BLOG: Compassionate New Year!
Posted: Tue, 03 Jan 2023 16:00
Holly Campbell, Public Health Improvement Coordinator, Doncaster Council takes a look at how we might set ourselves alternative New Year's resolutions, centred around self compassion and kindness, should we wish to pursue any health and wellbeing goals this year.
A New Year is often seen as a fresh start and an opportunity to commit to healthier habits. The top three New Year's resolutions in the UK last year were 1) increasing exercise, 2) improving diet, and 3) losing weight .
Improving health and wellbeing is a worthwhile goal and increasing levels of physical activity is a key objective for Get Doncaster Moving, however, at New Year, there is a lot of pressure from a variety of sources to change our lives overnight, which can make it hard for us to have a positive relationship with our bodies.
Diet culture is the social expectation that our bodies need to look a certain way, and our body size or appearance is more important than our health behaviours. This belief can cause us to take drastic action to change the way our bodies look. This can affect our relationship with movement. Indeed, poor body image is one of the leading reasons for girls and young women to disengage with physical activity . Rather than framing physical activity as a means of restriction or punishment, we want to encourage movement that is enjoyable, accessible, and empowering.
So, how can we support residents to pursue their health goals without placing additional burden on their already complicated lives?
Firstly, we should make it clear that New Year's resolutions are not compulsory. You may feel social pressure to commit to starting a new habit or quitting an old one – but you do not have to. You can opt out!
If you do feel motivated to change your habits, a good place to start is thinking about what positive things you can add to your life, rather than take away. Approach-oriented goals, that emphasise what you can gain, are more likely to be successful than avoidance-oriented goals, that focus on what you need to lose or eliminate .
When you have decided what you want to add to your life, Habit Stacking is a useful tool to get started . This involves building new habits onto existing ones. It is important to start as small as possible so that the new habit is easily achievable.
For example, to increase your physical activity, you might add the new habit of completing 1 press-up onto the old habit of brushing your teeth in the morning. On good days, you may do 5, 10, or 50 press-ups, but on bad days, you can always complete the habit of 1. This builds up consistency over time, creating a sustainable lifestyle change.
The final part to consider is how to measure success. A well-known tool to use is setting SMART goals. SMART goals are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. This helps us to define what success looks like – and it will be different for different people. We often judge ourselves based on what we look like or how we are doing compared to others, but this is not always beneficial to physical and mental wellbeing. It is better to use a measure that is within your direct control, such as how many steps you walk, and to focus on how your body feels rather than what it looks like.
The final bit to consider is how to manage when you begin to struggle with your goal. Less than a third of people kept all the New Year's resolutions that they made last year  – which is not the greatest success rate.
When we talk about "giving up" on resolutions, we often blame ourselves, and believe that we were simply not disciplined enough to succeed. But our lives are much more complicated than that! Our tendency towards blame and shame is bad for both our physical and mental health – and it does not increase our likelihood of keeping our resolution. In fact, a more flexible approach to our goals is associated with higher levels of mental wellbeing .
So how can start being kinder to ourselves when we feel like we are failing?
Self-Compassion is about treating ourselves with kindness and care, particularly during times when we feel inadequate. This is important for our health and wellbeing; it reduces levels of anxiety and stress, improves our resilience, and allows us to heal from difficult emotions and move forward. Self-compassion is a skill that you can practice. Here are some simple activities you can start today:
1. Practising mindfulness:
Practising mindfulness daily, even for 5 minutes, can help us to be more aware of our experiences and emotions.
2. Expressing gratitude:
Gratitude helps us to have a more compassionate mindset. By writing down three things you are grateful for every day, you can vastly improve your perspective.
3. Challenging critical self-talk:
We can be our own worst critics. When you are feeling judgemental towards yourself, consider what you would say to a friend in the same situation and use these words instead.
4. Being curious:
Acknowledging your negative feelings with curiosity rather than judgement can help you to identify any changes in behaviour that would be helpful for your health and wellbeing journey.
For more information and resources about setting compassionate resolutions this New Year, please visit the webpage: www.yourlifedoncaster.co.uk/wellbeing
For more information about the compassionate approach we take to our work with Get Doncaster Moving, please visit our webpage: https://getdoncastermoving.org/compassionate-approach-to-weight