It’s that time of the year again. When people make ’em and, uh, break ’em. Resolutions, that is. A new year, a new start, a new you – so we hope.

Typically, people resolve to lose weight, exercise more or eat more healthily. But also typically, the vast majority of people abandon resolutions by the end of the month.

The problem is that they’re focused purely on physical results. What’s needed first is the mental work.

Without the mental strengthening of resolve and will, all that anticipated extra huffin’ and puffin’ in the gym probably won’t happen.

There’s a wealth of material out there on how to develop your mental strength. I’d be stumped to say what’s best, because what works for you might not work as well for others. But if I have to offer my two sen on the matter, here’s what I’d go for.

Mindfulness

I think whatever resolutions we have, or don’t have, we can all be a little more mindful in every-thing we do … mindful of the way we treat people, including ourselves; mindful of the foods – or poisons – we put into our bodies; mindful of the junk we buy and then throw away, at the expense of our purses and the earth; mindful of the internal conversations that destroy us or strengthen us; mindful of how we choose to spend valuable minutes of the day (Facebook vs family time?). The list goes on….

Mindfulness creates self-awareness, which is critical to transformation.

It sheds light on destructive feelings or behaviour. Only through this awareness can we hope to change.

We might even end up questioning our true intentions behind a resolution.

Mindfulness can also help us stay focused and committed to a goal.

And it also helps us stay more present in the present, which brings its own joy.

The ultimate form of mindfulness, for those up to it, would be meditation.

Mindset shifting

There is a rapid route to happiness. Shifting your mindset. Or perspective. We have to be a little like Pollyanna – the literary character who always adopted a rose-coloured view of the world, even in tough times.

OK, you had a bad day, or a bad year. Well, there’s still tomorrow to look forward to, and look at what you have (gratitude always helps).

OK, you don’t like the American president – well, at least that might mean more people fight at the grassroots level, which is often where real change happens anyway (consider hard-won civil rights).

My husband calls this kind of thinking “delusional”. He prefers to be “realistic”, he says. Fine, maybe one of us should be that way. But just remember, reality can be depressing. A little Pollyanna perspective can help uplift us from challenging situations.

We should also hold a “growth mindset” rather than a closed mindset. Believe that you can change and develop.

And gear up the right mindset to face oncoming battles that lie ahead.

Sports coaches know this well. The ones that win gold medals are the ones that also prepare their athletes mentally.

Make it a habit

Whatever you want to do, make it stick by doing it often. Like daily. A little a day goes much further than a lot once a week. Five minutes of exercise a day, five new words to learn a day… that doesn’t sound so difficult, does it?

Incidentally, don’t dismiss the value of even a few minutes of exercise – read my previous article about high intensity exercise.

Done the right away, a few minutes exercise can go a long way. It even has psychological benefits, so including this goal can help towards furthering all other goals.

Remember, it takes a couple of months, on average, to form a new habit. So doing something daily helps to ingrain a habit, especially if you tied it into an existing routine, with a reward afterwards.

Aristotle once said, we are what we repeatedly do.

Precise and positive goals

The way we set a goal can set us up for failure or success. Be specific about your goal, plan how to adopt it, and consider why it matters. Think about the outcome you want. Then write it all down.

Assume a positive tone even in phrasing your goal. So aim for a “healthier body” rather than “fighting the flab”.

This helps get the support of our subconscious mind, which is a natural Pollyanna (unlike the conscious mind).

Staying positive will help us keep going in the long-term too. If you can make the goal fun, you may well have a winner.

Good luck!


Mangai Balasegaram writes mostly on health, but also delves into anything on being human. She has worked with international public health bodies and has a Masters in public health.