It's not about 'new year, new you' - it's about realising the 'old' you is pretty cool already
I used to take resolutions very seriously. Lose weight. Work harder. Be tidier. And because I was an angsty teen who poured all my feelings into a diary, I have written proof that I never lost enough weight, never worked hard enough, and was never tidy (full stop). I was starting each year fixated on what was wrong with me. And each year, I never quite achieved what I wanted, and was never quite happy as a result. Eventually I stopped making resolutions. I realised that setting myself up for failure wasn't making me feel good; that happiness had to lie somewhere else. And, over time, as I grew up, as I learnt to understand myself better, I became less angsty, less angry, I started to enjoy life a bit more.
But even now, I know there's more work to be done to fight that self-criticism. So this year, I'm pledging to be kind to myself. Obvious perhaps, but a pledge that requires conscious thought and work. And I urge you to join me in pledging this too. If we all treated ourselves with a little bit more self-compassion, then the other things we hope for would start to slot into place. I know so many talented, kind, beautiful women and men who speak so cruelly about themselves, it's heartbreaking. We may think 'tough talk' gets results, but kindness might just get us there quicker - and will leave us feeling more mentally healthy, too.
"People often mistake self-criticism as motivating, when often it can be just the opposite," says Dr Catherine Green, a clinical psychologist at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. "Resolutions sound good in principle (trying to change ourselves for 'the better') but often inadvertently end up focusing our attention on the bits of us we dislike and hence set us up for failure, shame and self-criticism, creating a bit of a vicious cycle. Trying to adopt a more compassionate approach to ourselves, and others, is a more healthy overarching principle to try and stick to, and should bring more of a lasting change to our wellbeing, both physical and emotional."
So, eat well, not to diet yourself into oblivion, or because you think your body is horrible or ugly, but because your body is wonderful and deserves to be healthy and strong. Exercise not because you feel guilted into it, or 'disgusting', but because you'll feel better for having more energy in your life. And next time you berate yourself for not doing something as well as someone else, remind yourself of all the things you do that are amazing.
Of course, being kind to ourselves doesn't mean a free pass to do whatever the f**k we want - I may initially think being kind to myself is eating an entire Terry's Chocolate Orange in a record-breaking 75 seconds, but really, if I'm honest with myself, I'm going to crash hours later and feel very sick for it. "People often confuse self-compassion with being soft on ourselves," adds Dr Green, "but actually it is about taking responsibility and confronting painful/scary feelings and situations, but in a way that is supportive and kind rather than self-condemning."
The new year frenzy of reinvention and a ten-day detox might promise more instant results, but amping up the kindness will make a bigger difference to your life in the long run. Need a bit of help to get started? Let these kindness warriors inspire you...
"A big reason so many of us are so hard on ourselves is that we believe this will lead to the best results. However the evidence suggests otherwise. A study at the University of California, Berkeley, found that students were more motivated to do better when they exercised self compassion, being kinder to themselves. If we accept our failures rather than beating ourselves up, we are more likely to want to improve, to work harder and feel more motivated, the study suggests.
"Try this exercise: imagine someone who really loves and accepts you and see them standing in front of you. Really notice the way they look at you. Now step into their shoes and see yourself through their eyes. Notice everything great about yourself and even notice your flaws, and love and accept them all the same. See yourself in this loving and accepting way. Imagine telling yourself positive words of encouragement from this loving perspective. Then step back into your own shoes, but bring with you this new way of seeing yourself. Repeat this as often as you need to."
BELIEVE THAT YOU CAN DO ANYTHING (HELL, WHY NOT?!)
By Hannah Cockroft, wheelchair racer, Paralympic gold medallist, world and European champion, world record holder
"All my life, I have been told that I cannot do things. When I was born, I 'couldn't' walk, when I was at school, I 'couldn't' do PE, when I was a teenager, I 'couldn't' wear high heels (OK, that one I still can't do), but I really dislike being told that I cannot do something, especially without being given the chance to try it!
"The latest 'can't' has been that I 'cannot' squat in the gym. Four months ago, I couldn't even balance on one knee, let alone stand up from it, so to say that I now can, with the aid of holding onto the wall, feels like a huge breakthrough, even though I've still got a long way to go to let go of that wall. But the goal all started with someone telling me I couldn't and bit by bit, I'm proving them wrong because I've learnt how far I can push my limits without breaking myself and I know that this exercise will improve my racing technique by massive amounts, so it's something I really want to be able to do.
"So this year, do something you're passionate about, don't get bullied into a resolution, because passion is the real driving force behind success. Break things down into manageable pieces, so not to overwhelm yourself with the final idea. If it's something you really want to do, it's easily achievable, you just have to find your limit and push through it a little bit. It's incredible what your body can do when you have self belief. And enjoy it, a little bit of happiness can take you a long way. Everything you want is already inside you, just take things step by step and not only will the results feel monumental, making you want to carry on, but they will also quickly begin to show."
REMEMBER THAT YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE HAPPY ALL THE TIME
By Sarah Flax, psychotherapist
"At new year, many of us scrutinise our lives, putting ourselves under pressure to improve. There is the idea that we ought to be happy all of the time, and that more difficult feelings such as sadness, loneliness or anger are markers of failure. I'm advocating the idea that experiencing a broad spectrum of feelings, encompassing light and dark emotions, is not only more realistic, but also a richer way to live. It is important to feel sad or angry sometimes. We should give ourselves permission to be with those difficult feelings, without trying to bury them, understanding that our feeling states are constantly in flux and trusting that all feeling will pass - joy, pain, rage, delight... The beauty is in the mixture."
SMART DIET ADVICE ACTUALLY WORTH FOLLOWING
By Dr Joanna Silver, a chartered psychologist who specialises in body image issues including eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder and works for Nightingale Hospital
"At this time of year, we are bombarded with messages to get the 'perfect' body and radically alter our eating habits. Whilst realistic resolutions can be motivating, setting unrealistic resolutions can be unhelpful and even dangerous. Often diets fail. Many diets are far too low in calories and can make the body go into a state of starvation. Starvation carries with it the risk of over-eating at a future point. Diets which cut out entire food groups can be very restrictive. They can make the dieter feel deprived and resentful and can cause the dieter to have cravings for the forbidden food and rebel by eating it excessively. When diets have strict rules, the breaking of one rule can make the dieter feel that they have failed, which can start a vicious cycle of guilt and shame.
"In order to make positive changes to your diet, is is important to have realistic expectations of what you can achieve. This can avoid setting yourself up to fail. Instead of setting huge goals which can be daunting, it can be helpful to have lots of mini goals which are manageable. Instead of cutting out entire food groups and labelling foods as 'good' and 'bad', allow yourself to have all foods in moderation. No food is 'good' or 'bad', and all can be found in a balanced diet. Allowing yourself to have a moderate amount of the foods you enjoy can avoid the need to overeat and can bypass the guilt and shame that can come from breaking strict rules."
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON GLAMOUR.COM