Written by Wendi Woo, M.A., C. Psych. Associate
As the old year comes to a close and we approach a new one, many people start to think about making New Year’s resolutions. Humankind has been doing this for centuries, starting over 4000 years ago with the Babylonians making promises to the gods that they would get out of debt and return borrowed items in exchange for good fortunes from the gods. The Romans had a similar practice. In January (named for Janus the 2 headed god who looked into both the past and the future) ancient Romans would make promises of good conduct for the coming year.
This practice has continued into the present day, with many using the New Year as a time to vow that they will make changes in their lives. Common resolutions include financial ones, such as getting out of debt or increasing savings; health related resolutions like exercising more, eating healthier, drinking less, or quitting smoking; productivity goals such as decreasing procrastination or becoming more organized; and self-improvement resolutions like vowing to learn a new language or new hobby. All of these are great challenges to aspire to! However wanting something really badly on January 1 doesn’t necessarily make it happen. Unfortunately, more times than not, resolutions are broken before we even get to turn the calendar over to February.
So does this mean that we shouldn’t bother to make resolutions? My short answer is NO. Resolutions can still be a good idea. It’s just that for the most part, we need to be more realistic in setting them and be more strategic in making them stick
- Set SMART Goals. These are goals that are:
Getting into shape is a common New Year’s resolution. People vow that they are going to hit the gym daily and perhaps even run a marathon by years end. January is a very busy month in any gym, with the regulars noting how much busier the place is and struggles to get time on the equipment. But generally, by the third week in January the situation improves, and by the time February comes around, all is back to normal. People who did not set SMART goals/people who set unrealistic expectations and/or who had no plan have reverted back to their original habits and ways of being.
To increase your chances of staying with your resolution, break it down into smaller, doable steps. So what would a SMART goal look like? Well we can turn the goal of a marathon by years end into a SMART one this way: By February 14th, I will be able to run 5K continuously, by going for runs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays and increasing the duration of my runs two minutes each session.
2) Motivation & Accountability: Let other people know about your resolution. People often keep resolutions to themselves to save themselves the embarrassment of potential failure. Yet, if you tell others they may ask you about how it is going. This will serve two purposes: it will help to keep you accountable to your resolution and it will also potentially provide you with some social support and encouragement as you work toward making changes in your life and lifestyle.
You also need to be accountable to yourself. You can do this by writing down your goal and tracking your progress along the way. Keep a chart of how often you are exercising (or, how much money you have put away or which areas of the house you have decluttered this week, if those are your goals). When doing this, revisit your original motivation in setting this as a resolution. Remind yourself of why you are doing this, and the benefits that you are hoping to gain from it. Keep this information in a location that you will see often to remind you of your resolution and keep you accountable to your goal.
3) Acknowledge and reward yourself for the steps you make along the way. Don’t wait until you get “there” to celebrate. Allowing yourself small rewards along the way will help you stay motivated and encourage you to continue to strive for your goal.
4) Dealing with Set Backs: Change does not happen in a straight line. Expect periods of plateauing or even taking a step or two backwards. When this happens pick up from where you left off and start working on your resolution again. If it happens repeatedly or if you are feeling stuck, it might be an indicator that your goal is too big. Try breaking the goal down into a smaller step and see if you are better able to stay with the plan.
5) Sometimes we need some Professional Help. Maybe you aren’t attaining your goals because you don’t have the information or skills necessary to achieve them? Sometimes you need to seek out the assistance of a budget counsellor, exercise trainer, or a nutritionist. Also, some lifestyle resolutions may be a little more complicated than they appear on the surface. If your goals include things like quitting smoking or drinking less alcohol, keep in mind that these are addictive substances and as such, more than just a bad habit may be at play. If you know (or think) you have an addiction and want to change your use, speak with your health care provider and/or a mental health professional for extra help, advice and support.
Resolutions, be they for the New Year or for anytime, are helpful in allowing us to gain a sense of direction and control in our lives. They help us to figure out what we consider important in our lives, and provide a way of helping us to get there. If you would like to talk more about goals for yourself, or begin to heal your addictions, mood issues, or other mental health issues, please feel free to call or email to schedule an appointment. Taking good care of yourself is a great way to start the New Year! And, regardless of whether you plan on setting resolutions for January 1 or another time of the year, I wish you all a safe and happy 2018!