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New Year's resolutions to lose weight, exercise more, eat healthier and quit smoking are perennially popular — but data collected by the bicycling app Strava shows that most of us abandon our resolutions by the second week of January. What if we took another approach?
Angela Johnson, a Rush mindfulness expert and doctor of Chinese medicine, suggests starting the new year with mindfulness practice as a way toward better health and greater happiness.
Mindfulness practice is a way of calming both mind and body by responding to thoughts and emotions in the present moment, in a compassionate and nonjudgmental manner. Learn more about mindfulness practice.
"Our minds are naturally wired to take flight and get caught up in regrets about the past and worries about the future — a phenomenon called mind wandering," explains Johnson. "That causes the stress response to kick in and make us anxious."
Using mindfulness techniques like meditation, focused breathing and mental imagery can help us become aware of mind wandering, Johnson says, and "kindly shift our attention to the present, instead of going down the rabbit hole about the past and future."
The benefits of mindfulness, and of meditation in particular, have been documented by clinical research. It can help do the following:
And, Johnson says, it can help us be kinder to ourselves. "Instead of reacting to everything that happens, taking a mindful pause gives us a moment to respond in a more healthy way."
When you have a mindfulness habit, you can gently bring yourself back to where you want to be instead of beating yourself up about a broken resolution.
While resolutions focus on outcomes — "I'm going to lose 20 pounds" — mindfulness practice often includes setting a daily intention that helps you get where you want to be: "Today, I'll move more," or "Today, I'll make healthy food choices."
If that approach sounds better to you than berating yourself on Jan. 15 because you didn't stick to your New Year's resolutions, Johnson offers some ideas for getting started.
"One of the great things about mindfulness practice is that it doesn't require you to go anywhere special, or buy equipment, or join anything," Johnson says. "You can do it wherever you are, by yourself or with others."
But it is a practice, she emphasizes, and there are techniques to learn. Many community centers, senior centers and yoga studios also offer introductory classes, and apps like Headspace, Calm and 10% Happier provide guidance you can access anytime.
And if you stray from your intention?
Don't dwell on it, Johnson says. "It happens to everyone, but using the 'begin again' mantra may be helpful. When you have a mindfulness habit, you can gently bring yourself back to where you want to be instead of beating yourself up about a broken resolution."
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