DR MAX THE MIND DOCTOR: The tricks to help you keep your promises
January 11 — yesterday — was the day when, statistically speaking, people are most likely to have given up on their New Year resolutions.
From a psychological perspective, this make sense. The human brain doesn’t like change. Most of us can make temporary lifestyle changes for a week or two but, after that, maintaining something so that it becomes a habit requires very deliberate and conscious effort.
Just how long it takes varies widely according to different studies. In the Sixties, American cosmetic surgeon Maxwell Maltz, the author of the best-selling Psycho-Cybernetics, which detailed a system of ideas he claimed could improve one’s self-image, propagated the idea that it took 21 days to create a new habit.
January 11 — yesterday — was the day when, statistically speaking, people are most likely to have given up on their New Year resolutions (file photo)
More up-to-date studies suggest it’s a good deal longer — on average 66 days, say researchers at University College London. Which makes it all rather daunting and, some might feel, pointless.
But I urge you not to give up! There are several psychological techniques which will help you stick with your resolutions, and top of the list is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. CBT is precisely targeted at changing thinking and behaviour.
It challenges the tricks our brains play on us to get us to give up on something new and revert to the comfortable status quo.
Being mindful of these ‘cognitive errors’ will help you to identify them when they occur and overcome them. So, here’s my simple guide to using some CBT principles to make the changes to your life that you want for 2019.
- Stay focused, even if it means sticking with just one resolution. Don’t try to change several aspects of your life all at once, as that’s a surefire way to fail.
- Break your resolution down into small, manageable goals. We all have an innate tendency to ‘catastrophise’, so one small setback in a new regime — whether it’s diet, fitness, giving up alcohol, quitting smoking, reducing screen time or whatever — becomes a reason to pack the whole thing in. Think of a series of steps leading to your goal, rather than focusing on the goal itself.
- Stay motivated by writing a list of the positive changes your resolution/s will bring to your life. It will also remind you why you wanted to make changes in the first place. Read through your list when you have moments of weakness.
- Reward yourself along the way. Small treats are a more effective motivator than promising yourself a big reward at the end.
- Remember that it’s OK to fail and it’s inevitable that you’ll slip up. Use it as a learning experience. Try to understand why you did it and what strategy you might adopt to avoid it next time.
Keeping a diary of your progress will help to counteract a phenomenon known as ‘discounting the positive’ (file photo)
- Keep a diary of your progress. This will help counteract a phenomenon known as ‘discounting the positive’, which is when we persist in negative beliefs about ourselves and our abilities while ignoring the positive achievements in our lives.
- Keep your emotions in check. ‘Emotional reasoning’ is when we make assumptions based purely on how we feel rather than facts. For example, ‘I feel scared about stopping smoking, so therefore I’m not going to succeed.’ Or, ‘The thought of losing weight makes me feel stressed, so I’m going to fail.’ Remind yourself that there is no logic to such beliefs.
- Tell someone what you are doing. No one likes to be seen as a failure and we are much more likely to make lasting changes if we’ve shared our atempt with family or friends. They can give support and make us feel accountable to someone else should we find ourselves tempted.
And if you feel you need extra help, Public Health England and the NHS have joined forces to help people struggling with motivation via an an online quiz, the How Are You? quiz , that offers tailored support. Go to nhs.uk/ oneyou/how-are-you-quiz.
If January 11 was the day that your good intentions foundered, then today is the day that you start over!
January is inextricably linked to new diets, and there’s nothing wrong with putting a novel spin on a nutritionally sound way of losing weight. I’m thinking of the variations on the Mediterranean diet, fasting and low-carb eating plans.
The so-called keto diet — very high fat and very low carbs and fibre — which claims to turn the body into a ‘fat burning machine’, does not fall into this category. Now, a new study in animals at Augusta University in the U.S. finds such a diet can raise blood pressure within a month and may ultimately lead to heart disease.
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This doesn’t surprise me. How did anyone think that coffee blended with butter — a popular ‘latte-like’ drink for those on the diet — could possibly be healthy? The old adage of a balanced diet and everything in moderation is the right approach to eating.
The problem is that ‘self-control’ and ‘moderation’ are not something widely practised in modern life.
Problem skin is never just ‘a minor irritation’
We all know the phrase ‘comfortable in your own skin’ and understand instinctively what it means — a valuable sense of self and an ease with who we are. But what if, quite literally, you don’t feel comfortable in your own skin?
It is estimated that one in four adults are depressed by their skin condition — be it dry skin, eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, acne, vitiligo etc — and only a third of those with the severest conditions say they have talked to a healthcare professional.
These statistics, compiled by the skin care brand E45’s Straight Up Skincare Project , confirm what I know from my own work about the huge emotional impact that skin conditions can have.
It is estimated that one in four adults are depressed by their skin condition — be it dry skin, eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, acne, vitiligo etc — and only a third of those with the severest conditions say they have talked to a healthcare professional (file photo)
They may affect the sufferer’s conduct in the workplace, making them reluctant to engage with colleagues or promote themselves in meetings. They can also prevent them from enjoying a fulfilling social life, because who wants to go out and meet new people when looking in the mirror fills you with dread?
Sufferers can also fear that a partner will reject them because they are repelled by their face or body.
There is a wealth of information available if you know where to look, but I fear that GPs are too pressured to take seriously the impact of skin conditions on mental health or properly explore treatment options in any detail with patients.
It’s too easy to dismiss skin problems as minor irritations — but there is nothing minor about the problems they can cause, and the NHS must do more to address them.
It’s good for children to learn that life is tough
The headmaster of leading public school Stowe, Dr Anthony Wallersteiner, warns that many schools are producing children ‘without character’ because they are too focused on exams and league tables.
At the same time, over-protective parents shield their children from anything that might challenge or upset them, either physically or emotionally.
Dr Wallersteiner argues that children are ‘experiential’ learners: that is, they learn from experience — and this must include both the good and the bad. Dr Wallersteiner is right.
The headmaster of leading public school Stowe, Dr Anthony Wallersteiner, warns that many schools are producing children ‘without character’ because they are too focused on exams and league tables (file photo)
What’s more, an approach that enfolds children in cotton wool is not only detrimental to character, but also to their mental health.
If well-meaning adults rush to protect them from experiencing life’s frustrations, difficulties, disappointments and sadness, how will children learn emotional resilience? It’s one of my favourite phrases and I make no apology for mentioning it here again.
I believe that the explosion in mental health issues in teenagers is rooted in our failure to equip them with the skills they need to withstand life’s knocks.
An entire generation unable to cope with everyday life is a fearful prospect.
Every year, the NHS loses millions of pounds because people fail to return crutches, Zimmer frames, walking sticks, commodes and wheelchairs.
Well, we shouldn’t blame patients. Time and again, I’ve heard people complain that when they do try to return equipment loaned to them, hospitals either make it so bureaucratic that they give up, or refuse to take items back because of ‘infection control’.
Which is why I want to applaud Physionet, a brilliant little charity which has, for 13 years, been refurbishing and redistributing unwanted disability aids to adults and children in countries where they are in short supply — and made tens of thousands of lives easier as a result!
To find out more, go to physionet.org.uk
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