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From losing weight to quitting smoking... six easy steps to making sure your New Year resolutions stick

It's that time when our thoughts turn to ways to feel healthier but, as many know, the best-laid plans can fall apart before the end of January. Belfast-based hypnotist Joseph Pond explains how the right mental attitude is vital to achieving your goals.

Well, Christmas is over and it's that time where we begin to reflect on what's come before and to dream, hope and pray for better in the New Year. If you're like most of us, you've made resolutions in the past which haven't been achieved. Despite your best intentions on Thursday, by the second week of January you're already beginning to feel disheartened and by the third week they've been totally forgotten, lying about on the floor of the dustbin of your mind.

I'm here to tell you to take it easy on yourself. Nothing that's happened in the past means you're mad, bad or broken. You see, I believe that people do the best they can with the resources they have, and part of my job as a hypnotist is to make sure that my clients have the resources they need to achieve their goals. So sit back and enjoy while I teach you the proper way to make resolutions, ones that will ensure 2015 is your best year yet!

1. Be specific

In many ways, the unconscious mind operates like a child. Understanding this and utilising it will definitely strengthen your hand, but you must be very clear about what you want.

For example, "I want to lose weight" is not specific enough. If this year's resolution is as vague as that, then your unconscious mind will think, "Great! He's lost one pound! He's done it!" In truth, when crafting goals - at New Year's or any time - the key trick is to know exactly what you want. How much weight do you want to lose specifically? By what date? If you want more money, how much specifically are you aiming for? The more clear, specific and precise your instruction to your unconscious is, the more likely you are to achieve your target.

2. Phrase your resolutions positively

Please note that I am not talking here about some touchy-feely new age positive-thinking mumbo jumbo.

Rather, I mean that your resolution should be grammatically positive. Don't say. "I don't want to be fat." Do say, "I do want to be fit." In other words, make sure your unconscious knows what you want it to work towards, not what you want to avoid. The problem with an avoidance strategy is that in order to process what it is you're trying to stay clear of, your brain has to pay attention to what you don't want rather than what you do want. How many times have you tried to lose weight only to become obsessed with food? I teach my clients that where attention goes, energy flows.

I'm continually astounded that some people I work with have no idea what it is that they actually want out of life: they are only able to tell me what it is that they don't want. I don't want to smoke, I don't want to be like my father, I don't want to be stressed, I don't want to die young, I don't want ... If you are not saturating your mind and body with all the feelgood chemicals that get released when you fantasise about pleasure, then you are missing out on a powerful source of motivation! Visualise about what you do want, in a way that practically makes you salivate.

3. Visualise success as if it's a movie of yourself

This is a powerful distinction which practically no one is ever taught, but which is essential to how our unconscious mind works.

Whether it's a memory, a fantasy or a daydream, the human brain can only imagine in one of two ways. First, some people imagine as if they are looking at a photograph or movie of themselves. Other people imagine that the experience is actually happening to them; that they are inside their bodies, seeing, hearing and feeling the experience from the inside. You can remember a specific event of your childhood as if you are looking at an image of the younger you, or you can remember it as if you are young again, re-experiencing it from within your own body, looking out from your own eyes.

Psychologists studying this phenomenon have made an interesting observation. In one experiment, subjects who were purposely dehydrated were broken into two groups. One group was told to imagine they were drinking a refreshingly cool glass of clear water, and to actually feel its wetness in their mouths, going down their throats, and quenching their thirst. The other group was told to imagine in a dissociated way: as if they were merely watching a movie of themselves drinking. Guess which group was far more likely to run to drink real water as soon as they were given a chance?

The group that thought about drinking in a dissociated way ran to the water cooler. It's almost as if the other group had visualised drinking so vividly that at some level their unconscious actually believed that they really had!

This brings us to a hypnotic rule of thumb: think about what you want to achieve, see yourself achieving your resolutions, in a dissociated way. Be like the group that is still thirsty. Thirst for success. With that in mind, when you think about your resolutions, make sure that you can actually see yourself in your mind's eye.

For example, if you want to lose weight, don't imagine looking down at your thinner tummy. As the above experiment shows, this will only trick your unconscious into believing that the target has already been reached. Do imagine that you are looking at a movie of the healthy, attractive beautiful you.

4. Rehearse failure!

Yes, it's actually okay to accept that you are not perfect. The truth is that everybody is going to muck up from time to time.

There will be days when you'll not be a pleasure to be around. The trick is not to pretend that this will never happen, but to be prepared when it does. Spend a little bit of time rehearsing yourself failing, then getting right back up, shaking yourself off, forgiving yourself, and getting back on track. Remember, the astronauts who went to the moon were off track nearly 100% of the time.

This makes sense because the moon is a moving target and at any given moment, if they had kept travelling in a straight line, they would have missed it! In fact, they only got there by persistently assessing their trajectory and constantly making micro-adjustments. Guess what? Life's a moving target as well so be prepared.

5. Condition yourself

Changing something about your life that you're not happy with is a process that needs to be conditioned in, like an athlete conditions their body.

Every night, the last thing you do, should be a quick evaluation of the day. Notice what you did right. Acknowledge what you could have done better. Rehearse - in a dissociated way - doing it over again, but this time doing it right. Finally, rehearse the next day, successfully taking practical steps that lead to your desired outcome.

6. Talk to yourself!

I've already written a bit about the visual component of imagination but there's also an auditory aspect to imagination. We have a mind's eye, but we also have a mind's ear. In other words, we talk to ourselves. Constantly. We replay arguments or mull over what we should have said. Often, our inner dialogue puts us down, negatively reminding us of our limitations. But it can be a powerful ally as well.

Try this: think of something which you are incredibly motivated to do. Pay attention to the sound of your inner voice when you talk to yourself about these things. Note the tonality, the qualities, the rhythm and volume. Use the following phrases with your resolutions to find out which ones are most encouraging and which ones turn you off: I must, I should, I have to, I ought to, I am going to, I will, I must, I am doing.

After doing this preparation, start to consciously talk to yourself using the words, rhythm, tonality and that amplifies your motivation and feels most encouraging. Notice if there are any positive individuals in your life who have a motivating effect on you. Start to add in their voice as well, with their encouraging tones.

Do all of these tricks, tips, and techniques. Experiment, but most importantly, remember to have fun in 2015!

  • Joseph Pond is a master practitioner of neuro-linguistic programming, time-line therapy and hypnosis. He is also a qualified acupuncturist and naturopath. To contact Joseph email joseph@national-board-of-nlp.co.uk

Stars under spell of hypnotism

Pop star Lily Allen dropped from a dress size 12 to a size eight after turning to hypnotherapy to help fast-track her weight loss.

The singer had several sessions with a Harley Street hypnotist, who reprogrammed her brain to enjoy healthy, organic food and to associate trips to the gym with feeling happy.

After the one-hour sessions, Allen claimed she went to the gym every day and enjoyed getting fit and toning up.

Author Sophie Dahl was once famed for being a plus-sized model who was proud of her shape.

But the wife of jazz star Jamie Cullum dropped a huge amount of weight, claiming it was all down to hypnotherapy.

For the past decade, she has maintained her weight loss, which she says is due to mind over matter.

Hollywood actor and heart-throb Orlando Bloom was one of the earliest celebrities to use hypnosis to lose weight.

His grandmother took him to a hypnotherapist to help him overcome an addiction to chocolate and to help him shift some pounds.

He has since gone on to star in some of Hollywood's biggest movies, including Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Kingdom of Heaven and The Hobbit and is renowned for his great physique.

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