In theory, New Year’s resolutions should make your life less stressful, or at least give you a means to address things about your life you’d like to change. In reality, however, a lofty New Year’s resolution can often loom over you, forming a nagging reminder of your supposed failure to reinvent yourself just because another 365 days have passed.
This year New Year’s, I say screw all that. Twenty-twenty was colored by economic collapse, political fractiousness, civil unrest, and a raging pandemic that’s still spreading throughout the country. Why start 2021 by voluntarily subjecting yourself to stress, especially when the world around you is offering you so little respite from it?
The only kinds of resolutions you should make for 2021 are stress-free ones. Here’s how to set New Year’s resolutions without getting overwhelmed by stress.
Makes sure your goals are actually achievable
We’d all like to emerge like a phoenix from the ashes of 2020 with a bunch of new skills and hobbies, but life doesn’t work like that. If you’re trying to achieve something new, make sure your goal is actually manageable. Are you going to go from not running at all to running a 5K every day, or even every couple days? No, you’re not. So why leave yourself with a mountain to climb?
The mental health website VeryWellMind suggests setting SMART goals (the acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound).
When it comes to the popular New Year’s resolution of weight loss, the site conveys how a SMART goal orientation might apply:
I will lose one pound each week until I reach XXX pounds in eight months.
I will lose six pounds a month until I reach XXX pounds in one year.
Understanding that a resolution isn’t achieved in January but over the course of a year will help you temper your expectations.
Track your progress
No change comes overnight, so tracking how you chip away at a goal will help you put things in perspective. Putting something into writing will help you internalize and respect the process. Patience is key, being that surveys show how 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail, likely owing to people’s fickle attitudes and fluctuating discipline.
Plus, charting your progress—whether you’re cutting back on smoking, trying to lose weight, or read more—will help you understand how far you’ve come, even if your ultimate goal seems far down the line.
Take it step by step
You’re not going to completely overhaul your imperfections in one-fell swoop. That’s why it’s probably a wise choice to tackle one issue at a time. Usually, people want to address the large, life-defining issues they may feel have held them back, such as curbing alcohol consumption. Adjusting behaviors that have been engrained for years is an onerous task, and taking things incrementally is the way to go.
As psychologist Lynn Bufka, PhD told the American Psychological Association:
Remember, it is not the extent of the change that matters, but rather the act of recognizing that lifestyle change is important and working toward it, one step at a time.
New Year’s resolutions get abandoned so quickly because they’re usually hard to carry out. That’s why you should pause and take stock of some of the bigger leaps you take towards achieving your goal. If you’re trying to eat healthier, don’t celebrate with a piece of cake, but definitely do something to acknowledge the progress you’ve made.
Understand that setbacks happen
Nobody makes a longterm commitment to changing their behavior without hiccups and bumps in the road. You have to keep in mind that whatever you’re trying to change will likely experience some difficulties. If anything derails you, stay the course, and don’t be shy about seeking help from those close to you.
The APA acknowledges just how common setbacks are in these situations:
Perfection is unattainable. Remember that minor missteps when reaching your goals are completely normal and OK. Don’t give up completely because you ate a brownie and broke your diet, or skipped the gym for a week because you were busy. Everyone has ups and downs; resolve to recover from your mistakes and get back on track.
Even if you manage to hit half of a New Year’s resolution, you’ll still be doing better than if you proclaimed a grandiose goal at the start of the year and abandoned it after your first setback.