By Ellie Shearwood
2021 is almost two weeks old, and is already proving to be an exhausting year. The onslaught of adverts for new fitness, diet, and organisational regimes seems relentless and can make you feel as if you have failed at resolutions that you haven’t even set. Or perhaps, with all the best intentions, you did set some… and are already feeling disappointed in yourself for having that glass of wine during dry January, or accidentally accepting a leftover Quality Street when you’re supposedly vegan now.
This time of year usually brings with it a certain pressure to change or better oneself, with the blank sheet of the new year ahead promising a fresh start. This pressure is only then intensified by our collective desperation to leave 2020 behind and make this year ‘better’, in any way within our control. Similarly, the restrictions placed on many areas of our lives over this past year have forced our focus inwards; many are now overly conscious of shifting those extra few lockdown pounds or becoming as organised/ productive/ healthy as humanly possible. A normal January is tough enough on our mental wellbeing, let alone a January following a year which has been emotionally turbulent, to say the least.
That’s not to say that setting positive intentions at this time of year is necessarily a bad thing. Given the current circumstances, we are not in a position to deny an opportunity for optimism. So if you do feel the need to make a change for the better, it may be worth considering how these can be implemented whilst remaining as positive as possible.
It seems obvious and yet is worth stating that drastic New Year’s resolutions don’t work. According to a YouGov survey, only 26% of those who set resolutions actually managed to stick to them. According to Michael Levitt (@levittmike), a CBT therapist and burnout consultant, this is because many people set goals that are too difficult to achieve without “significant habitual changes”, which can be demoralising due to their difficulty to implement. He suggests treating your goals as if you were a project manager and organising the practicalities to enable you to achieve them, such as an accountability partner, meal planner or running shoes.
Having goals that are attainable can provide a real boost, and Michael also highlights the importance of being realistic. Telling yourself to finish all coursework a week before the deadline is unrealistic if this is not how you work, and changing that will ultimately be of little benefit.
Similarly, it is crucial that realising any goals is not the ‘be all and end all’. It’s simply not true that you won’t be happy until you beat your personal best or become a list person, and your happiness and self-worth should not be based on future benchmarks. Nor should they be grounded in the achievements of others. Megan Harrison, a wellbeing coach and blogger, stresses the importance of focusing on yourself: “As long as you are being healthy for you, then that’s what counts. We are all different and what is healthy for one person is different for someone else”.
It’s also worth noting that not all goals have to be ones that we don’t particularly want to do, or are only doing so because it’s ‘good’ for us. Setting positive intentions can be equally beneficial for mood and mental wellbeing. For example, starting to make a conscious effort to set aside time to do activities you enjoy, such as reading before bed, is a fantastic way to make beneficial change. Not every resolution has to be a chore – we could all do with treating ourselves a little more!
In fact, if your only goal this year is to be kinder to yourself, eat more chocolate, or drink more wine, then that is perfect. In making it through 2020, you have already achieved so much. Though it may not be a goal within itself, surviving the mental rollercoaster of the past year is most definitely something for which you should give yourself credit. If you want to make a resolution, make it a positive one. However, recognising that putting additional pressure on yourself whilst living through these uncertain (and indeed, unprecedented) times is pretty positive too.