It’s that time of year again when we tell ourselves we need to change and be better- but whether or not we stick to our resolutions isn’t a test of our worth.
Every year on January 1st, I write a very similar list of resolutions, usually ones which I’d failed to complete the year before. I feel under immense pressure to make them anyway, because social convention tells us change is needed. The Christmas buzz is over, and after over-indulging in turkey, cheese and chocolates we want to carry our guilt-ridden selves to the gym.
This is why common resolutions go along the lines of “eat healthier”, “exercise more” and “drink less alcohol” – all things which can have a real positive impact on our mental and physical health… if we manage to stick to them.
Which we don’t; it turns out I’m among the almost 80% of people who fail to achieve our resolutions. This can have a massive impact on our mental health if we feel like we failed. We try to kick-start this new healthy life, filling the gyms with eager motivation, only to slip back into our old lifestyle before the end of January, full of shame.
The goals we make are often borne out of guilt, which means they are far too general and unrealistic. We ultimately set ourselves up to fail.
That’s why this year, my resolution is to not make unnecessary resolutions.
When I once again fail to become some health-fanatic or quit procrastinating, I feel inadequate and my self-esteem plummets. This leaves plenty of room for anxiety and little for motivation to do better.
So with the dreaded pressure of New Year’s Resolutions upon us, I want to remember why I want to make the changes I do, because sticking to positive life changes can really improve my mood. So here are some tips to make our resolutions mental health friendly.
Having positive reasons
Try to avoid negative reasons for your resolutions. Real changes will only really come with a positive mind. I am going to try the “31 days of yoga” challenge with Yoga with Adriene on Youtube. I want to do this because I know that yoga calms my anxiety, not just because I know I should do more exercise. I’m going to try and blog about it as I go along, so I see it as a project not a challenge.
Make them personal
Resolutions aren’t once size fits all. Choose something which you really want to change about your life, not what you think you should. Think about what’s missing, that could really improve your mental health. Exercise, getting outdoors, eating well, taking up creative hobbies, cutting down on drinking or smoking, taking time out to beat stress… these are all ways we can help us be happier, but find what works for you.
Don’t make goals which are unattainable. Make them small and very specific. Make “eat healthier” into “eat one more piece of fruit or veg each day”. A couple of years ago I told myself I wanted to be happier that year. That was such a vague aim that I was never going to achieve it. So the following year I told myself to make more time for things which make me happy, each week, and it worked.
Keep a diary
This is a great way to track how you’re doing and work through any negative emotions if you start to feel like you’re struggling. Record how well you are doing and each week, to see how far you’ve come.
Ask for help
If it’s making you feel anxious, you don’t have to do it alone. Tell your friends and family what you want to do so they can support you. I might ask mine to confiscate my phone when I’m procrastinating too much or driving myself into a bad mood with social media.
Be kind to yourself
Resolutions are hard work and change takes time, don’t push yourself too much if it’s going to have the opposite effect. If you slip up, focus on why that happened. Maybe you felt extra stressed that week? Don’t let small failures set you back when you can start fresh each day. If I miss one day of this yoga challenge, I won’t give up entirely, I’ll just try again tomorrow.
Research suggests that simple habits take only 21 days to form, but anything harder, like an activity, can take 66 days. Use this to keep going after those first hard couple of weeks, because habits become hard to break when they are part of your routine.
This article was originally published on Huffpost Young Voices.