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  • Writer's pictureDr Joanne Stuart

New Year’s Resolutions - to do or not to do. That is the question

Moving from one year into another, for many, provides a natural time of reflection - a moment to look back over the year we are leaving and forward to the year to come. It can be a time we use to reset, make changes, plan for improvements. It can be a time to bid good riddance to a year full of heartache, stress, and loss. Whatever this time is for you, I would like us all to think about how best to bring about change without feeling the burden of failure. Because to move forward, fail we will. Fail we must.


Samuel Beckett in his 1983 story Worstward Ho, wrote, "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." And although he goes on, in my opinion, to talk about how unbelievably difficult this can be, we can take something from his words. How often do we, with good intentions, make New Year’s resolutions, or plan significant change, only for them to fail or for life to get in the way? Statistically one in five resolutions set will last less than one month. So here are my top tips for bringing about change.


1.     Set some goals but not too many. Goals should be something achievable. So, for example, I want to be fitter. Is better than I will go to the gym five days a week.


2.     Remember that we need to find a balance between work, rest, play (or pleasurable activities) and health. There are only so many hours in the day and days in the week, so we will need to accept we may not be able to do everything we desire immediately. The most important thing is to keep a balance and accept that some goals may take longer than we would wish.


3.     Break each goal down into manageable steps. Ideally a step would seem easy to do, so it is achievable, and the brain is not put off doing it. So, rather than, 'I am going to work out at the gym for an hour.' It might be you start with a five-minute walk on the treadmill. Underdoing something and building from there is much better than doing nothing at all. Another example, if you want to lose weight, the goal might be to eat more healthily and reduce portion sizes. This is much more sustainable in the long run. Then you might make one or two swaps per week. So, a large plate for a medium plate. When this feels easy, a medium plate for a small plate. By the end of the year, you will never be able to eat a large plate of food again without feeling sick. Another idea is to start with one day when only healthy foods are eaten alongside one or two small treats. Then when this feels easy, increase it to two days and so on.


4.     Find time in your diary for one of the steps. If your goal is to get your finances in order, you might set aside an hour in your diary each week to focus on doing this. Or an hour to do exercise or an hour to plan healthy eating. If you find you do not have the motivation or time to carry out the activity, then move it to another time in your diary when you do have time. Keep doing this and remain focused on the end goal.


5.     If you find you have not done what you set out to do, plan to do it again. Each day is a new day and just because we were unable to complete our set task the day/morning/afternoon etc before, it does not mean that we should give up.


6.     Goals and tasks may need to be redefined as new information comes in. So, if your goal was to change your job but you find you are spending days applying for new jobs and disheartened by the process, set yourself time to carry out the activity that leads to your goal and time to do pleasurable things. A balance in life is key to good psychological health.


7.     Keep focused on the end goal. Remember, every day is a new day.


8.     Be compassionate. Remember the wise words of Beckett. If you decide you want to change your goals or the goal you set was not right for you, at this time, be kind to yourself. Ultimately, we all want to feel good about ourselves so being critical for changing our minds or deciding to focus on something else, is not going to help.


Good luck and I wish you a wonderful 2024.

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