New Year Resolutions - Good for our mental health?
It’s that time of year again where a great many of us decide to put aside our ‘bad’ habits and decide to make changes that will result in a ‘better’ us. For me, I often wonder whether these resolutions are actually positive or do they perhaps just create more pressure on us to become one step closer to ‘perfect’? With the stresses and strains of 2020 still raw for many of us and no clear end to the virus yet. Perhaps now, more than ever, is a good time to seriously consider the impact of our new year's resolutions.
So what do you think are the most common new year resolutions?
Save money or spend less
Spend more time with family and friends
To name but a few.
What do these types of resolution say about us? Firstly there seems to be a lot of pressure on individuals these days to set some kind of resolution. No sooner has Big Ben finished chiming midnight when someone will chearily ask you what your new year's resolution is. More than likely you'll feel on the spot and pressured to come up with something impressive to start the new year off with. It's almost as if you have to think about something you don’t like about yourself and then immediately vow to change it forever. That seems like a lot of pressure to me!
Don’t misunderstand me - positive changes can be powerful and I have nothing against new year resolutions as long as they are realistically achievable. Deciding to turn over a new leaf can have a negative impact on our mental health. If you make a decision, under pressure, to change something that feeds your negative self-image (as do the majority of the examples above) and then the impressive goals you have set yourself fail to materialise what results is increased negative self image, feelings of failure, inadequacy and perhaps a sense of hopelessness. Especially when the uncle you only see twice a year reminds you of your lack of progress six months down the line. After the year we’ve all had, I just think it's important for us all to not place that extra unnecessary extra pressure on ourselves.
That said, choosing to make changes can be an empowering experience if worked through in a manageable, methodical way. So if you want to make long lasting new year resolutions then consider the following:-
Set a goal that actually motivates you. Many people set resolutions that are suggested by other people. Choose something you really believe in and stick to your personal choice. Imagine your progress in your head. In other words be mentally prepared. Try to stay positive, remember that change will be gradual, not immediate and allow some space in your head for setbacks. As Albert Einstein said, “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”
Break up your new year resolution into manageable chunks. For example if your resolution is to ‘lose weight’ break this down into, ‘lose 1lb a week’. It can be really useful to make a list with your main goal at the top and your different steps to reach that goal underneath. You can then tick each step off as you do it. This will clearly show you your progress which can be really motivating.
Make your goals SMART.
S - Specific Be clear with your goal what is it exactly that you want to do
M - Measurable Make sure you can track your progress so you can see how far you've come, keep a journal of your weight for example.
A - Achievable Be honest with yourself, there is no point setting a goal to go to the moon if youre not an astronaut.
R - Realistic Ensure your goal is relevant to your lifestyle, health needs and fits in with your daily routine.
T - Time-bound Set a start date and an end date, this will help to keep you focussed
Finally, if you stray off track get back on it quickly.
Life is unfortunately unpredictable and sometimes gets in the way of our goals. Despite all of the planning and using the SMART guidance we can’t see into the future and have to deal with events that we are not expecting. Don’t judge yourself too harshly, it's not failing, it's making space for unplanned events as long as you return to your goal when you can - being flexible is key.
And remember, be kind to yourself, some of the changes we try to make aren’t easy - if you don’t reach the main goal you will have made steps towards it and those small positive changes are better than no changes at all.
“the longest journey starts with a single step” Lao Tzu