The New Year can seem like an exciting adventure, full of new possibilities. But the New Year can also cause a needless pressure that we put on ourselves to improve in a variety of different ways. Losing weight, saving more money, running a marathon, reading 30 books in a year - any of these sounds familiar? Chances are, you’ve made a New Year’s resolution before, and we’d be willing to bet you’ve made at least one that was wildly unrealistic and a couple that have fallen through by mid-January.
It also doesn’t help that a lot of the marketing around this time is a constant stream of ‘New Year, new you!’ sending the clear message that change is a must if you want to be happy. With all of this external pressure, it’s easy to fall into a trap of feeling like we owe both ourselves and others a new version of who we are. And when these resolutions don’t go to plan, we are left with the inner turmoil of feeling like we’ve let ourselves down.
If we take a step back and look at how most of the human population struggles to stick to New Year's resolutions, it becomes apparent that maybe we aren’t the issue, and that the odds are simply stacked against us.
For those in the northern hemisphere, January is probably the hardest month of the year to change behaviors. We have some of the shortest days, with the least amount of sunlight. There’s the post-holiday slump when you return back to your studying routine, it’s cold, there are bugs going around. This year also has a pandemic that’s causing ongoing periods of isolation and restrictions. There's also usually less on socially, and when there’s not as much to look forward to, our spirits are often lower.
January is actually the perfect month to go into hibernation, eating heavier foods and sleeping more, which is exactly what nature intended us to do through the colder seasons. January is not even close to an ideal time to decide to make major life changes. So why not postpone setting big new goals for a few months and try again when the environmental circumstances will be a bit more conducive to working toward your goals?
A much better time to try to set goals is spring, with warmer weather and longer days. Spring inspires us to make fresh starts. January is a fantastic time to start thinking about some changes you would like to make, and by the time Spring rolls around you’ll be more prepared to commit to them, and the warmer temperatures and extended sunlight will help to keep you inspired enough to stick to them.
For those in the Southern Hemisphere, while the warmer weather certainly makes goal setting more ideal, many still struggle with maintaining changes they feel inspired to make in the first weeks of January. So how can we make our resolutions stick? By making them SMART!
Making SMART resolutions
Whether you’ve decided to take our advice and set some goals for Spring, or if you still feel inspired by ‘New Year, new me’, we have some advice to help set yourself up for success.
When creating a resolution, start by asking yourself the following questions:
How do I want to feel? Will this resolution get me closer to that?
Would you recommend this resolution to your younger sister or best friend?
How will this resolution impact me five, 10, or 15 years from now?
Once you’ve narrowed your resolution down, review it using the SMART framework. Setting SMART goals means you can clarify your ideas, focus your efforts, use your time and resources productively, and increase your chances of achieving what you want in life. A SMART goal needs to be;
This approach eliminates guesswork, sets a clear timeline, and makes it easier to track progress and identify missed milestones. Too many of us get caught up in broad goals where it can be a challenge to measure their success.
“This year I will focus on my mental health”
“I will prioritize my mental health by writing in my gratitude journal for ten minutes per day and by starting my day with 10 minutes of meditation. I will do this every day for the next 8 weeks and then reflect back on how I feel and if this new habit has helped to improve my mental health.”
If you have a history of failed resolutions (haven’t we all!) and you’re looking for a healthy resolution that you can stick to, we’ve curated a list below of resolutions we love. These might seem gentle, but each of them can have a powerful impact.
Hide your self-view on Zoom
We’ve been Zoom-ing daily now for close to two years, so if you haven’t done this already, now is the time! I don’t know about you but I instantly become way too conscious when I see my face on the big screen.
Am I looking alright? Am I making a weird face? What’s my background? Am I sitting right? All these thoughts are just distracting me from whatever the call is about, resulting in me becoming not as present with whoever I’m on the call with.
Commit to only doing exercise you actually enjoy
The most effective exercise routine is one you’ll stick to. So don’t set yourself up for failure by choosing exercise that you hate! Think of activities you enjoy doing that just happen to also get your body moving. Or, perhaps there’s an activity you’ve been wanting to try but haven’t taken that step yet. When it comes to exercise, think fun first!
Curate your social media feeds
There is a lot of evidence coming to light about how social media has negative effects on our mental health, but we know that instantly quitting these platforms altogether isn’t a realistic goal. So instead, look to curate your feed and be more mindful of the kind of content you are exposing yourself to.
Unfollow or mute anyone who doesn’t make you feel positive or inspired. Even better, set a timer on your apps so you get a pop-up when you’ve reached your daily allowance - this can help stop the doom scrolling!
Take part in random acts of kindness throughout the year
Being kind to others is not only a benefit for them, but it’s also great for your own emotional wellbeing, especially while living through a pandemic!
These acts of kindness could be as simple as baking cookies for your neighbors or your floor in your residence hall, or studying with someone who may need a little extra help. Maybe you could befriend someone new on campus, or pay for the next person's parking! No matter how small, a random act of kindness can have a big impact.
Spend 15 minutes in nature every day
Get outside and go walking in your local park, sit and breathe in your garden or if you’re lucky enough to be close to the beach, go for a wander and listen to the water! It might not seem like it makes a big difference at the time, but being in the same environment for a long time can result in feelings of social isolation and leave you feeling worse. Being in nature has proven to help improve mental functioning, memory, and improve mood.
Remember, this New Year, you can do things differently. Commit to being kinder to yourself, and setting your year up for success. Whether you set them in January or spring, make sure your goals this year energize you and give you greater purpose.