Creating Realistic New Year’s Resolutions to Better Support Mental Health and Recovery
New Year’s resolutions fail for many people for a variety of reasons. One crucial factor is that they are too often unrealistic. They may also be based on external factors, like money or appearance. Resolutions and goals that focus on internal motivation and the process of change are much more realistic and achievable. A focus on mental health and wellness is a great place to start.
There’s something very appealing about the New Year and making resolutions. The feel of a fresh start is empowering. Unfortunately for so many of us, the goals set now tend to fizzle out within weeks or even less. If you want to improve your mental health or support recovery, set realistic goals that focus on the process of change rather than an unachievable outcome.
The Problem With New Year’s Resolutions
Setting good intentions for the coming year is an excellent idea in theory. In practice, unfortunately, it doesn’t work out well for most people. According to a study of New Year’s resolutions:
- Nearly 25% of people have failed by the end of the first week.
- Only 55% are still working on their goals after a month.
- Just 19% of people had succeeded when researchers checked in with them two years later.
Other studies indicate that between one-third and one-half of people set resolutions each year. Some of the most common resolutions include paying down debt or saving money, eating a healthier diet, losing weight, and exercising more.
This list of popular resolutions illustrates one of the significant problems with achieving them: they are focused on external factors rather than internal well-being. Instead of trying to hit a number on the scale, it’s better to focus on how good it feels to work out more and get fitter.
There are many other problems with how people set and approach resolutions and reasons that they mostly fail to achieve them:
- Negative thinking. Studies show that focusing on the negative aspect of making a behavioral change sabotages it. Most people emphasize something negative, like being overweight or unfit.
- Punishment. Punishing yourself for failing to meet goals is counterproductive, but many people do it.
- Unrealistic expectations. This is a big one that tends to sabotage people before they even get started. If you set an unrealistic goal, you set yourself up for failure.
- Vague goals. Another problem, which usually goes hand-in-hand with unrealistic expectations, is not being specific enough. A desire to lose weight is far too ambiguous. Having a specific measure to meet, such as ten pounds lost, is more realistic.
- Focusing on the goal instead of the process. This is especially important for wellness and mental health goals. Making lasting, positive change is a process, never a quick fix.
If you can set more realistic, focused goals, New Year’s resolutions can be positive and beneficial for your mental health.
What Is a Realistic Resolution?
To improve mental health and support recovery, you must have realistic, achievable goals. To say you’ll feel less depressed next year is unrealistic. A realistic goal or resolution has several components:
- Specificity. A realistic goal should be specific. Instead of aiming to feel less anxious in the coming year, focus on particular strategies. For instance, you might have a goal to eliminate specific stressors in your life.
- Measurement. This can be a little tougher when it comes to mental health compared to measuring weight loss. However, it is possible to add in some concrete, measurable factors. Your resolution may be to reduce the number of panic attacks you have per month or stick to a specific amount of alcohol if you want to moderate intake.
- Achievability. This is at the heart of a realistic goal. If it isn’t achievable, you have already failed. You cannot expect to set a goal to cure your depression for good. A more achievable resolution is to stick with therapy or manage depressive episodes in a specific way.
- Relevance. Successful resolutions are meaningful to the person setting them. This should be about you, your life, and your happiness. Don’t try to set goals based on other people’s or society’s expectations.
- A time limit. A time limit helps you achieve goals because it forces you to act. If there is never a time limit, you never have to start working toward a goal. Be realistic about the time it will take to achieve a goal, however. If it is unrealistic, you’ll fail.
Another factor that makes resolutions more reasonable is taking them stepwise. Set one large, overarching resolution, but then break it up into smaller, achievable goals.
For example, your resolution may be to improve negative self-talk. Break this down into smaller goals, like saying one nice thing to yourself every day or recognizing and changing one negative self-thought per day.
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Ideas for Resolutions to Support Mental Health and Recovery
Focusing on mental health and recovery for New Year’s resolutions is a great way to improve overall wellness. Unlike goals related to money or weight loss, mental health goals are about the process of change. They are internally focused and based on intrinsic motivation. All of this helps set you up for success.
Even so, it’s possible to make the same mistakes when setting mental health goals as you would with a fitness or diet goal. Make your resolutions realistic and focus on the process of change, not on the result. Here are some ideas to get you started.
The active practice of gratitude is proven to make you happier. It helps you focus more on the positive things in your life and trains you to turn away from negative thoughts and self-talk. It can also help you stop ruminating and recognize positive things outside of yourself.
Practicing gratitude is excellent for mental health, and it’s easy to turn into a realistic resolution. Concrete goals for cultivating gratitude include keeping a daily journal to list the good things in your life, meditating each night on what you’re grateful for, and taking time to thank people in your life.
Another straightforward goal also great for mental health is to forgive people in your life. Forgiveness is too often overlooked as essential for wellness. You may avoid forgiving someone because of hurt feelings or because you don’t want to be seen as a pushover.
Forgiveness is good for the person doing the forgiving. It’s for you, not the person who hurt you. By forgiving, you let go of anger and resentment. It has proven health benefits, including better relationships, less anxiety, reduced stress, reduced depression, and improved heart health and immune function.
Everyone engages in self-talk, but some people are harder on themselves than others. Changing negative thoughts is a process, which makes it perfect for embracing as a New Year’s resolution.
Set several small goals to work toward a consistent habit of kinder, more positive self-talk. Start with recognizing your negative thoughts. Practice catching yourself having an unkind thought about yourself and write it down. Once you have greater awareness, work on goals to actively transform those thoughts into something more compassionate and productive.
Social media has come to dominate our lives in many ways. While it can be positive, for example, allowing you to connect with supportive people, it can also damage mental health. Too much time online can make you feel inadequate compared to other people, fear missing out on experiences, feel isolated, and increase depression and anxiety.
Taking breaks from social media can easily be made into a realistic, measurable goal. Set limits on your time spent on these sites, starting small if necessary and increasing break times and frequencies.
A strong and supportive social network is a huge protective factor for mental health and recovery. Any goals you can set that will build and strengthen positive relationships will help you improve mental health, cope with mental illness, and avoid relapse if you are in recovery.
Social goals are easy to make attainable. For instance, a simple goal could be to call a family member once a week for a chat. Another idea is to increase your social gatherings by one per month. You may also consider joining a support group for mental illness or addiction.
Mental health has long been stigmatized and ignored as requiring as much professional attention as physical health. Many people still hesitate to reach out for treatment, therapy, and other professional mental health support forms.
You don’t need to have a diagnosis of a mental illness to benefit from treatment. If you do, a resolution to start or increase treatment is realistic, achievable, and supportive of good mental health. Depending on your needs, you may want to set a resolution to start therapy or even stay in residential treatment for some time.
This New Year’s Eve is an excellent opportunity to prioritize your mental health with favorable resolutions. Just be sure they are realistic and that you embrace the process of change to create lasting new habits.