How to Make Good New Year’s Resolutions for My Mental Health
How to Make Good New Year’s Resolutions for My Mental Health
The New Year is the perfect time to start over, to refresh, and to give yourself a second chance at anything. For many of us, the start of a new year is a landmark in time that we wait for in time and see as a time for new beginnings. At the same time, many of us use the New Year to make resolutions. These resolutions can be small or large, but they are often framed in negativity, pressure, and achievability. We want to lose weight and do so at extraordinary (and unhealthy) rates, we want to give up bad habits all at once, we want to start good habits and perfect them, we want to …
This pattern of attempting to achieve likely impossible goals is not just unpleasant, it’s bad for your mental health. This is doubly true if you already have a mental health disorder. Piling unreasonable expectations on your already stressed mental health is bad for you. Instead, this year, try dedicating yourself to achieving toned down but reasonable goals that will move you in the right direction and at a pace that is healthy for you. The following article covers how you can make some of those goals, tackling popular New Year’s resolutions like “staying healthy”, “losing weight”, and “improving habits”.
Making “Reasonable” Goals
Starting out with high goals feels like having something to reach for. At the same time, they can be demoralizing, impossible to actually achieve in a healthy way, and setting yourself up for failure. For example, “I want to lose 50-60 lbs.” is a very common goal. That’s unrealistic in a year, when you’d have to consistently lose 1-2 lbs. per week, every week, throughout the year, with no setbacks. This type of thinking is a common challenge with goal setting, especially for someone who is a perfectionist or is struggling with a disorder like ADHD.
At the same time, you might want to set a goal you can achieve and eventually feel good about achieving it. If you do, make sure you leave room for improvement. Or, choose goals that move you towards your real goal. Instead of going, “I want to lose 50 lbs. by December 31 this year” go, “I want to live a lifestyle that allows me to lose weight in a healthy way”. Both require the same sort of changes. However, many people might find that the first is more motivating, because you have active goals to track.
Who sets goals up for failure? Well, almost everyone. Every time you make a generalized goal like, “Work out every day”, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Why? You’re creating a single, long-term goal. When you fail, and you inevitably will, you’ll feel like you failed. “I can’t work out every day this year anymore, I’ve already missed 12 days” and you give up. Studies show that this sort of long-term goal planning almost inevitably results in failure except in individuals with exceptionally good willpower training and assistance.
So, what should you do to set goals up for success? Studies show that people who set goals based on achievable items, which you can do even if you miss some days, are much more likely to succeed long-term. So, in this case, you’d want “work out an average of 4 hours each week”. Or, if you were setting a goal to “spend at least 15 minutes cleaning every morning”, you’d be better off going, “clean an average of 2 hours each week and try to do so in the morning”. Why? If you miss these goals, you’re just missing a single milestone, you can easily redirect your attention to meeting the next, “clean an average of” than you would if you had to “clean every morning”.
No one can stay in-control, disciplined, and dedicated all the time. That wouldn’t even be good for you or your mental health. Keep that in mind when making resolutions and when deciding on how many you should do. Willpower is an exhaustible resource so if you expect to force yourself to be perfect all the time, you will fail.
Instead, most experts suggest taking a Pareto Principle or 80/20 approach. Aim for 80% success on your goals and plan in 20% failure. That means you plan in cheat meals, off days, and breaks. If you don’t feel you need them on the day, you simply move the break day and keep going, giving yourself a break in the future. And, when you feel like you want something else or are craving it, you can just tell yourself you can have it on the planned off day.
Remember You Don’t Have to Work Alone
Most of us make new year’s resolutions on our own and either keep them secret or broadcast them on social media. What we rarely do is ask for or seek out help in achieving them. This can be a big mistake, considering most of us need and appreciate help in our daily lives. If you live with family, get them involved. Look for local groups to join, ask people to help you along, and participate with others for motivation and accountability. Help can be family, friends, clubs, groups, social media groups, self-help groups (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous), or even classes or group training programs where you will have peers. Group motivation is a huge motivator, providing your group stays with you throughout the year.
This also holds true if you don’t have the skills or knowledge to achieve your goals on your own. You wouldn’t start skydiving without taking lessons. You can’t achieve goals like “reduce symptoms of depression” without an understanding of how to do that. It’s crucial to seek out professional help and training in many cases. For example, you might want to:
Seek out diet and nutrition advice from your doctor if you want to lose weight
See a psychiatrist or attend behavioral training if your goal is to decrease the symptoms of mental illness
Learn coping skills and life skills if your goal is to be there for your family more
Seek out training if you’re learning a new skill
Time Magazine shows that the most common New Year’s resolutions include health goals (weight loss, fitness, eat healthier), reducing substance use (cigarettes, alcohol), learning new skills, finance (savings, reducing debt), and mental health (reduce stress, improve habits). Most of these heavily benefit from professional training and intervention, especially if you’re coming from a place of poor mental health, poor behaviors, or lack of control.
No matter what your New Year’s resolution, you can find a way to scope and set it in a healthy and manageable way. Aligning goals with your mental health, taking the time to make sure goals are achievable, and avoiding extra stress and negativity will help you towards your goals. And, even if you’re already struggling with mental health, it will help you from adding more stress.
Happy New Year and good luck with your resolutions!