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How to Sustain Change

Why New Year’s resolutions don’t work!

Picture yourself: It’s midnight 31/12 of whatever year. You make a #resolution that is really important to you. You know that undertaking a new fitness program, getting your finances under control, taking up that hobby you’ve always wanted to try, not losing your temper, is going to make a positive difference in your life. And yet by the time February has arrived, your good intentions have somehow evaporated and you are back in the old familiar patterns that you know so well!

How can we understand what happened, and why we failed, leading to feelings of guilt, shame and hopelessness?

I was discussing with a friend recently how there seems to be this big chasm between what we say we want and then what we actually do. For example, both of us are committed to exercising more for all the reasons it's good for us to do that, and yet we seem to get to the end of each day, and haven't done it!!!

Why? What would it take for us to bridge that gap? She said after thinking for a few moments, 'personal discipline'. And I have to agree, it takes an effort of will. But clearly that is not enough to sustain long term change because eventually that will power wanes. We need more.


Most of us have heard of the term #neuroplasticity, the idea that the brain has the ability to remodel itself according to how we use it. The number of neurons in our brain, and the connections that each has, is almost unimaginable. However, the pathways that we use habitually become like major highways and are pretty much automatic. To change these habitual ways, we have to create new highways, and gouge out new grooves.

And here is the problem. One wish, on one night, is not enough.

Setting a goal and committing to it is a powerful way to begin. But there has to be a follow through. On our recent New Years Retreat at #Meander Valley Yoga we talked about the three principles of #Positive Thinking.

1. Set a clear goal

2. Do whatever it takes

3. Choose to enjoy doing it

So having decided on a course of action, we have to break it down into its component parts, tease it out, come up with a plan. If it’s a new diet, we have to do the necessary research, plan our meals, restock the pantry, get rid of anything that might tempt us and trip us up. And as we begin our new course of action, we adjust our minds and choose to enjoy our new routine.

Personal discipline = personal kindness.

Ian Gawler says one of the ways we can do this – adjust our mindset – is to shift the idea of discipline - with the somewhat negative connotations my friend spoke about - to personal kindness. We know how good we feel when we lose that couple of kilos, or see our progress at the gym, or manage our emotions better through our meditation practice; or whatever it is. Each time we make choices in alignment with our goals, that is honouring the higher aspirations of our innermost self. Ultimately we are doing ourselves a personal kindness.

Imagery and words are powerful

Now if you really want to give yourself the best chance to sustain change and create new neural pathways then harnessing the power of mind by using imagery and affirmations is the way to do it.

Mental rehearsal & the use of imagery and #affirmations have now become mainstream. Have you ever noticed elite athletes meditating before a big race? In fact, in any performance related field you can think of, including personal development, the use of imagery can be used to enhance results. If you want to perfect your golf swing, improve your performance at a job interview, or get up early in the morning to do your yoga practice, try visualising yourself doing it.

Here is an example:

There was a lady in the meditation group who would turn up each week to class ready to meditate, but lamented she just didn’t seem to be able to make herself do it at home. She had the best intentions, but another week would go by and she’d turn up at class feeling disappointed with herself. She dearly wanted to have a regular meditation practice because she knew how beneficial it would be for her health. On being introduced to the use of mental rehearsal and imagery, she started to visualise herself getting up early, having a shower and then sitting down to meditate, before going on with her day. In addition she created an affirmation for herself, “I really enjoy getting up early to meditate.” The addition of the word ‘really’ gives it a bit more of an emotional charge. Low and behold, before long, quite naturally and almost effortlessly she began to establish a new morning routine which included her meditation practice.

What you practice grows stronger!

Here are some ideas for proceeding.

  • Make a #vision board

  • Put visual reminders in key places (like the fridge!)

  • Become your own coach and talk to yourself encouragingly

  • Lighten up when it occasionally all goes pear shape

  • Most importantly, have a plan

  • Enlist a friend to join you

  • Practice your affirmation (sankalpa) every day

  • Practice visualising your desired outcome every day

  • Enjoy!

Join us for our monthly day retreats at Murdunna

Participating in regular yoga classes and retreats, really helps support change. For information about upcoming classes and retreats click here:

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