Be Kind To Yourself January

There’s a lot of potential pressure this month to lose weight, get fit, give up meat, give up booze or a million other things. ‘New year, new you’, whatever that means, seems to be the mantra. I’m not setting you yet another goal to try and achieve, I’m simply asking you to notice how you treat yourself and be a bit kinder.

Challenges can be a good thing and it can be positive to have ‘clean slate’ mentality but it can also be a brutal way to start the year. The statistics aren’t good when it comes to new years’ resolutions. I won’t bore you with them. If it suits you to set yourself a goal at this time of year, go for it! If you’re more likely to be setting yourself up for failure, give it a miss. January can be a difficult month to negotiate with the cold and dark, and spring still a long way off. If you suffer from SAD there’s nowhere near
enough light yet and the likelihood is a lot of us will get ‘January Blues’ at some point this month.

I’m not suggesting you binge drink, keep your blood levels of chocolate at Christmas highs or hide under the duvet until March. What I am suggesting is that your are kinder to yourself. Acknowledge that we’re in the middle of winter, still in the middle of a pandemic and it may not be the best time
to take on something that is going to potentially cause additional stress.
It’s not a bad idea to take stock, to consider the things we might want to do differently this year, but don’t use that as a stick to beat yourself up with. Take a look at all the things you have achieved, all the things you can be grateful for, rather than being hung up on what you didn’t do. Frankly, if you managed to get through to December 2020 relatively unscathed you deserve a medal.

We need to acknowledge that life has been tough and we’ve been under duress, some more than others. If you’ve lost a loved one this year, or a job, if you’ve been pushed into difficult circumstances, if you’re caring for someone vulnerable, you don’t need to add more pressure to yourself. You are more likely to implement good habits when you are in a better place.
Chose to be kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to grieve for all the loss and pain. It’s OK not to be OK about how crap 2020 has been. You may be clamouring for a ‘new start’ and I think we’ve all wanted to hit 2021 head on, breathing the fresh air of a new year into our lungs and sighing a
national relief. The reality can be tough when we still find ourselves in the pandemic, with numbers on the increase and more lockdowns on the horizon, with the shadow of Brexit casting uncertainty on the future and the climate crisis looming cavernous and doom-laden ahead. Yet there is hope. The vaccines are being rolled out and however this is being (mis) managed the reality is that frontline worker and the very vulnerable should receive their jabs in the not too distant future, with the rest of us following at some point. There are always positives about if we look for them and
avoid the gloom mongers and negativity in the press. Looking for the positives and avoiding the muck shovelling on social media, in particular, can be a great way to be kinder to ourselves too. If we’re not exposing ourselves to all the hate and decrying that’s about, the outlook can be a lot more pleasant.

Try and do something you enjoy each day, whether that’s taking a walk, reading a book, having a bath or something else you find uplifting. Try and identify when you’re resorting to coping mechanisms to get through the day (those chocolate bars in the afternoon, the bottle of wine at night). The simple act of noting it, without beating yourself up about it, is often enough to make a positive change without setting rigid ‘resolution’ type challenges that makes us feel bad about ourselves when we fail. Try and work out why you are engaging in particular negative behaviour rather than criticising yourself about it. Talk to people, professional people if you need to, but don’t try and change lots of things in one go.

Take the next step, whatever that may be towards. It’s the only one you need to see right now and will still get you where you want to go. A few minutes walking a few times a week will still increase your fitness; reducing the amount of meat you eat in a week will still have positive implications for your health and the health of the planet. If you miss a day of walking or have bacon 2 days in a row, it’s not the end of the world. Be kind to yourself. You’re doing OK. In fact, you’re likely doing more
than OK, you’re probably doing the best you can in the circumstances. Don’t be too harsh on yourself. Being kind to ourselves increases self-awareness and strengthens identity. It is far more likely to encourage us to be the people we want to be and do the things we want to do than criticism
and negative talk. It can actually make us more optimistic and less stressed too, introducing a positive loop rather than a negative one, so give it a try.
If you start to feel more positive about yourself, you can begin to feel more positive about the world around you. You have more capacity for kindness towards others and begin to notice things to feel gratitude for. It’s OK to feel good about yourself and to find things to be grateful for, even when
there’s so much pain and suffering about. Comparison is rarely a good thing. Focus on the positives about you and your life, without constant reference to others. Speak kindly to yourself. If you notice you have continual negative self-talk (that inner voice that reprimands and criticises) start to notice this and make an effort to counter it with something more positive. Write down some positive things things about yourself, or ask someone you trust to do it, if you’d struggle with such a list.

Am I suggesting your new year’s resolution should be to be kind to yourself then? Well, no, not really. We would all be guaranteed to fail at that as we are often our ownworst critics. We are all going to fail at being kind to ourselves often, the important thing is to face ourselves in that direction and begin walking that way. My firm belief is we that will achieve much more when we do. I’m not saying we should never challenge ourselves and never set goals, only that we should not put pressure on ourselves at the start of the year. We should be kinder. Ignore the health gurus marketing their wares – they deliberately chose this time of year to cut through our vulnerabilities – and do what is good for you. Most of the time you will know better than anyone else what this is.

Image from the The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesey

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