosting a weekend workshop retreat on "Conquering Your Critical Inner Voice" at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA. To learn more about this event, visit Esalen.org. To learn more about how to identify and challenge your critical inner voice visit PsychAlive.org.
Read more from Dr. Lisa Firestone at PsychAlive.org
Join Dr. Lisa Firestone for "Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice: A Weekend Workshop in Esalen - Big Sur, CA" on Jan.18-20. Learn more or register here