Image via US News.
New Year’s resolutions can be all over the map. Maybe you’re making small tweaks, like trying to work out more or eat healthier. Or maybe you’re striving for big changes — quitting smoking or losing weight. Whatever your resolutions for 2016, mindfulness experts say this popular meditation strategy can help you stay on track and realize your goals.
What is mindfulness?
With its roots in Buddhist meditation traditions, mindfulness is a mental state that’s achieved by focusing your thoughts on the present. That sort of focus means you’re conscious of your feelings and bodily sensations, and not just living your life on autopilot.
“Are you really tasting the strawberries, or are you just shovelling them in your mouth? If you’re talking to a friend, are you paying attention to all the non-verbal cues?” says Dr. Paul Kelly, clinical director at the Mindfulness Clinic in Toronto. “The richest, most fulfilling human moments we have occur when we’re really tuned in to one another.”
When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, mindfulness strategies can help you shift your focus. Say you want to butt out for good. Sure, you’re losing the pleasure of nicotine, but Kelly says practicing mindfulness can help you focus on what you’re gaining instead.
“It’s important to think about what about this will be positive or rewarding for me. I’ll enjoy not coughing as much, not having the smell of cigarettes on my clothing, I’ll enjoy sharing with my friends that I’ve made this change,” he says. By being aware of the positive gain, you’re shifting your mind towards success.
If you’re trying to give up a bad habit — constant snacking, or regularly creeping your ex on Facebook — you should try “urge-surfing,” says psychologist Jonathan Kaplan, director of the SoHo CBT + Mindfulness Center. That means paying attention to your emotions, and the internal and external conditions fuelling your decisions.
With emotional eating, for example, it’s easy to reach for the nearest bag of chips because you’re acting on autopilot, Kaplan says, rather than paying attention to your feelings and motivations for eating in the first place. “If we don’t give into that urge, it’ll subside,” he says. “We just have to ride or surf it out.”
Start actually meditating
You can apply mindfulness principles in your life, but actually practicing meditation can be the best way to overhaul how you think on a regular basis. Formal meditation starts building our ability to sustain our attention for longer periods of time, and “cultivating that attitude of acceptance,” says Kaplan. But that doesn’t mean you need to sit in a lotus pose for half an hour — even just a few minutes at a time can help you get on track.
Kaplan suggests taking a meditation class or using an app to get the ball rolling. Kelly says it’s also worth doing a mindfulness review at the end of each day, focusing on how you felt and if there were any obstacles you faced in hitting your goals.