Whether or not we truly believed 2021 would begin better than 2020 ended, it’s hard not to romanticise the notion of a fresh start. But in a time of global crisis, what feels like an endless loop of bad news and declining mental health for an increasing portion of the population, it’s no surprise we look to the New Year as a clean slate; one we can fill with new goals, aspirations and stepping stones to the dream version of our lives we’ve no doubt seen on Instagram.
But is the New Year realistically the right time to set these goals? And if it is, why more often than not, do we fall so short in fulfilling our resolutions?
“It’s interesting that research shows most people will not keep up their New Year’s resolutions past the end of January,” says Noosha Anzab, a clinical psychotherapist and psychologist at Lysn*. “This alone shows that this type of goal setting could be setting someone up to fail. Particularly so, for someone that has mental health issues or who suffers from low self-esteem,” she explains.
But while the likelihood of success partly has to do with an individual’s personality type it also has to do with the type of goals being set. “For some people, resolutions are particularly motivating and can drive [them] to succeed…for others, [resolutions] can [exacerbate feelings of] disappointment or failure,” Anzad explains. For the latter kind of person, be extra cautious when it comes to setting far reaching goals, particularly post the disaster that was 2020.
“Setting goals that you can’t or simply won’t achieve because they’re too audacious is going to make you want to give up altogether…[this kind of failure] can have a negative impact on self-esteem, convincing you that you’re incapable of achieving things and preventing you from moving forward,” says Anzad. After a year that saw disappointment after disappointment, Anzad cautions against setting goals that rely on components out of your control. “Be mindful that with the current circumstances there are a lot of things out of our control, so you’ll want to avoid goals that might be hindered by the state of the world. The goal of overseas is a great example of this — it’s out of our control right now to say if and when we might be able to travel overseas again, so instead stick to more achievable things like local or interstate travel.”
A productive area of focus for 2021? Mindfulness. “2020 was a particularly tough year, so it is important to give yourself a break from time to time and focus on a bit of self love. Mindfulness is a great place to start [in maintaining or improving] your mental health — practicing activities like meditation, yoga, breathing techniques or journaling are all great ways to get aligned, reduce stress and feel centred again.”
When it comes to setting the rest of your goals, “you may have heard of the acronym SMART,” Anzad says —by ensuring your goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound, you will by default, ensure they are actually feasible. “Another great way to maintain your goals is by setting rewards for yourself when you achieve them. Goals are typically only motivating if the person receives positive rewards and feedback from reaching them. Therefore, ensure that you give yourself something in return for the hard work,” she says. Also be mindful of the way you fuel your body and how this can affect your emotional wellbeing,” Anzad says, noting nutrition and overall health plays a big role in the maintaining mental health. Implementing small practices to work towards this, like taking time each day to exercise will make a difference, “even if it is a bit of yoga on your bedroom floor.”
As for the role of social media: “there is often a negative stigma surrounding social media and that’s rightly so…most of the time.” However, Anzad explains when it comes to goal setting, it can actually be a really useful tool. “An example of this can be fitness goals — you may notice your favourite influencer doing a routine that feels achievable for you, and that could be the motivation you need to get off the couch and exercise. Or there could be profiles that teach you practical insights and life tips— for example, money saving hacks,” she says.
Despite so much negativity surrounding the over consumption of media in general, but specifically social media, it can surprisingly be “helpful when it comes to goal setting, providing a platform for inspiration and motivation”. It’s a balancing act though, “[it does] become dangerous when we start to compare or feel bad about ourselves,” she says. “If you’re finding that it is making you feel disappointed in yourself or envious of others, it might be time to give social media a break and focus on what you can do on your own.”
So, in the spirit of New Year’s resolutions: here’s to perhaps drinking a little less during the week, finding the social media balance we didn’t manage to in 2020 and meditating our way through 2021.
*Lysn a digital mental health company with world class wellbeing technology which helps people find their best-fit professional psychologist whilst being able to access online tools to improve their mental health.