December 23, 2020

New Year’s Resolutions, Helpful or Harmful?

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Making New Year’s resolutions is a time honored tradition for many of us. It’s a ritual that first started 4,000 years ago by the Babylonians. Although back then the New Year began in March, after the crops were planted. Today the most common topics for resolutions are exercise, losing weight, or shoring up your financial situation. We make resolutions like these because we want to achieve something that is important to us. In addition, seeing ourselves progress makes us feel good about ourselves.

Every New Year brings a chance to re-evaluate what we want and don’t want in our lives. But despite our best efforts some resolutions may actually hurt our mental health and set us back more than they push us forward. In fact, many resolutions are broken before February even starts. Why is that?

There are many reasons for resolutions to fail. One is the common mistake of making an unrealistic resolution that is nearly impossible to achieve. Examples of this are resolutions to lose a lot of weight in a short time, or if we resolve to pay off a credit card in just a few months. When we fail to succeed, negativity naturally creeps in, we feel badly, and our mental health suffers. If a resolution asks you to make a radical change in a short amount of time, that’s an unrealistic resolution. 

As humans we’ve spent months and years forming our current habits, so be honest with yourself. Big, grandiose resolutions are often just setting us up for failure and the calendar changing to January 1 doesn’t instantly make it easier to change things in your life. So remember that realistic resolutions lead to consistent progress, and that’s how you achieve lasting change in your life. Instead of saying you’ll only eat healthy food this year, resolve to change one part of your diet. Want to improve your financial situation? Resolve to start by setting a small amount of money aside to pay off debts or grow your savings. 

Smaller resolutions also keep you flexible and make it easier to stay on track when unforeseen events come along. A sickness in your family, an unexpected expense, or as in the case of this past year, a pandemic that changed all of our lives for the whole year. Keeping your resolutions realistic helps you adjust and get back on track when things happen that are out of your control. 

This new year also brings its own unique challenges. As the media and people everywhere constantly talk about how horrible 2020 has been for them, it’s important to remember that the calendar doesn’t make changes in our lives, we do.  

What gets measured, gets done

Make your resolutions measurable. Specific resolutions help track progress and will keep you motivated to reach your goals. Part of measuring is setting a realistic timeframe that shifts your behavior over time rather than forcing you to make wholesale changes overnight. 

Most importantly, don’t forget to reward yourself as you make progress toward keeping your resolutions. Even if you just pat yourself on the back, don’t forget to give yourself credit or reward yourself in some small way for moving closer to the goal and staying on track. Celebrating small milestones throughout the journey keeps you motivated and improves the odds that you’ll keep your resolutions.  

Making resolutions work for you

Here are some things to keep in mind when making your resolutions this year: 

  • Keep it simple. Make it achievable. 
  • Choose resolutions that lead you toward a bigger goal. “Focus on small wins so you can make gradual progress”, says Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit. “If you’re building a habit you’re planning for the next decade, not the next couple of months.”
  • Start your resolution when it’s right for you. There’s no rule that says you have to begin January 1. Make a list of what you want to achieve for the year, review it once a month and use the small resolutions to help you reach bigger goals. 
  • Prepare to succeed. Make bad habits inconvenient and good habits convenient. Put the sugar snacks in a hard to reach place and fruit out on the counter. Leave your walking jacket or workout gear somewhere easy to access so being active is less of a chore. 
  • Be kind to yourself. Small setbacks are normal and change happens over time so don’t beat yourself up emotionally if there are hiccups along the way. Go into your resolutions knowing that part of being human is not being perfect. Abandon the “all-or-nothing” mentality and celebrate the small victories as progress towards the larger goal.
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