Dr Jess: A new year is a time of renewal and regeneration. It’s a time to say goodbye to the past and to instill new habits, routines and practices into our lives.
A new year is just so full of possibilities. We can make it better than the last year (which shouldn’t be hard, given how tough everyone’s lives have been recently) and we can make the coming year whatever we want it to be. As we end the year just gone, it’s normal to reflect and look at what we might have liked to happen but didn’t and pledge to do something different. That is undoubtedly where the concept of new year’s resolutions come from.
But with regular new year’s resolutions, come potential problems and pitfalls.
big changes are hard to sustain
It’s all well and good committing to 2022 being the year that you run a marathon, but if you’re not already a runner, maybe a marathon is something of a big ask. It’s easy when we are feeling hyped up and excited for a new challenge to make that commitment, but think forward to a few months time, when you’ll need to be getting up early to get in your run before work and it’s cold and raining – will you feel so optimistic then? Or maybe you’ll go all out and overtrain and injure yourself.
We see a lot of patients committing to the couch to 5k programme as a new year’s resolution, and one of the reasons that it is so successful is that it’s doing a little more each day and the end goal – the 5k – is something that many people can manage, while running a marathon is something that very few of us will ever achieve.
(As an aside, a 5k run isn’t something everyone should be doing, even if they can do it! Running, particularly on the road, places a lot of impact on the joints and can lead to long term injuries, particularly if your body is not used to exercise. A far healthier (and more sustainable) habit for people who are new to exercise is to commit to walking every day or taking a weekly yoga class. Both are low impact options that are more likely to keep you free of injury and motivated to keep at them, as they are easily achievable.)
But it isn’t just fitness goals that can be unsustainable. We can resolve to make more money, or be happier; but without having really given any thought to how we can make more money, or what being ‘happier’ actually means to us, those hopes remain intangible. Aiming towards making or saving a fixed amount of money can be broken down into weekly or even daily goals and prove to be more manageable, but resolutions like ‘being happier’ take a lot of thought of what that means to you and tangible ways to make that happen.
goals don’t always get met
The problem remains that even if you have defined a goal for the year, and think that it’s achievable and have even gone so far as to have planned out all the steps it takes to get there, life often has a habit of coming along and getting in the way. The end result?
… We don’t achieve those goals.
There can be a myriad of reasons that prevent us from meeting that goal, but the downside is that not meeting that goal becomes another thing in our consciousness that we have failed to do, leaving us feeling disappointed in ourselves.
why not try affirmations instead?
Affirmations may sound like a load of woo-woo, but they work!
Rather than setting ourselves up for failure, affirmations are a great way to help us to shift our perspectives, transform our energy and even help to boost our mental and physical health. They are particularly useful for changing your mindset and becoming more positive, making them great when you feel that life is outside of your control, or that things aren’t going as planned. And you can start doing them right now – there doesn’t have to be a perfect storm of circumstances for you to begin.
Practising affirmations is very similar to practising mindfulness or the law of attraction. It causes you to reflect on the things that you do have and are grateful for, which can help the world feel like a much better place. The law of attraction works by focusing energy on the things we desire. And, without getting into physics, let’s not forget that we are all energy – so it makes logical sense that we can use that energy to direct it towards the things that we want or desire.
affirmations have been proven to work for:
It’s easy to be sceptical about the benefits of affirmations, but they have been shown to work. Performing timely affirmations have been shown to improve education, health, and relationship outcomes, with benefits that sometimes persist for months and years.1 Affirmations can be a great stress-buster too, helping to regulate your emotional state and calm and lower your heart rate.2
Pilot studies show that affirmations work for a range of things – one study showed that they helped people who were trying to stop smoking (a popular new year’s resolution!), and gave them a sense of self-control, reducing feelings of powerlessness.3 Similar results were also seen in those who were looking to lose weight and used affirmations to help them.4
Affirmations are so flexible! Another study has shown that they can even help to improve parenting skills – something everyone could use a little help with!5
And let’s say you try practising affirmations and nothing happens… well, what have you got to lose?
how to perform an affirmation:
- Choose something in your life that you wish to change and create your affirmation (for ideas and inspiration, take a look at Louise Hay’s website)
- Write your affirmation(s) down
- Say them out loud, every day, looking in the mirror. Repeat up to three times a day.
