I could write a dramatic account of fireworks blazing through the sky, cheers and the champagne glasses of my friends colliding as the clock strikes midnight. However, a much more realistic New Year’s Eve scenario in the life of Maria is one in which the protagonist is laying in bed, not wanting to miss the onset of 2018, while longing for the magical hour when it is (more or less) socially acceptable to go to sleep on that particular night.
Regardless of how you wish to enter 2018, the start of a new year is always monumental. On the first of January, we awaken feeling the same, but fundamentally altered at the same time. It is enshrined in our society as a turning point, as the sort of fresh start a new week or month are incapable of delivering, a blank canvas from which we, as humanity, can work to create a better joint experience for us all. The previous year’s misfortunes are left behind and we hope the upcoming twelve months will feature more ups than downs. Of course, this is often subverted as time as merely a social construct and a shift from one year to the next will not in itself stop bad things from happening, but my point is that New Years Eve holds immense symbolic value in all of our minds.
Undoubtedly, many of us have been writing down New Year’s resolutions over the last few weeks – a process which will intensify now that the pressures of Christmas are over. Me personally? Yes and no. There are certain personal things I wish to work on in the upcoming year (concerning, for the most part, my emotional wellbeing and habits) that I’ve been procrastinating on because I know I will have to fundamentally alter my mindset to tackle them. However, many of my goals are very ‘long term’ and my individual preference is reiterating them whenever the need arises, as opposed to waiting for a new year, and setting shorter term objectives on a monthly, weekly and daily basis. In addition to that, 2018 is the year I officially start university, meaning that as my life undergoes an upheaval so will the nature of the things I wish to achieve.
While I have never been a ‘New Year’s resolutions’ person to the same extent as many others, I understand that it can be an important habit, hence I wanted to write down not only a list of pros and cons of setting new challenges for an upcoming year, but also a guide on how to set them in such a way that the former outweigh the latter.
The pros of New Year’s resolutions
A new year may be the best time to have a fresh start:
If you’ve been going through a particularly tough or stagnant period in your life, a new year can be an incredibly powerful way to start again, leave your inhibitions behind and think about where you want to take your life, instead of letting it take you to uncertain destinations. If you are fundamentally dissatisfied with where you are, setting a resolution for the end of the year may help you gain a clear vision of the course you wish to pursue to reach a better place.
The spirit of solidarity in which New Year’s resolutions are set:
As mentioned before, New Year’s Eve, and everything it symbolises, has an enormous cultural dimension. With the advent of social media, we are increasingly aware of the way in which everyone is in the same boat: we can jointly acknowledge that we want to improve ourselves over the upcoming twelve months, and can coalesce around our shared struggles of falling short of the expectations we set for ourselves. If we set aside the marketing tactics that try to pray of this mutual vulnerability (yes, I am looking at you, the ‘get your summer bod in thirty days’ detox juice company), laying down your vision at the start of January may feel less like a solitary journey and more like a mutual adventure.
You enter the pursuit of your goals with an enormous amount of momentum
The above points combine to give you that extra emotional push that may not be there when you are going through the motions of setting goals at random points throughout the year. Now, as we will see later, this can turn into a negative, but I think we can all acknowledge that we feel much more motivated to make changes whenever December enters its final stages.
It helps you establish a time scale
Creating big visions and objectives for yourself is not the hardest part: figuring out just how timely, or long-term, they may be is what most people tend to struggle with and endlessly trudge towards a goal that seems to move further and further away. However, setting a New Year’s resolution usually insinuates that you want to achieve a given thing by the end of that year, which allows you to pace yourself and create a much clearer plan.
The cons of New Year’s resolutions (aka why they often fail)
You procrastinate on goals you could have set much earlier
Sometimes, waiting for a new year is unnecessary, which is another reason for why I have never been big on setting resolutions. If what you are after will transform the quality of your life it is better to start as soon as you can, and use the energy arising from the start of another year to ‘refuel’ yourself and move in the right direction at a faster pace.
It is very easy to burn out
We hear this story all the time, especially in regard to fitness-related goals, which is one of the reasons why I hate those ten day miracle diets: not only are they dangerous for our health, but also unsustainable in the long run. If you make yourself too reliant on that temporary burst of motivation arising from the start of a new year, you are at the risk of doing too much too fast and a few months in, witness progress stagnate and lose sight of your core purpose. Overtime you may start to question why you started doing something in the first place: was it because it is of a genuine importance to you, or just to have a resolution like everyone else?
Enthusiasm can be a barrier to focus and realism
Not to get Realpolik-al with you all, but sometimes it is very easy to get swept up in the euphoria of New Year and lose sight of the realities of your life and frankly, what is possible within the domain of human existece. At other points throughout the year, people tend to take a much more sober approach to goal setting and planning. Why is excessive enthusiasm problematic? a) You may commit to something that is very unrealistic and b) in the heat of the moment, you may forget that a goal without a plan is just a dream. Both of these will lead to progress that is much slower than expected, and oftentimes an abandonment of the resolutions in their entirety.
So, how do we go about setting resolutions in such a way that maximises our chances of success?
(KEY POINT: each time you set a New Year’s resolution, ask yourself why and make your answer strong. Work towards goals which actually matter to you, or matter to the rest of humankind. Don’t commit to something just because it’s the New Year. There is no point in waking up early if you don’t know why those early hours are significant to you – are you more productive in the morning? Do you want quiet time to sit and meditate? Do you want to join a gym because you want to feel stronger, or improve your health, or merely because it’s ‘the thing’ to do in January? Sticking to new habits is much harder when your goals are either vague or superficial.)
