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New Year's Resolutions Don't Work. Commit to Your Mental Health Habits Instead.

December 21, 2022

Every year an estimated 800,000 U.S. adults make New Year’s resolutions in the hopes of improving their lives and developing healthier habits.


Despite the popularity of New Year’s resolutions, they may not be the best use of your time and effort. For one thing, they are rarely effective. Studies suggest that 91 percent of New Year’s resolutions are not successful. For another, the pressure of sticking to these resolutions can cause heightened stress and anxiety levels. To make matters worse,  if you do fail to achieve your goal, you might experience feelings of shame and guilt. 


This year New Year’s, rather than making the regular resolutions, commit to your mental health instead. Here are four strategies for building and maintaining your mental health in the coming year. 

#1 Examine How You Approach Goals (Before Even Setting On!)

Even though New Year’s Resolutions are often unsuccessful and prone to cause stress and anxiety, goal setting is still critical to mental wellness. Everyone has goals they are trying to achieve regardless of whether they are setting New Year’s resolutions. Following through with them can help you feel more competent and resilient, which can have positive downstream effects on your mental health. 


The goals people set for their New Year’s resolutions fail for a variety of reasons. Fortunately, psychologists have identified general strategies for formulating goals in ways that help you achieve them. Victor Furtick, LCSW, an Austin-based therapist here at Heading Health, recommends the “SMART” technique.


I would encourage those seeking to make goal-setting more effective and less stressful to consider implementing  SMART goals–Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. 


Anit Kaur, Heading’s community outreach manager, echoes Victor’s remarks and suggests making short-term goals to make goal attainment more specific, achievable, and timely. 


I create short-term goals in all areas of my life and work on a plan to reach them. For me, it is more realistic than making a New Year’s resolution. Don’t pressure yourself to make a change overnight. Break it up into steps with monthly goals. 


By following these two goal-setting tips, you’ll have an easier time sticking to your mental health plans, which will help you stay committed to your mental wellness journey. 

#2 Remember, It’s Okay to Get Off Track (and Sometimes Beneficial)

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season can throw off your mental health strategies. Whether you’re too busy for your appointments or can’t find the time to implement your therapist’s recommended tips and tools, you may find that your mental health has taken a back seat to other priorities as the new year rolls around.


This is a perfectly normal reaction, and it’s important not to judge yourself if you’ve gone a little off course. “Guilt and shame will only serve to keep you from making progress,” shares Helena Hernandez, PA-C. “The key is to be mindful of whether your focus on your mental health has changed and to re-orient yourself if it has without judgment or self-criticism.” 


Throwing in the towel when the resolution doesn’t pan may not really be a failure after all.  As life shifts and grows, priorities change, and making space for flexibility if your desires or priorities shift too can be a very positive experience. 

#3 Focus on Supportive Relationships

After so many gatherings and get-togethers, you might be all socialized out. While the New Year’s festivities can deplete your social batteries, they can also serve as a reminder of who your close connections are and who you really enjoy spending time with. “Take stock of how you felt after your holiday and New Year’s gatherings.” Andrea Marquez, LCSW, tells Heading. “Make specific, actionable plans to spend more time with those who made you feel revitalized, valued, and uplifted.”


You may also want to make a note of who you weren’t really looking forward to seeing. You are not obligated to stay close to people who bring you down. If the holiday gatherings shed light on who isn’t supporting your mental well-being, you may want to adjust those relationships accordingly. 

#4 Overwhelming Yourself with Change Can Backfire

Mental health advice is often about adopting habits and dispositions that will make you happier and more resilient. For example, you may be told to practice mindfulness to learn how to deal with unpleasant emotions or do some cognitive behavioral therapy  (CBT) to rid yourself of negative thinking patterns. But going overboard with self-improvement can also leave you feeling exhausted and overly critical of yourself. 


Your journey to mental wellness will almost certainly require you to make some internal changes. However, it’s important to practice self-acceptance and to consider how your surroundings or routines could better support your happiness.  


New Year’s resolutions typically require people to think about what they want to change internally. But it can be equally important to look around and see what’s currently present in your life and also what you might want to bring in that fosters a sense of pleasure, calm, or ease. 


Switching the focus from constantly assuming something about you needs to change and instead acknowledging what’s working for you, what you love, and what you want to see more of can positively impact your life.


Consider whether there are small upgrades you could make to your environment or routine that would improve your mood, as opposed to ways you need to change internally. Whether it be adding some greenery to your apartment or embarking on a new career search, setting out to change your environment can be just as powerful a tool as working on yourself.


Above all, be kind to yourself as you make your way through your wellness journey.

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