The Life Doctor

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Indy Lifestyle Online
OK, IT'S 3 January 1999. Three days into your New Year's resolutions. How is it going? Caved in yet? Well, the good news is that that's another five seconds since you last had a cigarette. And you can't have a cigarette/eat chocolate/procrastinate while you're reading the life doctor, it wouldn't be right.

The bad news is that less than 25 per cent of people who give up smoking last more than a week. Only 3 per cent make the whole year. I mention smoking because it is the hardest New Year Resolution of all. According to Quitline, nicotine is, gram for gram, 10 times more addictive than heroin.

Resolutions are hard to stick to. Sometimes it seems we are destined to run forever on the hamster wheel of life - our attempts to get away from old habits merely land us with sawdust on our face. But don't think it's hopeless. It's a myth that some people have more will-power than others. Your will power may just be wrongly focused. You may have incredibly strong commitment to eating chocolate and guzzling wine. Ignore those smug self-satisfied so-called friends who tell you how easy it is to take up exercise, give up smoking and lose a stone. They probably don't even like chocolate. Only if you know what it is to be tempted can you congratulate yourself when you have managed to resist.

The reason your resolutions haven't worked is because you have been trying to impose something on an unwilling body and mind. With resolutions, sticks don't work, carrots do. If you give up smoking, spend the spare money on yourself. Take time to enjoy the feeling of breathing. If you take up exercise, don't do something you have given up before; take up something you can enjoy. If you don't think you can enjoy anything, start walking faster and climb more stairs.

If you started your resolutions two days ago, this is the perfect time to back them up with a little psychology. The first question to ask yourself, says Edinburgh-based chartered psychologist Ben Williams, is are your resolutions balanced? "Your new, aspired life should be like a wheel. The spokes represent the different areas in your life - health, fitness, work, friends, family and so on. If there are spokes missing or some spokes are shorter than others, the wheel won't work. If you throw all your energy into improving work, you may get out of balance and become a workaholic." So goals should aim to balance all areas appropriately. Once you have your resolutions in mind, break each goal into smaller sections. For example if you want to give up smoking write down: burn duty frees (very decisive), hide ashtrays, buy nicotine patches. Then give yourself daily tasks like saying to someone "no thanks, I don't smoke" or chewing gum when you normally smoke.

Follow this strategy and you should find yourself being far more successful. And if you don't, well don't worry. It's not long till Lent - when the suffering starts all over again.

Make Your Resolutions Work

1. Make your resolutions SMART - that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed - ie with a definite start date.

2. It takes six repetitions to change a habit. Ben Williams explains: "Behaviour is learned on neural pathways. If you repeat a dance step six times it will be learnt. If you overcome six crisis moments where you are desperate for a cigarette this will be the same."

3. Ask "what would I have, do or achieve if I knew it couldn't fail?". This, says Ben Williams, "disengages that part of your psyche which says `who do you think you are, you'll never give up smoking, lose three stone etc'."

Quitline is an independent charity. The free helpline (0800 002200) is open seven days a week (9am-11am).

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