1. Take some time to reflect on your year. What went well? What did you achieve? Where did you fall short, and what would you like to improve? Think about the things you wanted to do but perhaps didn’t accomplish, and for what reason. It’s very easy to dismiss an entire year as a ‘failure’ because that is almost what we are conditioned to do, but if you search hard enough you will undoubtedly find some positives, whether they are simple, like traveling to a new country, or major achievements buried under instinctive self-deprecation. Reflecting will give you a good starting point by ensuring that further resolutions are not pulled out of the blue.
2. Split your goals up into categories: this is your first step towards making them focused. ‘Happiness’ and ‘stability’ may be your overarching goals but these are made up of many different constituents and do not exist in isolation. While these will be different for everyone, some common categories may include: personal, spiritual, financial, family, relationships, social, mental health, intellectual, creative, business, health and fitness… And avoid picking too many, because chances are, only five or six at most are relevant to your life.
3. Find your preferred method of writing down those categories: on your computer, on your phone, in a notebook/bullet journal. I like to make large and messy mindmaps because they allow me to visualise what’s going on inside my head, and come up with new ideas along the way. Set 1-3 goals within each category, and make them as specific as possible. Instead of ‘be healthy’, say ‘ go to the gym three times a week’ or ‘have at least two homemade meals a day’. ‘Gain 50,000 subscribers’ is better than ‘grow my YouTube channel’, much like ‘read fifty books throughout the year’ gives you a clearer objective than simply ‘read more often’. Internal goals can be refined through setting a plan, as I will discuss below. Precision is key because it cements the scale of the task in your mind (but be sure to keep these flexible – who knows, you may fall in love with the gym and end up visiting five instead of three times on a weekly basis!)
4. Outline a rough plan of implementation for each resolution: what habits will you need to change? For more ambitious goals, what first steps do you need to take? Will you keep a diary to track your progress or share your resolutions with friends and family who will keep you accountable? Along the way, you will create ‘mini’ resolutions – for example, establishing a regular exercise habit may force you to wake up an hour earlier, or spend less time watching TV in the evening.
5. If there is something you would like to achieve by the end of the year (e.g., gain a particular amount of social media followers or get a business up and running), set smaller milestones along the way. If we continue with our YouTube example, ‘have 25,000 subscribers by August’ is the sort of thing I am talking about. Even if you would like to have achieved something way earlier than December, such as adopting a vegan diet, you can still create a rough timescale, such as ‘eliminate all meat and fish by the start of February’. This will not only prevent stagnation, but also shield you from feeling too overwhelmed to start because smaller goals are less daunting than sweeping resolutions.
6. Now, let’s address the issue of goals which cannot be quantified, like mental wellbeing and positive thinking. How can you check that you are making progress as intended?
- Think about definitions: for example, what do ‘happiness’ and ‘stability’ actually mean to you? What things can you see yourself doing upon overcoming your mental barriers? For example, one of my aims for this year is to stop overthinking absolutely everything. If I succeed, I can see myself trusting my intuition and accepting that mistakes are an inevitable part of life, regardless of how much rigour I invest in preventing them.
- Plan, plan plan: here, planning and exactness cannot be avoided if you wish to be successful. Think about which of your habits may inhibit progress, and either replace or pair them with more positive ones. These will fluctuate enormously depending on your goal, but could include things such as journaling for five minutes each evening, attending group support sessions or finding tricks to change negative thought patterns.
7. Think about whether your resolutions are achievable! Think about your circumstances and how these may change over the course of the next few months. Move at your own pace. It is much better to slowly switch to a vegan diet and stick with it for life than to go vegan overnight with inadequate research and preparation. It is much better to add another gym session to your weekly routine once every 2-3 weeks than to work out every day in the first week of January just to burn yourself out and leave your gym card to collect dust for the rest of the year. After you’d written down your resolutions, read over them once more after your initial enthusiasm had faded to ensure both their content and your plan of implementation are sustainable for you as a person.
TIP: I’ve mentioned that I like to create mindmaps when setting goals at any point throughout the year. These are an excellent way to let your thoughts roam and to get things written down before they escape your mind. However, after making the initial mindmap I will transfer its content into a digital document because a) I am not the most artistically competent person and have abysmal handwriting (sending the deepest of apologies to anyone that has ever had to mark my exams), and b) it allows me to check the precision/ practicality of my goals, refining them along the way. I’ve included a template of what such a document may look like below (with a couple of examples) – feel free to use a similar set up when writing out your own resolutions, but remember that ideal methods will vary depending on who you are as an individual.
As I near the end of this post, it’s temping for me to deliver a speech on the importance of hard work and faith in yourself. This is something we’ve all heard countless times. Hard work, however, is of little use when you don’t know exactly what you are working on, and that is why having a strong foundation of precise, achievable and meaningful New Year’s resolutions is indispensable if you wish to be successful in their fulfilment. Regardless of which camp you fall into – the people who see the New Year as an enlightened new beginning, or those who dismiss it as a social construct – I wish you all a 2018 worth remembering. Thank you for reading my blog and showing me more support than I could have anticipated when I first created my little corner of the internet.
I may publish another post this week, but if I do not, then I will see you all next year!
Lots of love, Maria ♡