For many of us, the New Year is the perfect time to start improving our lives by, exercising more, becoming vegetarian, volunteering, or other resolutions. Given the difficult year that has just passed, we may feel even more of an impetus to take control of our lives and really think about what we want for the coming year. This is a good thing.
However, for many of us resolutions either never really get off the ground or tend to tail off rather quickly. Unfortunately, 80 percent of us will fail by February – this can be because we are telling ourselves the things we want to do less of – eat less junk food, watch less TV. This focuses our attention on what we are doing wrong and is quite self-critical and punishing which doesn’t lead us to feel inspired or motivated. Resolutions are also hard to keep at any time of the year if they involve unrealistic or vague goals. To be successful, we need a SMART approach.
The SMART approach refers to goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time scaled. For example, applying the SMART approach to one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions – exercise more – would look like this:
Specific – It’s not enough to say you will exercise more. You need to be specific: “I will cycle for an hour three times a week.”
Measurable – Now you’ve set a specific goal, you need a way to measure your progress as you move toward a larger goal. For example, “I will measure progress using a cycling app.”
Achievable – Can you achieve this goal? Setting a goal of cycling 60 miles a week from the outset may not realistic or healthy – especially if you haven’t exercised for a while and will result in you giving up or getting frustrated. Aim for an attainable goal that fits in with your other commitments.
Relevant – How is your resolution relevant to your life and goals for the coming months?
Time framed – Give yourself a time frame for your goal. How many miles do you aim to build up to and by when – months? A year?
So your SMART New Year’s exercise resolution would be, “Because I want to improve my physical fitness I will cycle for an hour 3 times a week, aiming to cycle 20 miles per session by the end of the year.
Focus on one thing at a time. Don’t set yourself up for frustration and failure with too many resolutions. Concentrate on your number one priority. The rest will come in time.
Take small steps. Make a step-by-step plan. For example, instead of becoming overwhelmed by the prospect of cycling 60 miles a week focus on three miles at a time. Taking small steps will help you stay focussed and on track – and feel a sense of accomplishment.
Reward yourself for small success. Don’t wait until your goal is reached to give yourself a pat on the back. If your New Year’s resolution is to cycle 60 miles a week by the end of the year, reward yourself when you reach three, five, 10, 15 and 20 miles.
Be kind to yourself. You’re only human and things will happen that will temporarily derail you. Learn from the situation, shrug it off and focus on tomorrow.
Create a support system. It’s easier to exercise on a regular basis if you have someone waiting there for you or when the whole family is trying to improve their health.
As businesses and schools begin to open again, many of you will return to the workplace for the first time in months. As a result anxiety and overwhelming fearful or negative thoughts may begin to present themselves. These are uncertain times and it can be difficult to stop the repetitive thinking that often accompanies this stress. However, acknowledging and recognising these thoughts for what they are, and being able to challenge them, may help you work through some of that anxiety. Here are a few different types of these thoughts, called cognitive distortions, and suggestions on how you might challenge them:
All-or-Nothing Thinking: Thinking in absolutes such as “always”, or “every”.
Overgeneralisation: Making broad interpretations from a single or few events.
Focusing on the negatives while filtering out the positives: Noticing the one thing that went wrong, rather than all the things that went right.
Mind Reading: Interpreting the thoughts and beliefs of others without adequate evidence.
Catastrophising: Seeing only the worst possible outcomes of a situation.
Emotional Reasoning: The assumption that emotions reflect the way things really are.
“Should” Statements: The belief that things should be a certain way.
Personalisation: The belief that one is responsible for events outside of their own control.
Magnification and Minimization: Exaggerating or minimizing the importance of events. One might believe their own achievements are unimportant, or that their mistakes are excessively important.
Challenge your negative thoughts by asking yourself:
Do I have evidence that this thought is true, or not true?
Is there a more realistic way of looking at the situation?
How likely is it that what I’m scared of will actually happen? What are some more likely outcomes? Am I overestimating the threat.
Is the thought helpful? How will worrying about it help me and how will it hurt me?
What would I say to a friend who had this worry?
Additionally, you may try saying the following statements to yourself as a way to take the edge off the anxiety.:
This is temporary.
One day at a time. One hour at a time. One minute at a time.
Just because I feel anxious at this moment doesn’t mean in reality things are worse.
Do you remember the anxiety you used to feel before school exams? Maybe you’ve recently taken an exam yourself? While many teenagers are able to cope with this stress, research shows that up to 20 to 40 % feel so anxious they struggle to focus and lose valuable marks in their exam. The very thing they were so worried about becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Help your teenager with the following tips:
We are rarely motivated to revise – suggest they decide to do something for just 10 minutes. Once started they’ll find they are more motivated to carry on.
Encourage them to plan a realistic timetable in advance and don’t forget to make sure they schedule breaks.
Make sure they organise regular rewards eg. watching a favourite TV show.
Let them know about apps which can block social media while they’re revising eg. SelfControl or Cold Turkey.
Support them to have regular breaks – tell them their brain will be much more productive for it.
Teach and get them to practice a breathing technique to use before and during the exam if anxiety starts to increase. Breathe deeply to the count of 4, breathe out slowly to the count of 4 and pause for 2 seconds before breathing in again.
Encourage them to schedule regular exercise, eg a brisk walk while listening to their favourite music.
Our minds can be inundated with negative automatic thoughts which come into our minds without us wanting them to, eg – “I will fail”, or “I’ll be so nervous I’ll forget everything”. Tell them this is normal BUT they are only thoughts NOT true facts and they don’t have to believe them. Support them to practice challenging these negative thoughts with realistic alternatives. For example, to imagine themselves in the exam room and being able to answer the questions and to say more realistic things to themselves, for example, “ I will revise regularly and try my best”, or “ I have done well enough before, I can do well enough again.”
Remind them that a small amount anxiety is normal and will help their brain work more efficiently during the exam.
Recommend they resist the temptation to go through answers with friends afterwards – this usually creates MORE anxiety and worry, which definitely isn’t what they need if they have more exams ahead!
Finally, tell them not to forget there is life beyond revision and exams and how life will be when the exam season is over.
Chat about school in normal everyday conversation but keep it light and positive.
Accept , validate and normalise their feelings about school. It can be especially difficult after a school holiday or sickness, eg. “Your right, it can be nerve wracking going back to school after a break. I bet there are lots of children who feel the same way.”
Plan some fun and interesting things to do in the evenings and weekends to give them something to look forward to and remind them that school is only a part of their week.
Try and have regular family feedback time which makes it normal for everyone to share their worries from the day as well as the fun things that happened. You can role model this by telling your child about things which have happened for you, eg “Two people in the office are leaving this week and I feel sad about this.”
Teach them a simple breathing technique and let them know how useful you find this yourself.