• As the New Year period fades into spring, resolutions might be harder to stick to

  • Learning how we feel about change and being kind to ourselves is key to long-term success

Research tells us that by February 80% of individuals will have broken their new year’s resolutions. Why? Is it because we feel the New Year is the time we should be self-imposing change, yet we are reluctant to do so? Do we feel we need to have a series of goal-orientated resolutions in order to measure our progress? Do we believe that everyone else is living their “best lives” so we need to continuously engage in self-improvement? We may set out with vigour and determination in achieving said goals at the beginning of January but then the pressures of everyday life arrive only for the possibility of our well-intentioned selves to fall at an early hurdle. January is now over – are your resolutions?

How can change be successful?

If we do want change, for that change to be active, dynamic and consistent – at any time of year – we need to pay attention to our feelings around pursuing these changes. Why do I want to make these changes? What may get in the way of me making these changes? And how do I imagine I will feel if I make these changes?

We need to ask ourselves these questions with a kind and compassionate voice rather than the potentially more aggressive goal-orientated task master we may have adopted in years gone by. Our answers to the above may prompt a sense of wanting to be healthier, more active, practising better self-care or connecting more with others. We may acknowledge we fear failure - or success-, are scared of judgment from others, or struggle with our level of motivation. In showing self-compassion we can allow ourselves to just engage in the possible change, to try it on for size. If we then consider how we might feel about doing any or all of that – rather than doing nothing at all – we show ourselves kindness, acceptance and nurturance in a way that may just sustain those changes.

I loved water as a child – and still do - but I didn’t learn to swim with any determination until I was nineteen. Self-taught at the local council pool in my first year of University, one width soon became one length and then two lengths and then more. I could have approached my desire to learn to swim in the same way I have approached many a New Year weight loss goal - hours spent endlessly researching diets and exercise plans; compiling weight loss charts, exercise schedules and even weight loss predictors. Excel spreadsheets were my friends, or so I thought. But what I was doing in these moments was concentrating on my goal –  weight loss - and not acknowledging how I felt!

I felt unhealthy and I wanted to be healthy. I felt uncomfortable and I wanted to feel comfortable.

In regularly not achieving the goals I had set myself on a daily or weekly basis – I had set my standards high -  I regularly dismissed the idea that in just being more active and mindful of my diet and physical activity each New Year I did feel healthier and I felt more comfortable. Instead, I told myself that I hadn’t reached the desired weight loss goal that week or I had eaten two biscuits outside the diet plan and therefore I had failed! By contrast, my tentative teenage swims were motivated by  a love of being in water, of wanting to feel safer as I immersed myself and wanting to experience that enjoyment for as long as possible. I was motivated by how I felt.

Fast forward twenty four years later and that same approach finds me winning a first place medal in the GB Ice Swimming Championships. No, I don’t quite believe it either especially as I hadn’t intended to win a medal! Nineteen year old me, width swimming me would have never thought that possible. The last time I experienced any notoriety in a sporting capacity was a brief interlude at junior school where I was known as “slogger” after executing a few spectacular bats in rounders. So how did my medal win happen?

The key is self-compassion

Even as a teenager, I had embraced self-compassion and kindness. Because I had appreciated my love of water and how it made me feel and I had used that to guide me. I hadn’t set goals, I had just immersed myself in how it felt to be in the water. I’d allowed myself to take risks – risks my younger self would never have considered - dipped myself into the fear, trepidation and unknown of something new and I kept believing in myself – believing in both my younger self and my older, hopefully wiser, self. The support of a fabulous bunch of fellow swimmers in late 2017 allowed me to expel my fears and trepidations around engaging in something new  once more and in turn, their compassion and kindness became my own and my swim journey, first begun as a teenager, continued. By 2017, I had not only became a swimmer but an ice swimmer – swimming in water of less than five degrees. The sense of playfulness, nurturing, adventure-making and relationship building all became amazing side effects of ice swimming that I hadn’t initially considered. The unification I felt with my fellow swimmers came from not just the shared activity – what we were doing – but the way swimming made us feel; connecting to an element and connecting to each other and most importantly connecting to ourselves.

Knowing all this, is using a strict goal-orientated approach the right way for all of us? Had I previously been going about my New Year weight loss resolutions all wrong? I have found a way that feels right for me so could this work for you? Maybe experiment with giving it a go. If you do, please do so with a kind and compassionate voice rather than the aggressive, hustling, “Get to it. 50 on the spot. Now!” spreadsheet loving, tormentor that may have previously lurked in your head. Consider the way you want to be first and then consider what you do. You may surprise yourself; though an ice swimming medal is not guaranteed!

Further reading

The mental health benefits of cold water swimming

How to nurture more self-compassion

Can we drive for success and still be kind to ourselves?

Fearing failure and doing it anyway

Why success isn't everything