GUEST POST: January 11 — just a couple of days ago — was the day when, statistically speaking, people are most likely to have given up on their New Year resolutions.

From a psychological perspective, this make sense. The human brain doesn’t like change. Most of us can make temporary lifestyle changes for a week or two but, after that, maintaining something so that it becomes a habit requires very deliberate and conscious effort.

Just how long it takes varies widely according to different studies. In the Sixties, American cosmetic surgeon Maxwell Maltz, the author of the best-selling Psycho-Cybernetics, which detailed a system of ideas he claimed could improve one’s self-image, propagated the idea that it took 21 days.

More up-to-date studies suggest it’s a good deal longer — on average 66 days, say researchers at University College London. Which makes it all rather daunting and, some might feel, pointless.

But I urge you not to give up! There are several psychological techniques which will help you stick with your resolutions, and top of the list is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. CBT is precisely targeted at changing thinking and behaviour. 

It challenges the tricks our brains play on us to get us to give up on something new and revert to the comfortable status quo.

Being mindful of these ‘cognitive errors’ will help you to identify them when they occur and overcome them. So, here’s my simple guide to using some CBT principles to make the changes to your life that you want for 2019.

  • Stay focused, even if it means sticking with just one resolution. Don’t try to change several aspects of your life all at once, as that’s a surefire way to fail.
  • Break your resolution down into small, manageable goals. We all have an innate tendency to ‘catastrophise’, so one small setback in a new regime — whether it’s diet, fitness, giving up alcohol, quitting smoking, reducing screen time or whatever — becomes a reason to pack the whole thing in. Think of a series of steps leading to your goal, rather than focusing on the goal itself.
  • Stay motivated by writing a list of the positive changes your resolution/s will bring to your life. It will also remind you why you wanted to make changes in the first place. Read through your list when you have moments of weakness.
  • Reward yourself along the way. Small treats are a more effective motivator than promising yourself a big reward at the end.
  • Remember that it’s OK to fail and it’s inevitable that you’ll slip up. Use it as a learning experience. Try to understand why you did it and what strategy you might adopt to avoid it next time.

Keeping a diary of your progress will help to counteract a phenomenon known as 'discounting the positive' (file photo)

Keeping a diary of your progress will help to counteract a phenomenon known as ‘discounting the positive’.

  • Keep a diary of your progress. This will help counteract a phenomenon known as ‘discounting the positive’, which is when we persist in negative beliefs about ourselves and our abilities while ignoring the positive achievements in our lives.

Bariatric Weight-Loss Journal (details here)

  • Keep your emotions in check. ‘Emotional reasoning’ is when we make assumptions based purely on how we feel rather than facts. For example, ‘I feel scared about stopping smoking, so therefore I’m not going to succeed.’ Or, ‘The thought of losing weight makes me feel stressed, so I’m going to fail.’ Remind yourself that there is no logic to such beliefs.
  • Tell someone what you are doing. No one likes to be seen as a failure and we are much more likely to make lasting changes if we’ve shared our atempt with family or friends. They can give support and make us feel accountable to someone else should we find ourselves tempted.

And if you feel you need extra help, Public Health England and the NHS have joined forces to help people struggling with motivation via an an online quiz, the How Are You? quiz , that offers tailored support. Go to nhs.uk/oneyou/how-are-you-quiz.

If January 11 was the day that your good intentions foundered, then today is the day that you start over!

Feature courtesy of Max Pemberton, The Daily Mail Mind Doctor