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.
OUR TIPS FOR NAVIGATING RESOLUTIONS
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 method 3
- Specific: Goals should be detailed or precise. For example, the goal “I want to be healthier” is not very specific. Health includes concepts like physical activity, nutrition, mental health, sleep, financial health, and so many others. Reframing this goal to be more specific could mean saying “I want to improve the quality of my sleep”. “I want to join a support group for my anxiety” or even “I want to learn about nutrition”. Specificity helps clarify what outcomes we expect and what resources we will need to reach them.
- Measurable: Making goals measurable means having a clear picture of what you want to achieve, and how you will measure progress. For example, the goal “I want to sleep more” is vague and hard to measure. Does “more sleep” mean daily sleep hours? Hours totalled over a week. Or is the goal simply to feel more rested? To make it measurable, this goal could be reframed as “I want to increase my daily sleep by 1 hour”. If a goal is measurable, it is easier to break down the steps needed to achieve it. For this example, these steps could mean going bed 15 minutes earlier for a week, 30 minutes earlier the next week, and so forth. Over time, the result is a new routine that allows you to sleep 1 hour more than before.
- Attainable: A common problem with resolutions is that we set them when we are highly motivated but fail to consider if they are attainable. When we set resolutions without looking at the circumstances, habits, routines, or barriers that surround us, we set ourselves up for disappointment. For example, if your goal is to cut out all spending on take-out or food delivery, look at what situations lead you to spending. Is it a lack time? A fear of cooking? Because you share the house with picky eaters? Because you live in an area with no affordable grocery stores? In this scenario, a more attainable goal is not to cut out all take out spending but perhaps to reduce it, limit it to certain scenarios, or change the goal to address the circumstances that lead to this behaviour. This could mean asking for help, involving your family in meal planning, or allowing yourself more time in the morning.
- Relevant: Relevant goals are those that mean something to us, that align with our values and feel like a priority for us. Seeing peers pursue fitness or financial goals can give us the impression that those are also the areas we need to be focusing on. To challenge this instinct, ask yourself if the goal you’re setting is important to you and your lifestyle, if now is the right time to pursue it, and if it is aligned with your interests.
- Time-bound: It is important to have a deadline in mind when you set a goal. A deadline helps keep us accountable, track progress and set milestones. Depending on the goal, the time frame can be short term or long term, defined by a specific date, or a frequency like “every week” or “once a day”.
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. https://cmha.ca/rethinking-resolutions/
2Speaking of Psychology: How to keep your New Year’s resolutions (2020). American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/news/podcasts/speaking-of-psychology/new-years-resolutions
3Breazeale, R. (2017). S.M.A.R.T. Goals-Vital to resiliency. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/in-the-face-adversity/201705/smart-goals