New Year’s Eve is a special time for many people, full of promise, hope, and reflection. The week after, however, can be disproportionately crushing, especially for people who are already prone to depression and anxiety. The tendency that best describes what a lot of people experience after the calendar turns is black-and-white thinking.
When applied to resolutions and goals, black-and-white thinking means viewing all progress in terms of either success or failure. Realistically, though, as long as you’re out there trying to do something positive, you are making progress. Even if you resolve to learn a new language this year and you don’t learn that language, it would be an untrue statement to say, “I accomplished nothing in trying to learn a new language.” A more positive way to frame the experience that is just as accurate, if not more so, is, “I didn’t learn a new language, but I learned something new about setting reasonable goals for myself.”
To some, this may sound like a cop-out. It may sound like I am suggesting that ambitious goals are a waste of time and energy, but I am not suggesting that at all.
Ambitious goals challenge us to go beyond what we see as possible. These goals are a way to test our limits and push them, and they may lead to personal growth as a result. Setting a high bar for yourself can be wonderful. It’s the way you measure progress and view the results that can be problematic.
Here are five tips to make your goals and resolutions for the year ahead work better for you:
- Everything you learn and experience is information. Start with this neutral stance, and process the information as you go. Focus on what you have learned and how that fits into your life rather than just on the distance between yourself and your goal.
- Instead of comparing yourself to other people, join others in celebrating their achievements and be quick to offer support. If you focus your attention and energy on positive activities, it may be easier to sustain your motivation.
- Clearly articulate exactly what you want to achieve. It isn’t always possible to break every goal into something that can be easily measured, but if a goal is too general, it’s possible you might achieve it without realizing. It’s also possible you might get what you want and realize you don’t want it. A perfect example is the resolution to fall in love in the new year. (Yes, that is something some people resolve to do.) The full resolution here often is, “I am going to fall in love with the person I want to spend the rest of my life with, and that person will feel the same way about me.” This distinction may seem silly, but it is worth asking yourself if you would approach both resolutions the same way.
- Write down estimated timelines for your major goals. Good candidates for this are goals such as opening your own business, buying a house, getting promoted to a certain position, or getting a job at a certain company. Developing a timeline does several important things: you make a commitment to yourself to pursue that goal; you acknowledge that it is not a task you can accomplish in 20 minutes or less, but rather one that will be completed in stages over time; and you create a framework for establishing benchmarks for your progress.
- Celebrate ALL of your achievements. Even if you object to the idea of everyone getting a trophy for participation, it is important to recognize and celebrate all of your achievements. I am not suggesting that you throw a party every time you get up and go to work even though you don’t like your boss and it’s snowing outside. However, if you do that, and it’s difficult for you, be sure to do something nice for yourself because yes, you deserve it. Make a list of positive ways you can reward yourself for progress, and establish healthy rituals that make you feel rewarded. (I wouldn’t be a good therapist if I didn’t include the reminder that food- and shopping-based rewards are best avoided.) One easy and healthy way to celebrate accomplishments is to tell a friend. If you are a checklist person, even checking something off can be a thrill. For extra-special check marks, break out a colorful pen or use a sticker.
If you want or need help framing your goals and resolutions in a healthier way, contact a licensed therapist.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.