Starting the year by considering your goals for the year ahead can be a positive way to focus on self-improvement. It’s tempting to want to make significant behavioral changes each January, especially since everyone around us is also vowing to make them.
But did you know that nearly 40% of Americans set New Year’s resolutions, but less than half of resolution setters stick with them for six months, and many quit by the first Friday in January?
New Year’s resolutions can fail for many reasons. We all start with the best of intentions, to lose weight, get healthy, improve our finances, make a career move or learn a new skill. But often our resolutions are not realistic or attainable because our expectations are too high, or making progress toward the goal takes too long.
We set ourselves up for failure and when this happens it can take a toll on our mental health, lowering our self-esteem and triggering stress and anxiety.
So, how can you set goals and commit to making changes for 2024 in positive ways that promote good mental health? In short, be intentional and realistic in setting goals and priorities and then practice self-compassion and self-care as you work to attain them.
A popular goal-setting tool that can help avoid some of the mental health pitfalls of New Year’s resolutions, is called SMART Goals.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness outlines the principles of SMART Goals as follows:
- Specific: What do you wish to accomplish? Goals should consider its who, what, when, where, how and why.
Goal: I want to ruminate less.
Example: I will learn and practice mindfulness for 15 minutes a day.
- Measurable: The goal is something that can be monitored for progress.
Goal: I need to spend more quality time with my husband.
Example: I will go for a 15-minute walk with my husband each night for a month.
- Attainable: The goal cannot be too challenging.
Goal: I need to improve my diet.
Example: I will see a dietician for recommendations about a healthier diet
- Relevant: The goal is appropriate and beneficial for the individual and their needs.
Goal: I need to sleep less to be more functional during the day.
Example: I will speak to my doctor about a medication adjustment.
- Time-bound: A goal should have clear time limits that are realistic.
Goal: I would like to spend more time with my family.
Example: I will attend one family dinner this week.
Self-Care is Key
As you set goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound, we urge you to take time for self-compassion and self-care:
- Get enough sleep and exercise.
- Make eating healthy a priority.
- Spend time outside (when it’s not too cold!)
- Establish some self-care practices and routines like meditation, prayer, mindfulness and breathing exercises.
- Spend time with friends and loved ones.
- Limit screen time.
- Take a break and be willing to say “No.”
- Journal or talk to someone about your feelings or worries.
Finally, be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to have feelings and forgive yourself for mistakes. Be patient with yourself and accept that it’s okay not to achieve every goal you set for yourself. Happy New Year!