Anita Everett, M.D., DFAPA, Director of the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) states that for most, New Year’s resolutions typically focus on self-improvement – whether it’s losing weight, exercising more, or learning a new skill or hobby. These resolutions can fill us with excitement in anticipation of the possibilities of achieving goals or weigh us down with dread and apprehension of not living up to our expectations.
It’s tempting to want to make significant behavioral changes each January. It doesn’t help that society pushes us to do just that. Yet, resolutions are rarely kept beyond the second Friday of January—a day known appropriately as Quitter’s Day! Resolutions can fail for a myriad of reasons. It might be because people often start with the best of intentions but realize later that their expectations were unattainable. Sometimes our goals take too long to achieve. Or we take on changes we perceive as important because others are doing something similar, but in the end, it is not realistic for you.
Too often, we set goals for ourselves, and when we don’t meet them, we can have feelings of failure that can ultimately lower our self-esteem, which can trigger stress and anxiety and take a toll on our mental health.
Setting New Year’s resolutions can be a positive way to focus on self-improvement, but it’s important to approach them in a manner that promotes good mental health and well-being and maximizes our chances of sticking with them.
There are strategies to prioritize our mental health during this time as we strive to achieve our resolution goals, but keep in mind that you know yourself better than anyone else. Your resolutions – if you even choose to make them – should be custom-tailored to you. Before deciding on your goals, ask yourself, “Does the very thought of making a New Year’s resolution excite you or overwhelm you? How can I make simple day-to-day changes that will help me achieve success? What are the little goals that will allow me to build momentum, so I’m headed in a positive direction?”
Taking it one day at a time forces us to be intentional and think about the “now” and not the long-term, which can be overwhelming. This approach can help us achieve our desired goals. New Year’s resolutions are a tool for personal growth, but the most important thing to remember is to prioritize your mental health throughout the process.
If a particular resolution is causing significant stress or negatively impacting your well-being, feel free to reevaluate and adjust your goals as needed. Taking care of your mental health is key to overall health.
Here are some tips for creating resolutions that prioritize your mental well-being:
Pick a goal that motivates you: You are more likely to stick to your goal if it motivates you or if it is influenced by others, such as a spouse, a workout partner, or a medical professional. If your goal is to exercise more, but you know going to a gym is not a motivation for you, then pick another exercise you can do outside of the gym.
Break down your big goals into smaller, more manageable goals: By doing this you’ll be much less likely to feel overwhelmed. If your ultimate goal is to run a 5K race, but you have not yet run a lap around the track, start with walking a shorter distance and gradually begin to jog once you feel you’re ready. It may just be a few yards or a lap around the track. Sometimes just signing up for that race is just the motivation you need to get started.
Focus on progress, not perfection and stay positive: Emphasize the journey and strive for progress rather than aiming for perfection. And reward yourself for the progress you made. For instance, if your goal is to lose 10 pounds, but you only lost five pounds, acknowledge the five pounds you lost were five more than before you started trying to lose weight. The way we talk to ourselves can foster a positive and realistic outlook and contribute to a healthier approach to both mental health and success in meeting our New Year’s resolutions.
Lean on others for support and motivation: Achieving goals can be easier when done with others. Consider joining groups or communities with similar goals to connect with people who can provide encouragement and accountability.
Practice self-compassion: Be easy on yourself. Acknowledge that setbacks will happen and that’s okay. Just pick back up where you left off.
Set a new date: You do not need to commit to a resolution on January 1. Feel free to delay implementing your New Year’s resolutions until the time is right. You can make them at any time you want. Under stress now? Why not resolve to make that change beginning in March or by another preferred date.
Don’t compare yourself to others: Don’t get too caught up in the New Year’s resolutions of others. Set goals with only you in mind.
Know when to ask for help: You are not alone. SAMHSA has behavioral health resources to help. Visit SAMHSA.gov to find help.
No matter how big or small your New Year’s resolutions are for 2024, remember to show yourself some grace and forgiveness during the times when you may struggle as you work to reach your goals. Please take time over the course of this new year to engage in something meaningful to you, but more importantly, be kind to yourself. You deserve it
This article is provided by Dr. Ralph Kueche (Child Psychologist). Dr. Kuechle is a Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychologist who specializes in treating children and their families who may be struggling with mood and behavioral issues. Learn more about Dr. Kuechle.