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New Years Resolutions based on your values: An A.C.T. approach

As we start the new year, many of us embark on a journey of self-improvement with a list of resolutions. Whether it’s adopting a healthier lifestyle, cultivating meaningful relationships, or pursuing personal and professional growth, the desire for positive change is universal. However, as the initial enthusiasm fades, so do our resolutions. Research suggests that of those who make resolutions, around a quarter will have stopped by the end of the first week, and up to a half will have by the end of January. If you are one of those people who have quit, or are finding it difficult, I want to say that that’s ok. I also want to let you know that it’s ok to start again. Sometimes we just need to re-define why we’ve set ourselves our goals, find the why behind it all, and acknolwedge that the path ahead is a journey with lots of twists and turns.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the transformative power of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) as a foundation for approaching New Year’s resolutions. ACT is a therapeutic approach that encourages individuals to accept what is beyond their control, commit to values-based actions, and develop psychological flexibility. Let’s delve into how these principles can guide you towards sustainable and meaningful change in the coming year.

Acceptance:

The first step in the ACT framework is acceptance – acknowledging and embracing the present moment without judgment. Rather than focusing on perceived shortcomings or past failures, recognize that change begins with self-acceptance. Whether it’s your physical appearance, career path, or personal relationships, accepting the reality of your current situation is the key to moving forward.

Practice self-compassion by understanding that imperfections are a part of the human experience. Be kind to yourself, and instead of dwelling on what you cannot change, channel your energy into what lies ahead.

When applying this to your new years resolutions, if you’re able to understand and accept, without judgement, what has led you to this moment, and why you have made your resolutions, you can allow yourself the ability to stumble and fall on your journey through change.

Present Moment:

It’s easy, particularly when life gets hard, to have our mind wonder. When it comes to our resolutions, we may become depressed when we fail, think “well there’s always next year,” or question why we’re doing what we’re doing. 

Understanding that these are just thoughts, mostly unhelpful ones, and having tools at our disposal that can address these thoughts as and when they arise, provides us with some space so that we can refocus on why we are doing what we’re doing. Check out this video below on The Present Moment, as there are some useful first steps that can help anchor you when you’re struggling.  

 

Defining your values:

To create lasting change, it’s essential to identify and connect with your core values. What matters most to you in life? Your values act as a compass, guiding your decisions and actions. Take the time to reflect on your priorities, passions, and aspirations. Whether it’s fostering meaningful connections, prioritizing health and well-being, or pursuing personal growth, aligning your resolutions with your values increases the likelihood of success.

If you’ve already set yourself goals, can you ask yourself the why behind it? Sometimes we need to ask why a few times. Some of my persistent pain patients set goals to loose weight, as they’ve reduced activity because of pain. Whilst this is a great goal, it can lead to a sense of underwhelm when we get there. “Now what?” It may also mean that we are really hard on ourselves if we find ourselves putting on weight, particularly if there’s a stressful moment in our lives. 

If we ask why to the idea behind losing weight, the next answer I was often given was that they wanted to be healthier. This is useful, as now if we have moments where if our weight goes up, we can still make sure that our day involves something that is healthier, which has a much broader scope. We might choose to do a bit of exercise, or eat some fruit as a snack, or try to get a good nights sleep rather than be concerned about the fact we put a bit of weight back on. 

However, it was the why after this that I found most interesting when talking through this goal with my patients. For the vast majority, the why behind it all was that they wanted to spend more quality time with their friends, family and loved ones. This was their value behind it all. It’s an empowering moment thinking about this. Not only did it give them the opportunity to connect their goals with their values, meaning that when they next wanted to exercise, they would remember why they’re doing it, giving them that extra boost, but during moments when they were in pain, and it was hard to move around because of discomfort, they could simply pick up the phone and call their loved one, and reconnect with their value through a different medium. They may not have lost weight that day, but it allowed them to have some flexibility through a difficult moment.

If you have yet to set any goals, you can try this exercise to work out what your values are, and then below we will explore how to use these values to set goals. 

Warning: this exercise for some can be triggering, as you unpick through the core things that drive you through life. If it does, you can always stop. But it might be worth coming back to later to reflect on your response. 

Imagine you’re at the theatre, looking at a stage, and on the stage you’re looking at yourself, going about your daily life. What are the daily drivers for this person (you)? What is it that makes them get up and go, or make them do the things they do? It’s important for this exercise to take a step back and really think about the person on that stage, and not just what you assume your drivers are. Really think about the values that this person has. Try to write down six.

I’ll give you some examples. For some money is a driver. They want to earn enough to be comfortable, and support themselves, or their family. I was surprised that when I did this exercise that one of my drivers was my ego. Not necessarily in a bad way, but I want to be more than just average at what I do, and really ensure I’m delivering the best care possible for my patients. That led me to realise that the other driver was caring for others. It’s something that means a lot to me. Other values that have come up over the years of doing this with various people include family, connection with loved ones, social status, mental and physical wellbeing, and many more. 

Hopefully you’ve now got your six values. Now I’d like you to get rid of one. Which of those is the least important to you? This can be really tricky. What if I asked you to remove another? For some, this is where it can be upsetting, as it can be surprising what we begin to eliminate when we’re really honest with ourself. How about removing one more so that you’re now left with just three core values. 

Next, is how we can use these core values to set mindful goals alongside commited action. 

Setting mindful goals:

When creating your goals, consider how we can connect these with our values. Values based commited action is far more likely to succeed, as it holds meaning for you. 

If you already have an idea of the goal you want to achieve, then as we did above with loosing weight, think about the why and your value behind it. 

If you have yet to set a goal, then you can do it the other way around, and set goals based on your values. For example, your loved ones might be an essential value, so you may make time management a goal.

Don’t foget, mindful goal-setting involves cultivating awareness of your thoughts and emotions, especially when facing challenges. Instead of becoming discouraged, approach setbacks with curiosity and a willingness to learn. This mindset shift fosters resilience and strengthens your commitment to change.

Commitment to Action:

The “Commitment” in ACT signifies a dedication to values-based actions. Rather than getting caught up in the pursuit of perfection, focus on consistent effort and progress towards your goals. Create a plan that aligns with your values, and commit to taking intentional steps, even if they are small.

It’s crucial to recognize that setbacks are a natural part of the process. Use them as opportunities to reassess, learn, and adapt your approach. Commitment to action involves persistence and resilience in the face of challenges, ensuring that you stay true to your values-driven path.

Conclusion:

As you embark on your New Year’s resolutions journey, consider integrating the principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Embrace acceptance, define your values, set mindful goals, and commit to actions aligned with what matters most to you. By doing so, you cultivate psychological flexibility, resilience, and a deeper connection with your authentic self.

Remember, change is a gradual process, and each step forward is a triumph. Celebrate your progress, practice self-compassion, and let the principles of ACT guide you towards a fulfilling and transformative year ahead.

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