Are you making a resolution in the new year?
With each passing year, we make New Year's resolutions with hope and ambition. Whether we want to exercise regularly or get a promotion, how do these resolutions affect us? When the new year begins, we want to “start fresh” and achieve or change things on our list. When we talk about setting resolutions or achieving our goals this year, we often only see the bright side. We only talk about the benefits of goal setting but never consider whether it is good for you. If you have a goal, it may or may not motivate you to achieve it. In other words, goal setting can be helpful or harmful.
Let’s start on a positive note and focus on how your New Year's resolutions can benefit your life and health. Here are some of the main benefits associated with this tradition.
1. Setting a new year’s resolution can encourage you and motivate you to work on something you might not have been able to achieve this past year due to various reasons. This motivation can further encourage you to keep going and keep working on achieving the goal you have set.
2. It can help you plan and prioritize things that need your immediate attention or effort now. It could be exercising regularly because of a health scare, spending time with family after a difficult time, or working hard at school to improve your grades.
3. People struggling with mental health might find it challenging to achieve goals, so setting realistic, achievable goals can be helpful by achieving goals at your own pace and creating a clear plan that can reduce anxiety about a goal.
4. Making a plan can help us understand ourselves better by recognizing our strengths and weaknesses. We primarily focus on achieving the goal and not on how to achieve the goal. But, the journey to achieving that goal can help us understand our strengths and how we can use those attributes to work on our weaknesses.
5. The sense of satisfaction one feels after achieving a goal can be a great reinforcer for us to achieve other goals as well. And focusing on the journey of achieving that goal can give us more satisfaction by helping us reflect on how far we have come and what we did to get here.
Unfortunately, New Year's resolutions can go either way. They either encourage and bring about change or leave us feeling disappointed. With so many people dropping their resolutions, can they be harmful? Why is it so hard to promote beneficial change?
1. The pressure one feels after setting a new year’s resolution can create a lot of anxiety and stress in achieving the goal, no matter what. This can affect the person’s mental and physical health, leading to negative consequences. Understanding why the pressure exists in the first place can help us to reflect on why we even want to achieve the goal and what we can do to achieve it effectively and efficiently.
2. We mostly set goals keeping into consideration the end goal we have in our minds. This can lead to many surprises on the journey to that goal which could demotivate us. So, setting both short-term goals can help us achieve the long-term goal that we have in our minds.
3. Setting a new year’s resolution has become a tradition, so many people set goals because of the influence of people around them (Lim, 2018). People might even focus on achieving a goal they don’t want to achieve. Therefore, thinking about why we are setting a goal and why we want to achieve a particular goal can help to set a meaningful goal, which can further motivate us to keep working on it.
4. Comparing our progress in achieving the same goal with someone else will add to the pressure you might already feel. Comparing oneself can ignore many factors that influence each person’s journey to achieving that goal. Instead of comparing ourselves to others focusing on the progress, big or small, we are making on our own journey will keep us determined.
5. New Year's resolutions can inspire positive change, but when solutions are not achieved, we often reprimand ourselves (Lim, 2018). This thought process can damage your mental health and affect your self-confidence and self-esteem. Focusing on why we were unable to achieve the goal and what we can do the next time from that feedback instead of self-criticism is something we should try to focus on.
So, should we even set goals?
Reflection plays an essential role in setting and achieving resolutions and goals. Asking ourselves ‘the reasons for setting the goal and focusing on the path rather than the goal is crucial. This can help to set realistic and specific goals that are easy to achieve. Setting short-term goals that are easy to achieve does not mean you did not accomplish anything. It means that you set an attainable goal, which will keep encouraging you to keep working toward your long-term goal.
For you to reflect on what goals to set and whether or not you should set a goal, you could make pros and cons list for yourself too. Below is a template you can use to help you understand if you want to set a particular goal or not (Linehan, 2015). You could use the same template when you want to give up on your resolution/goal. Going through the list later can also help you clarify what you want to do and if you want to change paths.
Lim, S. (2018, October 10). Should You Set Goals? The Pros and Cons of Goal Setting. Stunning Motivation. https://stunningmotivation.com/pros-and-cons-goal-setting/
Linehan, M. (2015). DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets (2nd ed.). The Guilford Press.
By: Dhihum Kour
Mental Health Counseling Intern