Making New Year’s resolutions is a time-honored tradition for many of us. Some of the most common topics for resolutions are exercising more, losing weight, or shoring up our financial situations. We make resolutions like these because we want to achieve something important to us. In addition, seeing ourselves make progress toward a goal generally makes us feel better 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 well before the end of the year. Why is that?
Here are some ideas to create healthy New Year’s resolutions, manage your expectations, and stay on track, all while taking care of yourself.
Make your resolutions realistic.
There are many reasons for resolutions to fall apart before February even begins. One common mistake is making an unrealistic resolution that is nearly impossible to achieve.
Unfortunately, the calendar changing to January 1 doesn’t instantly make it easier to change things in your life. 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.
If a resolution asks you to make a radical change in a short amount of time, that’s an unrealistic resolution. 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.
A part of being realistic is also taking time to set yourself up for success when possible. 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. Learn to make bad habits inconvenient and good habits convenient, and you’ll be well on your way to achieving your desired goal.
Make your resolutions (a little) flexible.
Healthy resolutions have flexibility and make it easier to stay on track when unforeseen events come along, like sickness or travel. Consider some of the following ideas:
- Eat healthy snacks.
- Cook at home three times a week.
- Take a walk every other day.
- Begin writing in my journal each week.
The resolutions mentioned above are an excellent way to take care of yourself. What is not a good way to take care of yourself is to make those goals unrealistic. What's the difference? Using superlatives like “only” and “every” and committing to something all or most days might be tricky if you’re starting from scratch.
For example, see how these inflexible resolutions can be easily thwarted:
- "I will only eat healthy snacks." There will be times in your life when you want to break the rules. Not allowing room for this will set you up for failure.
- "I'll cook at home six times a week." There are bound to be nights when you'll be tired.
- "I'm going to take a walk every single day." What if the weather is crummy and you miss your walk? You risk being sabotaged by defeat.
- "I'll write in my journal every night." There might be a night where you don't feel up to it.
Building in a bit of wiggle room to your resolutions helps you adjust and get back on track when things happen that are out of your control.
Make your resolutions measurable.
Specific resolutions help track progress and 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.
Think of some ways for you to be accountable. Otherwise, it's far too easy to let ourselves off the hook. Maybe you could do one or more of the following:
- Start a blog or social media account where you post about your progress.
- Partner with a friend who has the same goals as you.
- Start a walking club at work.
Most importantly, don’t forget to reward yourself as you progress toward keeping your resolutions. Celebrating small milestones throughout the journey will keep you motivated and improve the odds that you’ll keep your resolutions.
Make your resolutions foolproof.
While you’re thinking about measuring your resolutions, consider putting a plan in place for failure. After all, it might happen — none of us are perfect. It's far easier to set up a backup plan while you're in a healthy mindset than it is to figure out how to keep moving forward in the moment after a slip-up.
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.
A new year carries with it a plethora of beautiful possibilities. It can also feel a bit overwhelming. It's important to set healthy goals, stay accountable, and be realistic about what you want. In this new year, be gentle with yourself. Be patient, be prepared, and be ready to take small steps today that will have big impacts on your life tomorrow.
Practical tips for creating a healthy New Year’s resolution:
- Keep it realistic.
- Leave a little space for flexibility when possible.
- Make it measurable and achievable.
- Think of a backup plan to get you back on track if you slip up.
- Choose resolutions that lead you toward a bigger goal. 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.
- Start your resolution when it’s right for you. No rule says you have to begin on January 1.
- Be kind to yourself.