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Alison Heather Sutton

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alison@alisonheathersutton.co.uk

The Mindfulness Approach to New Year’s Resolutions

Buddha hands holding flower | mindfulness approachWhen you are asked the question “any New Year’s resolutions this year?” what will your answer be?

The question is usually framed as “What are you giving up” or “What are you doing less of” but rather than asking about the “what”, the better way to ask the question is “How”……”How are you resolving to change in 2015?”

What most people over look and why most people fail at New Year’s resolutions is that change involves not just doing something different, but being somebody different.

It may be that you are planning to resolve to become slimmer and fitter, to become a non-smoker, to have a different relationship with money- whatever it is, if you are serious about wanting change, it requires far more than just making a few changes to your actions; it requires some deeper enquiry about why it is valuable for you and what beliefs you need to have about yourself in order to achieve it.

 

About The Mindfulness Approach

The Mindfulness approach to living can be very successfully applied to change work and I am going to share a few tips on how to apply Mindfulness to your declarations of purpose in 2015 (or whatever year it is when you are reading this) and how to give them real staying power in order that you succeed.

But first, these are the ways we most often sabotage our best efforts-

 

Mindfulness Approach – Auto-pilot v Awareness:

I work with smokers and people that want to lose weight and so often they tell me that they absent mindedly find themselves reaching for the biscuit tin or saying yes to an offer of a cigarette. How does that happen? They have “said” that they want to change their habits but when they are lost in thought or their mind if elsewhere they are still living in the old habit.

Well, the likely answer is that they are on auto-pilot rather than having a moment to moment awareness of their actions.

So often we are rushing through life rather than really living it and when the mind is busy thinking about what happened over Christmas or how the January credit card bill is going to be paid, instead of having an awareness of our actions in that moment, we go on to automatic pilot and do what we have programmed our self to do habitually.

When we find ourselves in this mode we are “doing” and before we realize it and before it has our consent, our mind has made a choice for us.

 

Mindfulness Approach – Thinking v Sensing:

Thinking can take over when we become lost in it and are no longer living in the world but living in our heads.

When we are thinking we are in doing mode. We are not directly experiencing what is happening around us.

Our thoughts may turn to the story of the last time we made a NY Resolution or to what other people tell us about them- that they are pointless, that they don’t work or maybe that they are a waste of time.

We may dip into beliefs such as “This is too hard and I can’t do it” or “I can’t be bothered”.

Thoughts are not facts, they are mental events but we can make them become our reality, so if we tell ourselves that something is un-achievable rather than feel into its potential, moment to moment and taking it a step at a time, then we experience disappointment as we destroy our efforts and make it become true.

When the judging or the critical mind gets hold of our thinking we get trapped in a cycle of not believing, and so then not doing, then more bad feelings arise and more not being the change we wish to be.

The good news is that we can change this at any moment by being the person who holds the positive belief rather than doing the judging of the person that doesn’t.

 

Mindfulness Approach – Connection v Disconnection:

To create change we need to keep connecting to why it is important to us and what achieving it will give us. If we don’t have a big enough “why” even the best of intentions will wither by the wayside. What is valuable to you about making this change? How much do you want it? What will making this change in 2015 really give you and what is important about that. Who will you become as a result of this change? And what will this give others around you?

Disconnection from the end result is so easy to slip into as that chocolate enters your mouth. In that moment we have lost our consistency of awareness and what we are paying attention too. We make excuses and blame it on our weakness but in reality we either haven’t made what we want to move towards compelling enough or what we want to move away from painful enough. We haven’t connected deeply enough to our gains and detached from our losses or hardship. We are caught in the doing of disconnection rather than in the being of connection with our desires.

 

Mindfulness Approach – A Summary

So, to apply Mindfulness to change we have to master three skills

  1. Directing our attention.
  2. Sustaining our attention.
  3. Shifting our attention.

 

Our ability to be aware and to pay attention needs practice in the same way as any skill does. In reality we are in a constant state of awareness, it just gets distracted, distorted and disengaged and we have to return to the awareness of what we want instead in order to override these disabling behaviours.

In Mindfulness this is done through putting our awareness on the breath and our physical sensations rather than on our thinking. In this state we are in the resourceful state of being, instead of doing.

To achieve a greater level of conscious awareness and to Direct Your Attention to your plans for change begin by being in the following Three Minute Breathing Space, three times a day.

In the Three Minute Breathing Space the first step to becoming aware is to start where you are now and to put your attention on the thoughts that are going through your head. Acknowledge the thoughts as mental movies that you can watch or listen too but are not reality; they are just a version of events being created in your mind at that moment.

Secondly, notice what you are feeling. Accept the presence of any emotional state but from a disassociated perspective- therefore rather than saying “I am sad” you might say “I notice I am creating the emotion of sadness”. Begin to take responsibility for your emotional states.

Thirdly what is your body feeling? Is there any tension in your body? Are you holding yourself awkwardly? Quickly scan your body and release any tightness.

Then switch your focus of attention to your breathing and the physical sensations it creates. This might be the rise and fall of your abdomen, the temperature of the air as it comes in and out of your nostrils; follow the passage of the breath in your mind’s eye as it enters and leaves the body. Any time your mind starts to wander off into thinking, go back to just noticing your breathing to bring you back into the present moment.

Expand your awareness into the rest of your body, your facial expression and your posture. If you find any feelings of tension, tightness, imbalance, constriction or discomfort breathe into them on the in breath and breathe out from them on the out breath, softening and expanding your awareness as you do.

 

Practice being three times a day, perhaps when you get out of bed, before or after a shower, and before you go to bed; training your mind to be in the present moment.

To Sustain Your Attention, when you have sat for three minutes in the present turn your focus to imagining being the person who has succeeded to change. Connect with the future you. Notice if your thinking creates any contrary beliefs and just acknowledge them as mental movies and breathe into them. Just accept that is where your mind is at today, it may be somewhere different tomorrow and continue to focus on being the person who has achieved it rather than doing the disempowering thinking.

In addition to this, practice holding the positive belief that you can achieve what it is you are resolutely changing in order to Shift Your Attention away from your nay-sayer or inner critic. When sabotaging thoughts such as “one more won’t hurt” or “I will start tomorrow” or “New Year’s Resolutions are made to be broken” come into your mind it is perfectly possible to just allow them to pass you by. You don’t need to pay attention to the thought or give it any energy.

So next time you find yourself aboard a negative thought train, just take a moment to drop into being in your body and ask yourself some coaching questions- Ask yourself “Is this thought taking me away from or towards my goal?” and “What is possible without this thought” and “Who will I be if I do carry out this thought?”

Doing these practices will allow you to succeed, to be fully engaged in the present moment and keep you connected to your future vision, to resist sabotaging thoughts and keep purposeful in your attention.

May all your 2015 (and years onwards) resolutions be fruitful.

~~~

Update: I am still a fan of this mindfulness approach, but I now find it is a natural consequence of developing an inside out understanding of the human experience.

If you’d like to talk to me about this inside out understanding please contact me here!

 

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