20 Jan 2023  •  Blog, Mental Health  •  6min read

Check in with yourself for better results

If the excesses of Christmas and the start of the New Year got you thinking about self-improvement, then Mental Health First Aid Instructor, Andy Elwood, suggests ways you can be more successful in your aspirations.

So many of us find it difficult to stick to traditional New Year’s resolutions. Quite often, our resolutions revolve around stopping something that was bad, rather than starting a new positive habit.

I am not great at keeping New Year’s resolutions. So instead, I made a list of what I’d like to do more of and what I’d like to do less of. I’m trying to be kind to myself. I’m not holding myself rigidly to a few things and that might also be a better way of doing things for many people.

Examples for me are I want to do less Netflix, less social media and I want to do more exercise. I joined a gym before Christmas and that is working out really well. I like it. I’m feeling so much better already. I’m continuing that subscription and that’s an investment in myself.

I also want to do more learning this year. And I’ve got a range of things I’d like to do such as my advanced motorbike qualification and swimming front crawl. We can challenge ourselves in loads of ways to achieve things with more exercise as an example.

List it

You might want to consider making a list for yourself. A book which could help you do this is Atomic Habits by James Clear. If you struggle to continue a change or a new habit or a resolution, especially when life gets busy, this book will help you. It can also help if you find it hard to maintain your willpower and motivation throughout January or after that during the year. And it works just as well for starting new or positive habits as it does with breaking bad habits, or habits that you want to stop. It has a real practical application for success in real life.

One of the things I got from that book is to ask yourself a question when you’re faced with a dilemma such as, “Am I going to the gym or am I going to the pub? Am I going to order the burger and the triple cooked chips or am I going to have the poached fish and boiled potatoes?”. If you want to be healthier, a great question that helps me is, “What would a healthy person do? What would a healthy person choose?” And it just stops you in your tracks. It helps you think ‘The healthy person would do this, so I’m just going to do that.” And once we start this habit, it can really accumulate.

I use this with some other training I deliver in the railway industry. And the question that we use around Habits Stacking for drivers on the railway is, “What would a safe driver do?” Whenever they’ve got various dilemmas, they’ve got emergencies, they’ve got choices to make, let them answer the question, “What would a safe driver do?” Having that great question about what you’re aiming for, is super simple, but that’s why it works.

Habit stacking

Another practical application for success is pairing activities or making them consecutive. A personal example of this is my daily gratitude list. It can be really hard for so many of us to do, myself included. So, I compile mine with my first coffee of the day. I’m always going to have a first coffee. So, whenever I have my first coffee, that’s when I write my daily gratitude list. And James Clear calls this Habit Stacking.

How that works is you choose something that you enjoy doing, or you’re going to do every day or every week, tag something else that’s more difficult onto it. Doing that will help you to achieve longer and lasting results. It has to be something you enjoy doing though and because you enjoy doing it, it’s easier to make a commitment and keep to it.

Another method to consider is to create a three-column list, to get yourself started. You could consider, “What am I doing now that helps me feel good, that improves my mental health and wellbeing or my physical health and fitness? And what can I keep doing? What do I want to do more of?” That could include trying something new. And then, “What am I going to stop doing?” I use that method in some of my other courses, presentations and workshops. We use red, amber and green. The green: keep doing more of that. The amber: let’s do a bit less of that. The red: let’s stop doing that. It’s another way that you can practically check-in with yourself and review your habits or your routines.

James Clear illustrates in the book that you get much better results with creating a habit which you can maintain, rather than setting a goal. The great example he gives is he failed for 10 years to lift a certain weight in his physical training. He had this figure in mind that he wanted to be able to lift. He failed to do that for 10 years and he found it demotivating. He had so much more success when he created a habit of going to the gym and working specifically on that. Eventually he actually achieved what he wanted to in the first place. But in the end it was all about habits rather than setting goals.

If you’d like more information to get you started, there is a website where you can find out more: jamesclear.com/atomic-habits. I hope you find it helpful.

About Andy

Andy Elwood is a Mental Health First Aid instructor and an ambassador for Movember. He creates safety and trust by sharing his own vulnerability and gives a unique ‘behind the scenes’ insight into life and death situations from his 20 years’ experience working in the emergency services as a paramedic on search and rescue helicopters.


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