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About those resolutions

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Q: Is February too late for New Year’s resolutions?
A: Not when you’re a ‘Lunisolarist’.

I struggled with not being despondent when on 10 January 2015 I was still behaving as badly as I had been on 31 December 2014.

It was a bumpy road that first week or so. Initially I justified no behavioural change by thinking: “It’s ridiculous to think that after all those festivities I could just stop, dead in my tracks, and anyway the sun was still out!”

Then it occurred to me that it was not the end of the school holidays, “so cut yourself some slack,” I thought. I then realised that I had forgotten to have children, and didn’t even know when the school holidays started or finished.

Sneaking now into the beginning of the third week of January, I started driving past the wholefood shops, looking up detox and cleanse programmes around the globe. However, realizing that if I was on holiday at some luxurious resort in Thailand the last thing I would want to be drinking was seaweed margeritas.

By the end of January my belief in the psychological power of New Year’s resolutions was fading fast. I reflected on the previous 20 New Year’s resolutions and realised that every one had been a failure.

Then it dawned on me that the New Year’s Eve I had been making promises of self-improvement to and pleas for self-redemption was the Solar Calendar, the one with the 365 days consisting of 12 months and some extra days, where you have to sing a little poem to remember what day it is.

The religions that seemed to adhere to the Solar calendars really didn’t appear to engage in having too much fun. There was lots of reflecting upon one’s wrongdoing, a time for sacrifice.

The Lunar New Year (Traditional Chinese New Year) wasn’t occurring until the 19 February 2015, so I’d left myself plenty of time. I also liked the sentiments of celebrations, families cleansing the house and making way for good incoming luck.

The Mayan Calendar had some appeal with two cycles repeating every 260 days. They also had a ceremonial calendar which consisted of 360 days plus five unlucky days. That made them the most inaccurate of timekeepers but one long continuous cycles of religious ‘BBQ’s’.

I decided my procrastination over indulgent behavior was well entrenched, without entering into a calendar world that gave me 360 days to play up and five days to be cursed.

It’s February 2015

Q: So how are you going?
A: Not that well.
Q: Has 1 January changed your life?
A: No, only the bathroom scales have changed.

Well you’re not alone. A large Australian study showed 42% of 2,000 people promised themselves to lose weight, to drink less alcohol, quit smoking get out of debt, improve mental well-being. This study showed 92% failed with only 8% succeeding.

A 2007 study by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions failed, despite the fact that 52% of the study’s participants were confident of success at the beginning.

Men achieved their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal setting, (a system where small measurable goals are being set; such as, a pound a week, instead of saying “lose weight”), while women succeeded 10% more when they made their goals public and got support from their friends.

So, there’s a few points of interest. Blokes utilise goal-setting, remembering that even when you eat an elephant you do it one mouthful at a time.

Girls, it would seem that chatting (popular pastime) and getting the nod from your mates is a good starting point.

Now, what do I have to suggest on the subject?

Stay away from should/must/have to!

These are the key words for religious and political control over human beings. Should used to be called “shalt”, mostly “shalt not”. Very rarely would one observe in religious scriptures permission to go out and have fun and not feel guilty about it!

In my opinion the binge/purge culture comes from this attempt at control. “I will never eat cake again in my life. I have to stop drinking, I must be perfect.” This type of highly pressurised thinking leads to rebellion, guilt and a sense of failure. So therefore it sets up the cycle of attempt/fail/binge.

When your internal dialogue is more realistic and words inferring choice are used, you are far more likely to have success.

If you go to have a drink or a cigarette when you weren’t going to, think: “I could have a cigarette now but then I could chose not to. If I have a cigarette this afternoon, what’s the worst that can happen?”

You start again that evening or the following day. The motivation to change is what is important – even if you are at the stage where you “want to want to” but you’re not quite at the “want to” stage. You are contemplating change which, in Change Theory, is the first stage of coming completely out of denial, eventually bringing you closer to achieving the goal.

How am I going?

Well, with the change to the lunar calendar, I had a nice extension until 19 February and so minimised the pressure. Then being a woman I made it public what I was going to do. Then I went off to a hypnotist. I’m doing well, with no struggle. All I had to do was to decide that I didn’t want to continue with one of my vices, got some help and “Bingo!” … Whoops, not completely cured.

Gwendoline Smith is a New Zealand trained clinical psychologist. In her private practice she specialises in working with depression and anxiety with a particular interest in treating worry. She is the founder of the New Zealand destigmatisation campaign “Like Minds” (currently fronted by Sir John Kirwan). She has presented seminars within the law community on “stress and lawyers” as well as individual work with lawyers in her practice. Her thoughts are: “Yes there are very similar factors for lawyers as anyone else dealing with stress in their environment. However, there are considerations that are very specific/idiosyncratic to the law profession that also need to be taken into consideration”. Gwendoline works from specialist rooms in Vermont Street Ponsonby and can be contacted on 09 360 0360.

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