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A Letter to My Teen-Self: Lessons About Making Resolutions and Taking the Fear Out of Failure

26/01/2016 11:11 GMT | Updated 25/01/2017 10:12 GMT

In my late teens I gained some weight after a year abroad. So I did what most do - I resolved to eat less, move more and lose the weight.

And I reached my goal (after all, I was a teenager - that's how my teen metabolism worked).

But I felt miserable. Why?

Because I had learned to self-hate.

Every extra pound, every perceived body flaw, every craving was a weakness. A weakness that had to be battled with more discipline, more resolutions, more willpower, more success and less failing.

I can now see that I got it all wrong. It took me about five years to learn what self-improvement was really about and to relearn self-love (and I'm still learning every day).

I'm not sure I would have listened, but here's what I would now tell that 19-year-old girl who was so desperate to be thin and "perfect":

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"Dear you,

I know what's going through your head. And don't worry, you'll be fine. But you may be fine sooner if you re-evaluate your dieting with these lessons in mind about resolutions and that dreaded feeling of failing:

1. Forget 'succeeding' or 'failing' - 'improve' instead

Self-improvement is not about ticking a box: "I achieved this goal" or "I failed that one". Self-improvement is exactly what the word says - improvement. However small it may be. Because there is no such a thing as an insignificant positive change in your behaviour.

So even if you did not "Run a marathon" in 2010, you improved your running stamina, technique and your mental strength A LOT.

And that's what counts.

2. When you feel like you failed - reframe

On any self-improvement journey you will at some point feel like you failed. You have a bad day, you fall ill, your future kids fall ill, and getting back to it feels like starting over but with less motivation. But you haven't failed, you've just taken a well-needed break. The past is past, and tomorrow is a new day. So take a step back, reflect on where you are, reframe your resolution and try again.

Don't make resolutions you cannot keep. Make resolutions you'll want to keep trying to keep.

3. Take small steps

It's not about changing your whole life overnight, giving it your all, or constantly being perfect (definitely not being perfect - but that's a different topic). It's about taking small steps in the right direction. That small change you make today may feel like a drop in the ocean, but it will add up over time and it may change your day, month, year, life.

1+1+1+ ... = A LOT.

So instead of "Losing 5 pounds" try to "Add a fruit to every meal".

4. When in doubt - go back to your values

Even as you're taking small steps, don't get too caught up in the details. Always stay true to your values and who you are. When facing a challenge, take a step back and ask yourself: "What really matters to me?" and "In 20 years, what do I want to say about this moment?".

(At times your underlying beliefs may even keep you from reaching a goal. For example, it will take you years to realize that the reason you have trouble adopting an early morning routine is because deep down you think that "People who go to bed early are boring". Oops.)

5. The things you think will make you happy won't

I know what you think: "If I just lose that weight I'll be happy" and "Once I get that job I'll never ask for anything else". But believe me - those big life-events or goals are not what will make you happy.

What WILL make you happy are the small everyday moments: the laughter of a loved one, reading your favourite book, bonding with a colleague over a project you failed miserably, eating a cookie alone on a beach, saying 'thank you'.

The sooner you realize this, the happier you will be.

6. Learn to love yourself, the rest will follow

Sorry for ending on a cliché but it's worth it. The most important skill you can cultivate is the skill to love yourself. You say things inside your own head that you'd never even dream of saying to a friend (and you'd probably be appalled at the words your friends tell themselves inside their own heads). This is not insignificant - your brain processes 300-1000 words every minute, and if those words are negative or positive makes a huge difference to how you feel at the end of the day.

So be kind to yourself, accept that you are perfectly imperfect, celebrate the small wins and know that you have the power to do positive things in your life. The rest will follow.

Warmly,

you +10 years"

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