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Let’s talk resolutions

Feeling the post-holiday blues? Unsure how you will keep your resolutions now that you are back to your normal routine? Confused about how to navigate the start of a new year? You are not alone.  


For many, the new year is a period that reinvigorates and renews hope for the year to come. For others, this period can lead to difficult reflections on the year’s challenges, missed opportunities, or events we’d like to forget. Many find themselves conflicted between these feelings, which is normal. On one end, the momentum of the new year and the promise of a fresh start can be comforting. On the other, the pressure to use the next year to “better ourselves” can lead to added stress, scrutiny, and discipline when we may need the opposite. Regardless of where you stand, we encourage you to reflect on the goals you are setting for 2022 and to learn about how to pursue goals without compromising your mental health.  




Be gentle with yourself

After two tumultuous years and long periods of uncertainty, it is normal to feel like our goals and the ability to meet our goals have been stunted. This year, and for years to come, we encourage you to set smaller goals throughout the year (instead of one big one in January) and to practise self-compassion when setting them. While recognizing that a lifestyle change might make us happier or healthier is important, practising self-compassion means allowing ourselves to need different things at different times, and to pursue new passions, goals, and desires at any point in the year1. By setting smaller short-term goals that nourish us, we trade the pressure of self-improvement for the freedom to exist with imperfection, to change our minds, and to adapt to naturally fluctuating levels of energy. Most importantly, self-compassion reminds us that we are deserving of love and respect always, not only when we achieve a goal or after we change ourselves.  


Find the right motivation

Motivation can be separated into two broad categories: extrinsic and intrinsic2. Extrinsic motivation happens when we engage in an activity or behaviour for the external rewards that follow (like money, praise, grades, avoiding punishment, etc.). Examples include going to work because you will receive a paycheck or exercising to fit into last year’s clothes. In contrast, intrinsic motivation comes from within. We notice it when we find ourselves doing things that are personally rewarding or satisfying, that give us a sense of purpose, or help our personal growth, such as starting a new hobby out of interest, or participating in a sport because we find it enjoyable 

Both types of motivation have their reasons to be, but for long-term goals, we suggest focusing on intrinsic motivation. If your goal is to more active, find an activity you enjoy. If your goal is to be more organized, make sure the strategy or process you use is personally rewarding, even if being organized will also help you at work 


If you are setting goals, consider using the S.M.A.R.T method3 






Look beyond the self  

The most popular new year’s resolutions revolve around self-improvement, such as living healthier, losing weight, exercising more, reducing drinking, spending less, or reaching career or academic goals. While challenging ourselves is healthy in controlled doses, resolutions also present us with an opportunity to look beyond the self. If we have the energy, privilege, and resources to help others, turning our attention to our communities or environments is another way to engage with resolutions. Whether this means cooking a meal for a neighbour, offering support to someone during a difficult time, volunteering, joining a support group, or supporting a cause through activism, spending our time and energy benefitting others helps build a community that cares. This is no small feat, but an undeniably powerful resolution.  


1Rethinking resolutions. (2020). Canadian Mental Health Association.
2Speaking of Psychology: How to keep your New Year’s resolutions (2020). American Psychological Association.
3Breazeale, R. (2017). S.M.A.R.T. Goals-Vital to resiliency. Psychology Today.

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