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Why I Don’t Set New Year’s Resolutions

Let’s just put it this way: January 17th is National Ditch New Year’s Resolutions Day. 

Happy New Year! I know that for many people, 2016 was a difficult for a whole host of reasons. And while some of those reasons may be carrying over into 2017, the new year also presents new opportunity. It’s not that things magically change as the year transitions from one to the next, it simply offers us a bit of a nudge to reset and refocus.

For those who are wondering, I don’t believe in resolutions. Why, you ask? Let’s just put it this way: January 17th is National Ditch New Year’s Resolutions Day. Because that’s how long resolutions tend to last. They are, quite simply, too resolute. They tend to be all or nothing, massive lifestyle or other changes that hit the ground sprinting. But a sprint can only last so long before you run out of energy all together. Instead, I create New Year’s Goals. These are more decisive, measurable behaviors or achievements that can be broken down into smaller pieces without being overwhelming. Because if you’re like me and you battle anxiety and/or depression, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when “to dos” and expectations (even from yourself) start piling up.

Here’s the difference. Say your resolution is to lose weight. One bout of this violent stomach bug that’s going around and, viola! Resolution achieved! But that’s neither desirable nor sustainable, even if it does let you check “lose weight” temporarily off your resolutions list. Instead, break it down. How are you going to lose weight? What are the major roadblocks to you doing so currently (and be honest with yourself)? Then you sit down and determine some ways to combat these road blocks. It can be the same with other goals. What do you want to do or to achieve? What are the smaller steps to get there?

There are a few key tricks that with creating goals that I have found help, especially when I’m in a particularly anxiety-ridden or depressed cycle.

  • Make your goals as if you were making them for a friend/family member that you hold in high esteem. Why? Because especially when depressed and anxious, we tend to undersell ourselves. We don’t believe in ourselves, and that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. How do we keep motivated if “it’s never going to happen” (in our mind)? So don’t make them “for yourself” if you’re having trouble believing in yourself. Make them for someone you believe in more at the moment.
  • Make sure they’re goals you can break down. It can be a five-year plan if you choose. But make sure it’s specific, as mentioned above.
  • Set check-in times. When will you check back in on your goals? How will you assess your progress? How will you adjust if you don’t feel you’re on track?
  • Set goals that are primarily within your control. If your goal involves a lot of other people doing things in order for you to obtain it, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Because if they don’t come through, you probably won’t blame them—you’ll blame yourself. You can still often work with the same goal, but it’s the way you think about it. For instance, a goal of “Get my boss to see how valuable I am” basically means you need to control your boss’s thoughts. Which is more or less impossible. A goal that involves actions you take on projects or assignments lets you control what happens, at least to a greater extent—and it might well make your boss realize how valuable you are, too.
  • It’s OK to make goals you may need to adjust. You don’t have to have your entire year figured out now. So much can change in a year, month, week, even day. You may need to readjust your priorities or your timeline or even your goals as life throws curve balls at you, or just as the year develops. You may find something you thought you really wanted you now don’t, or vice versa. 
  • You don’t have to achieve all of your goals on your own. You don’t want goals that rely solely on someone else, but that doesn’t mean you can’t add asking others for assistance as part of your plan. Perhaps you want someone to bounce ideas off, or edit something you’ve written, or help with a skill you aren’t as familiar with but know they’re strong in. Maybe asking others to help in itself is even a goal, if you usually struggle with it, like I do.

While goal setting isn’t a fool-proof plan, as we never know where life will take us, breaking it down into these manageable pieces, instead of all-or-nothing resolutions, does give us a greater shot at achieving them. So what are your goals for 2017?

Maya Northen blogs at Lilies and Elephants, which she created to raise awareness about mood disorders and mental health conditions. She also runs a Facebook support group called Mood Disorders Support System, and owns and operates a travel planning company, Chimera Travel. 

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