How To Set Yourself Up For Your Most Positive Year Yet in 2022, According to a Psychologist

"New year, new me", we've heard it a thousand times, probably even said it ourselves, but one month into the new year and we've already given up on whatever it was that we wanted to improve about ourselves.

It's not uncommon to want to start the new year with a fresh start be it with a healthier diet, more rigorous exercise regime, or promise ourselves to be more financially responsible. After a challenging year, it's not unusual to want to start the following year with a fresh start. But why is that the new year signals the point at which we decide to better ourselves, and why is it that we often fail to find the motivation to keep going with these resolutions?

Below, Registered Psychologist and Clinical Psychotherapist, Noosha Anzab explains why it is that so many of us fail to follow through with new year's resolutions and what the better alternatives are. 

Why do so many of us make new year's resolutions?

For most of us, change is always welcome. We look for temporal milestones which allow self-initiated attempts to change our behaviour. And while there are milestones like the beginning of a new week, the beginning of a new semester, or even a new look, there is no better milestone than the beginning of a new year.

With the new year being the monumental time for a resolution, we usually make resolutions because we are often optimistic that we can use the new beginning to focus on changes in our behaviour, expecting only positive outcomes with regard to our physical, emotional, financial, and mental health.

Why is it that so many of us fail to follow through with our new year's resolutions?

While we can often start our new year with momentum, motivation, and control, eventually we tend to succumb to lapses and relapses. Maintaining new year’s resolutions are difficult because we usually set the bar very high. Often, we start with pretty strong stimulus control – we motivate ourselves and give ourselves incentives, we exercise willpower, we employ social support, and subconsciously expect ourselves to be able to maintain momentum.

That’s a pretty unrealistic expectation, because, well -  life comes along and our level of commitment or our prioritisation may change. Aside from that, we also tend to set some massive goals for ourselves, and with the goal post seeming so far away, the quicker the motivation can fade, causing us less flexibility.

What would be a better alternative(s) to making new year's resolutions?

Flexibility around goal setting is the best alternative to making a new year’s resolution. Instead of setting a huge goal, it’s important to break the goal down into little pieces and be flexible about how or when you will reach the final milestone. Committing to be persistent and not being vague or abstract really play a role here.

Most people’s resolutions are cyclic goals that are pretty much rebooted each year. The fact that our goals can be cyclic is usually because we are choosing difficult goals or abstract goals that are difficult and hard to stick to. A great alternative is to set a mantra instead. For example, instead of setting a goal of learning to be grateful and practicing gratitude every day, head into the new year with a “I am grateful to be here and now” mantra, instead.

Checking in on your mantra, being mindful of it and allowing yourself to honour it throughout the year instead is a great alternative.  

How can we better stick to and find motivation to reach/maintain our goals?

Instead of setting broad goals, set benchmarks. For example, if the goal is to diet or exercise – it’s important to set the focus of the year towards that as an overall however to also establish smaller, measurable, and specific goals to help get there instead.

To help stay motivated to reach the goal, flexibility is the solution. Leave room for ups and downs, be open to spontaneity and remember you’re not racing to the finish line. When you lose motivation, recalibrate, and set smaller monthly goals to help you get back on track and don’t be afraid to journal the process – in order to keep track of how far you’ve come.

To find the motivation, go back to the drawing board, write your goal out in as much detail as you can, break it down into tiny little steps and lean in on social support and stimulus control to pick things back up.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. In an emergency, call 000. If you are concerned about your health, wellbeing or sleep, you can also speak to your GP, who will advise a correct treatment plan.

For more from Noosha follow her at @nooshaanzab 

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