- That’s it!
It’s perfectly normal to feel a bit silly at first, but you’ll soon get used to saying your daily affirmations and it is quite possible to change your feelings and the energy around things or certain situations to help yourself to feel better.
some example affirmations may be:
If you are struggling with negative thoughts:
- It’s only a thought, and a thought can be changed. I am in the process of positive change, I am willing to let go and release the negative beliefs that are blocking me from success. I completely love and accept myself.
If you want to improve your home environment, health or improve your finances:
- I have the perfect living space, my income is constantly increasing, wealth flows easily to me, providing everything I need. I am healthy, whole, and complete. Wellness is the natural state of my body. I am in perfect health.
make 2022 your year of affirmations
Why not? What have you got to lose? The absolute worst that may happen is that you get tired of talking to yourself!
Research shows that the health of our immune system is influenced by our thoughts, and the practice of gratitude can improve immune health by reducing inflammatory markers.7,8 By making our thoughts more positive and breaking negative thought patterns, we can change our health, and attract more positivity into our lives.
- (Cohen GL, Sherman DK. The psychology of change: self-affirmation and social-psychological intervention. Annu Rev Psychol. 2014;65:333-71. doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-010213-115137. PMID: 24405362.
- Chen WJ, Nelson AM, Johnson HB, Fleming R. Effects of self-affirmation on emotion and cardiovascular responses. Stress Health. 2021 Apr;37(2):201-212. doi: 10.1002/smi.2986. Epub 2020 Sep 24. PMID: 32954655.
- Taber JM, Klein WM, Ferrer RA, Augustson E, Patrick H. A Pilot Test of Self-Affirmations to Promote Smoking Cessation in a National Smoking Cessation Text Messaging Program. JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2016 Jun 8;4(2):e71. doi: 10.2196/mhealth.5635. PMID: 27278108; PMCID: PMC4917724.
- Churchill S, Jessop DC, Green R, Harris PR. Self-affirmation improves self-control over snacking among participants low in eating self-efficacy. Appetite. 2018 Apr 1;123:264-268. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2017.12.028. Epub 2018 Jan 5. PMID: 29307498.
- Hill Z, Spiegel M, Gennetian LA. Pride-Based Self-Affirmations and Parenting Programs. Front Psychol. 2020 Jun 23;11:910. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00910. PMID: 32655425; PMCID: PMC7324633.
- Moeini-Jazani M, Albalooshi S, Seljeseth IM. Self-Affirmation Reduces Delay Discounting of the Financially Deprived. Front Psychol. 2019 Jul 30;10:1729. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01729. PMID: 31417458; PMCID: PMC6682614.
- Hazlett LI, Moieni M, Irwin MR, Haltom KEB, Jevtic I, Meyer ML, Breen EC, Cole SW, Eisenberger NI. Exploring neural mechanisms of the health benefits of gratitude in women: A randomized controlled trial. Brain Behav Immun. 2021 Jul;95:444-453. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2021.04.019. Epub 2021 Apr 28. PMID: 33932527.
- Redwine LS, Henry BL, Pung MA, Wilson K, Chinh K, Knight B, Jain S, Rutledge T, Greenberg B, Maisel A, Mills PJ. Pilot Randomized Study of a Gratitude Journaling Intervention on Heart Rate Variability and Inflammatory Biomarkers in Patients With Stage B Heart Failure. Psychosom Med. 2016 Jul-Aug;78(6):667-76. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000316. PMID: 27187845; PMCID: PMC4927423.