This post was written by Courtney L. Washington, PsyD, CSAYC, HSPP, Parkview Behavioral Health Institute.
With a new year comes reflection on what we’d like to be different in our lives. We often start out January 1 with setting goals around what we “should” do to improve ourselves. However, often, we end up setting ourselves up to be unsuccessful or set a goal that requires a complete lifestyle change. This approach inevitably leads to failure, and we end up quitting our resolutions by early March, leading to self-criticism, which negatively impacts our sense of self. Instead, what are some healthy ways to go about setting resolutions that support our mental wellness verses harming it? How can we set ourselves up to be successful in achieving these goals?
What types of New Year's resolutions support mental well-being?
Over the last 50 years, research on subjective well-being, the clinical term for happiness, has shown steady findings across multiple countries and cultures. There are three things that consistently lead to increases in individual levels of happiness (subjective well-being). These are:
- Pursuits for personal growth – This could be developing a new hobby, setting daily routines, expressing more gratitude, journaling, or engaging in a journey of self-discovery through therapy.
- Meaningful interpersonal relationships and connections – Focus on your connection to others. Find people with whom you would like to develop a meaningful relationship with. Put intentional time and effort into this.
- Giving back to one’s community – Find something that matters to you and volunteer. Do things that are good for the planet and good for others. Even small drops in the bucket help.
Focusing resolutions in these areas can undoubtedly support mental wellness in 2023. Another good tool for determining your 2023 resolution(s) would be developing an understanding of your values. What matters most to you and drives you as a human? Knowing this about yourself can aid in tailoring the resolutions in a manner that supports personal development into the human you want to become.
Other areas to focus personal growth on include developing healthy habits. As adults, we underestimate the impact that healthy routines have on our mental wellness. Having structure and routine around bedtimes, mealtimes and exercise are essential to feeling mentally well. We need consistency in these things just as much as children. These healthy habits help to support our wellness in a holistic way.
Sleep is essential to our well-being, and in order to have healthy sleep patterns we must have a regular bedtime routine. Try and turn off all technology at least two hours before bedtime. Reserve your bed for sleep and sex only, so that your body knows it’s time for sleep when you crawl into bed.
Mealtime routines are also helpful. Instead of focusing on diet or avoiding certain foods. Focus on how we consume food. Are you sharing your meal with someone you love or are you eating in isolation as you run from one activity to another? Remember, processed foods and refined sugars have a negative impact on our mental well-being.
As far as psychical activity, it’s the most underutilized anti-depressant and anti-anxiolytic. Get up and get your body moving. This doesn’t have to be getting a gym membership or running a marathon. Just move. Get outside and walk around your neighborhood.
Lastly, remember that the way we talk to ourselves matters. Our thought patterns become our beliefs and our behavior patterns. Therefore, focusing our resolutions around giving grace and compassion to ourselves as much, if not more, than we give it to others is essential. Focus on saying kind and helpful things to yourself to support your personal growth. If talking positively to plants helps them grow, imagine what that can do for humans.
Helpful tips for setting achievable goals:
The research supports that all goals should be SMARTER if we are to be successful in achieving them. This means they are:
- S - Specific
- M - Measurable
- A - Achievable
- R - Realistic
- T - Time limited
- E - Evaluated
- R - Revised
Avoid massive over-arching goals. Focus on small and attainable steps in the direction you would like to go. Goals are ideally time limited. That is to say, you aren’t going to try and do something every day for an entire year. That’s unrealistic. Maybe you try a new exercise routine a few days a week for a few weeks. You then look at it, evaluate its effectiveness and alter it to make it work better for you. Remember how important grace, self-compassion and self-talk are in this process.
Pitfalls to avoid when making resolutions
Goals are a great motivator, but there are some missteps to avoid when aspiring toward change, including …
- Making resolutions that are all or nothing. Very few things in life work in the extremes, so we must have flexibility.
- Expecting perfection. This is seldom attainable.
- Going at it alone. Find someone to go on your journey with you. Having support is helpful on those inevitable occasions when we lack motivation.
- Ignoring your emotions or the “why” behind unhealthy habits. We develop habits for a reason. They serve some function. Understanding this functioning and developing insight into the “why” behind our behaviors can help us better problem solve a solution that will last long term.
- Don’t get caught in the pressure to set a resolution. Just because everyone is doing it doesn’t mean it has to work for you. You can still make improvements in your life without it being a “New Year’s resolution.” You can even start after January 1.
- Avoid comparing yourself to others on social media. Remember social media is people’s highlight reel and often doesn’t compare to the reality of day-to-day life. This type of social comparison can lead to feeling bad about your progress or lack thereof. We are all on our own journey. It’s okay to go at your own pace!