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SocietyFebruary 15, 2018

Mindfulness and money: how to stick to your new year resolutions


Many of us start the year with the best of intentions to change the way we live for the better. Simplicity’s Amanda Morrall looks at why so many fail so quickly, and how to stay on track.

If you made a resolution to lose weight this year, or get your shit together financially, you’re in good company. Reportedly, every year 50% of the population sets new year resolution goals, with those cited above among the bestsellers. Sadly, the same research tells us 90% or more will likely fail. Even by February, those good intentions are already shaping up to be paving stones for that golden path to hell.

Why do so many fall short of their goals? There’s a few obvious reasons.

Our shopping list of ideals is too long and quite likely out of sync with the ridiculously busy lives we lead. Change takes time, commitment and serious effort so you need to make space for those big ambitions.

Sometimes our goals simply aren’t realistic. If you set the bar too high when you haven’t even done basic training, there’s a good chance you’ll trip up. Better to start off small, increase your confidence over time with small victories, then raise the bar incrementally.

Lack of follow through is also crippling and even more debilitating when you beat yourself up for failing. It’s an all too familiar story for for many. The goal is set, the action is half-hearted and the intended outcome not achieved. The inner critic in us gives us a chiding, we feel discouraged, go back to what we were doing before and promise to do things differently, when the timing is right.

One possible antidote to this is accountability. Humans are less likely to fail when we make a promise to someone else. A partner, a friend, a peer. Heck, even the social media seems like a good friend in this regard. Instagram is full of before and after shots, showing the fat to skinny transition. And financial bloggers love to boast about their net wealth progress publicly. Fake news? Who knows where they end up, but we know from the experience of alcoholics and drug addicts that relapse rates are epic.

The reality is there is no single answer to what works and what sticks because we’re all unique individuals and what motivates and works for one person, won’t for another. Old habits die hard and creating lasting change can be both daunting and extremely arduous. That’s why we really admire those folks who do make big changes for the better in their lives.

Researchers however are turning up some interesting stuff when it comes to brain science. One of the reasons why we tend to get stuck in old patterns is our brains become conditioned over time to behave in a certain way. MRI scans of people who change and those who don’t show a difference in their neural pathways. The implication is that those who don’t change end up playing the same old record over and over in their heads, while those who do create new ways (and neural pathways) the reflect new behaviours and resulting outcomes.

Breaking free from old self requires something like a hard reboot. No, not quite as dramatic as a lobotomy or electroconvulsive therapy, but a definitely a refresh with a new soundtrack that will trigger different thinking and behaviours. Mindfulness, meditation, yoga are all said to help with this reconditioning process.

As a yoga teacher and personal finance author, it’s music to my ears. I have long advocated that personal finance is as much a self development exercise as it is soft science. It’s all well and good to chop up the credit cards and up your contributions to your KiwiSaver as a jumpstart to a better year in 2018, but a little reflection will go a long way to sustaining change. You don’t want to end up back in the same boat again and again, which essentially is what life, and your brain, will do to you if you don’t grasp the lesson.

So this year, if improving your bottom-line or shrinking your jean size is on resolution list, make it happen, for real. Review your current position, fully, whether it’s health, or money, or relationship related.

Reflect: how did you get to be here? Look to the past to understand your present in order to create a better future. Understand why and how you go to where you are and also what you need do differently. Draft a serious plan that includes specifics including deadlines and measurements of success so you can monitor your progress.

Be realistic. You’ll be more encouraged to take on ever bigger goals if you start with more modest and manageable ones. Don’t buy a gym membership unless you are realistically going to use it. Reportedly, 80% don’t. It’s brutal personal finance.

If you want to get serious about reforming your financial habits in 2018, take a good hard look in the mirror. Understand why you ended up where you are and figure out how and why you want to change. Commit in a way that is going to sustainable and truly impactful. Whether it’s a 20 minute meditation, a walk in the morning listening to a motivational speaker or podcast, a book, a therapist or night class – do what it takes to break free from your default patterns of thinking so you can succeed in your goals.

This section is made possible by Simplicity, the online nonprofit KiwiSaver plan that only charges members what it costs, nothing more. Simplicity is New Zealand’s fastest growing KiwiSaver scheme, saving its 10,500 plus investors more than $3.5 million annually. Simplicity donates 15% of management revenue to charity and has no investments in tobacco, nuclear weapons or landmines. It takes two minutes to join.

Keep going!