So it is a new year, new you right, the resolutions are on the board, in your phone, on the calendar with newly purchased stationary or apps! January 1st of every year, countless humans across the globe sit in reflection of the year that was and look to the clean slate with hopeful optimism. This is the moment the resolutions are born and begun with vigour and enthusiasm.
I don’t know about others, but I am always curious about traditions that have lasted centuries. According to Roman mythology the history of New Year’s resolutions dates all the way back to 153 B.C. where the month of January was originally named after Janus, a mythical god of early Rome. He was said to have had two faces one that looked forward, and the other backwards. Thus the looking back into the past and forward to the future. (Wonderopolis.org.2017)
But why do New Year’s resolutions often fail after a short period of time and become a distant memory before February is in full swing? Professor Timothy Pychyl states “resolutions are a form of motivation, but the reason for such a high failure rate is that people aren’t actually ready to change habitually bad habits and the goal is simply unrealistic.” (Polar Org; Pychyl, T.A. 2017)
To achieve a goal, we need to have developed and “nailed” the habit that will play a vital part in helping you across the finish line in the first place. HABITS are the key to success, they can be the boring, “eye roll” and often these footprints of consistency seem to be the “ugly cousin” of goals. But truthfully without them: goals = February arrives and nothing has changed!
So what are the best ways to form a habit?
Pick a small action a “to do”, break it down i.e.: “Spending more time with family” is not small. Instead choose ” I will not look at my work phone or computer in the evenings until the kids are in bed”
Attach the new action to a previous habit, one that is already established in your life. For example, when I am in a work meeting my phone is on DND/Silent, I respond when I am available. Therefore, I can engage the same process during weeknights between 6pm-9pm in family time.
The habit has to be easy and doable, it commonly takes 21 days to create a new one so make sure you are setting yourself up for success in those first few weeks. Pick two nights a week to begin with, and increase it incrementally.
The New Year doesn’t have to bring about new goals. Why not build on what you have already started, and smash it?
Unsurprisingly, the most common and recurring themes for most are to exercise, lose weight and eat healthier. A good healthy goal after all, physical health is imperative to doing life well.
However, this goal only brings focus to one third of the trifecta! What about mental and emotional health goals? Are they even important, and what could they be?
Emotional health is an important part of overall health. It is probably not surprising coming from a Counsellor that I highly value this. It is simple. People who are emotionally healthy are in control and aware of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours which increases personal accountability for all things wellbeing.
Common words and conversations I hear in the counselling room that affect and effect the wellbeing of emotional health in people’s lives include the following:
Guilt is a wasted emotion: after all, we can’t change the past, only the future. Sometimes we are forced to choose and make decisions that have an outcome that includes pain for yourself and others. It doesn’t mean it was the wrong one. Life brings with it the light and dark, highs and lows and difficult conversations and choices. Sometimes we need to be brave and courageous for our health, but guilt holds no place in that.
When you think you ‘should’ do something, it probably means you don’t want to do it at all but feel pressured because it is what is expected. It is so important to be aligned with your own core values and beliefs so when the big SHOULD raises its head you are able to say yes or no confidently.
Collectively, hindsight is a powerful experience “I should have done xyz” is a common conversation. Who one doesn’t live with a list long of regrets? It’s a common human emotion, make sure you don’t hold yourself to ransom over yours; it serves no purpose. If you could have done that “SHOULD “, you would have, for whatever reason – you were not able too.
Mental Health has great influence also of how we think, feel, and respond in daily behaviour. The state of mental health is known to directly affect the ability to cope with stress, overcome challenges, build relationships, and recover from life’s curve balls.
We have all done it before; pushed ourselves to do something we didn’t want to, or said, “I’m fine” when in actual fact, we were far from that place. Being honest and authentic about what you say and do is incredibly important for your mental health. Don’t remain out of sync become congruent from the inside out.
The ability to set realistic goals depends largely on having hope. But how do you find hope when your life has had a series of disappointment, failures, loss, and potential judgment due to misunderstanding of your mental health challenges?
A far better approach to mental health “goals” is to identify interests, desires or aspirations. A purpose. Every human being on the planet requires and desires purpose, even without knowing it! What interests you, what have you always wanted to do, what awakens you or helps you jump out of bed in the morning? Dare to dream, its one of life’s greatest weapons especially in the face of building a healthy mental state.
From a biological perspective, finding meaning and purpose is essential to brain health as it can help generate new cells and create new neural pathways in the brain. It also is known to strengthen the immune system, relieve pain and stress, and keep people motivated in the pursuit of overall health and wellbeing.
So the moral to the story of setting goals, challenges, intentions or planning for what the year of 2018 might hold is: go slow, run our own race, plan, focus on every part of your “human being” less is best, and do something every day of every week of every month and the chances are, this time next year you will look back and be so glad you did.