The new year represents a fresh slate for many, and a lot of people will be setting resolutions. Many of these will be related to health, food, and fitness. Change is hard, so you need a lot of tools in your arsenal to accomplish resolutions and make them stick, turning them into long-term lifestyle changes. Regardless of whether or not you’re setting goals for the new year, mindfulness can help your 2017 be less turbulent than years past.
The concept of mindfulness is a key tenant of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), an offshoot of cognitive behavioral therapy. DBT usually works towards the seemingly opposing goals of both acceptance of self and situations, and making positive changes when dealing with feelings and reactions. Though it is used to treat a wide range of mental health conditions, this particular DBT skill can be incredibly useful when faced with challenges that might compromise your resolution (even if it’s just to be happier this coming year).
How can you hone your mindfulness? Here are a few steps:
1. Slow Down
When we make decisions hastily, we use the reactive mind instead of the wise mind. A knee jerk reaction to a situation may be to snooze your alarm through your planned gym workout, saying yes to food you hadn’t accounted for in your calorie budget, or getting into a screaming match with your relative with opposing political views. Taking an extra second or two to assess the situation before reacting can help avoid explosive or detrimental decisions.
2. Remain Present
This is easier said than done, especially when we essentially carry a supercomputer in our pockets at all times. Part of what helps keep the brain in the wise mind not allowing ourselves to get carried away in racing thoughts. Have you ever been on the road and someone cuts you off? A reactive mind might invent a story about how the driver who cut you off is probably a terrible human and destroyer of all good things. By remaining present, you might realize that this incident only cost a few seconds of your life, and it isn’t worth letting it put you in a bad mood for the rest of the day.
3. Acknowledge, and Then Let Go of Judgments
It’s completely unrealistic to expect that your thought patterns will change overnight, and it’s equally unreasonable to think that you’ll never have a reactive or judgmental thought ever again. It is important to acknowledge that these thoughts happen, and then let them go. Just because a judgement pops up in your brain, it doesn’t mean that you need to act on it. If you ignore these thoughts, though, you can push them below the surface, where they will stew and eventually manifest exponentially.
Most importantly, be patient with yourself! These skills do not come naturally for most people, so remember to forgive yourself for mistakes. One bad decision doesn’t have to ruin your whole week, month, or even year. Take a step away from the black and white thinking that makes us think that we’re failures, and look forward to a more mindful year.
Do you practice mindfulness? What helps you stay present?