As the dust settles on our transition to a new year and a stretch of possibilities beckons, the thought of making new year resolutions might appear naturally. Dr. Victor Wong, Clinical Psychologist and Deputy Clinical Head of the Centre for Effective Living delves into how best we should approach making resolutions to better ourselves and our situations till we say heartily again “A Happy New Year.”
The New Year typically leads people to reflect upon and evaluate their experiences over the previous year. Individuals who may have encountered setbacks and negative experiences during the previous year often will cite these as examples when setting resolutions.
Thus, taking stock of the past year often results in people deciding to make resolutions to better their lives in one aspect or another.
While a new year is often the catalyst for resolutions and change, it does not always have to be this way. It just so happens that most people slow down towards the end of the year; providing free time to gather their thoughts for reflection.
Change in any form often leads us to feel anxious and fearful; it creates circumstances of ambiguity. This fear of the unknown is a very primal experience for us.
Trying to meet resolution goals likely requires a change in routine and structures in our lives. As this would be uncharted territory, this can lead to anxiety and increased perceptions of stress.
Change is a movement out of a current state, through a transition state, and into a future state. The future state is likely an envisioning of having met our resolutions and goals.
Thus, change causes us to go through a process not unlike grief. The stages of a change process may include shock, denial, frustration, sadness, exploration, acceptance, and commitment.
We may experience anxiety and stress from wanting to meet our resolutions by changing our current way of life.
Yet, the resolution of these stages is non-linear and can go back and forth. Staying disciplined and flexible would be key to progressing across the stages, allowing us to meet our desired outcomes.
When we embark on change to meet our resolutions, we need to define our goals well. Simply stating that you wish to achieve a healthier lifestyle is insufficient.
Resolutions need to be set with realistic expectations, be detailed, and come with a plan. In the case of achieving a healthier lifestyle, a few questions need to be answered: How often will one exercise? What are the days and times one will exercise? What kinds of food should be prioritized? What is the quantity of sugar or salt to be cut down?
In addition, how realistic and sustainable will these behaviors be? If working out five times a week takes far too much commitment, then we will need to set our routines realistically based along with the other priorities in our lives.
Perhaps it is better to start with twice a week and focus energy on adjusting our diet at the same time to begin with. We must consider the other aspects of our lives that take up our time such as family, friends, career, personal needs and wants etc.
These are all important. Resolutions require time and effort to achieve. Practically, we should consider how our new behaviors can lead to meeting resolution goals, as part of fitting into our lives.
From the start, we want to set ourselves up for success. Setting resolutions with unrealistic goals will cause us to falter and inadvertently, give up.
This may lead us to believe that resolutions do not work and cause us to be less motivated, becoming seemingly helpless in the process. Keep resolutions and their subsequent milestones realistic.
Remember that our individual lives, commitments, and circumstances are all different. Following another person’s plan may not work out well for you.
Take the time to sit down and plan in detail. Consider the various aspects of your life and how each will require your time, effort, and attention. You may need to sacrifice certain cherished activities for new ones.
It is also important to advocate for yourself. Speak to the people around you about your new routines and how they may facilitate your journey to meet your goals. For example, you could ask a family member to help with a few responsibilities so that time can be freed up for yourself
Modification is absolutely required to stay on the path of meeting our resolutions. This is the key to sustained change; being flexible but disciplined with our new behaviors.
Over time, we will find a balance that works well. We need to keep the new behaviors in our lives. By reducing the difficulty and associated intensity of our new routines, we can remain flexible yet firm to maintain these even if we were to encounter a difficult period in our lives.
This is much better than stopping and hoping to start again.
Making resolutions is helpful but behavioral change is necessary. It also becomes disappointing if we fail to meet our goals.
Setting resolutions can be the start of new habits and a new way of living that ultimately improve our lives.
Again, we want to set ourselves up for success. Ensure that you consider how your resolutions can be broken into smaller, achievable goals.
Ultimately, this would be more effective than formulating a resolution but hesitate on engaging in active efforts for change.
If one decides to make a resolution for the new year, remember to expect difficulties at the start. Set realistic and specific goals. Create a roadmap for the expected change.
Understand that anxiety and stress will arrive as well, so be ready to manage these. Stay focused on sustaining the new behaviors by making space in your life for these.
Allow for flexibility and, more importantly, be compassionate with yourself if you slip up. We can always try again the next day.
Above all, keep your envisioned future in mind, focus on maintaining discipline, and know that it may take a lot of hard work, perseverance, and resilience to make our lives better and to live the change we want.