Whew! Am I excited today! 2018 is going to be the year your New Year’s resolution becomes a reality: and the first step to making it so is to understand how to avoid burning out after January 1rst.
Failing Resolutions and the False Hope Syndrome
If you’ve struggled to accomplish New Year’s resolutions before, you may be a victim of “false hope syndrome.” The syndrome is characterized “by a person’s unrealistic expectations about the likely speed, amount, ease and consequences of changing their behaviour,”1 according to Mark Griffith, professor of Behavioural Addiction and director of the International Gaming Research from Nottingham Trent University.
In other words, your shining resolution fails when you overestimate how fast you can complete it.
But improving your self-control and pushing through toward your goal can get you there, right? Well, maybe not.
David DeSteno is a psychology professor at Northeastern University and author of the recent New York Times article “The Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions.” There, he states that self-control, while widely believed to be the essential tool to success, is potentially harmful and inefficient. Popular motivators to stricter self-control often result in higher stress and reduced health. (Don’t worry-we’ll get to his alternative method soon).
Similarly, some say willpower is essential to success. But just like self-control, willpower can be a double-edged sword.
During his time as contributor to Forbes’ Pharma & Healthcare in 2013.3, Dan Diamond, current author of POLITICO Pulse wrote, “You have as much willpower as you think you have…on some level, your journey toward self-improvement will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
He cites a piece by Chris Berdik from the Los Angeles Times (the only online reprint of which I can find is here, on the Portland Press Herald). Berdik references a 2010 study led by Veronika Job of Stanford University. In this study, researchers found that test subjects manipulated into believing willpower to be unlimited performed better than those encouraged to believe the opposite. These results were consistent related to tasks assigned within and outside of the lab.4
So while self-control and willpower can be powerful tools, it’s dangerous to, and let’s be real, seriously unfun to rely and force them to determine your success.
Here’s what you should try instead.
Stick around for a bonus worksheet at the end of this post!
Your resolution’s saving grace
So muscling through isn’t an option. What should you do instead?
Reset and rely on your social emotions, like gratitude and compassion, to positively drive your progress.
Why should you reset instead of setting a resolution, a resolve? The key difference here is in the connotation. A resolution infers buckling down, while a reset creates room for natural progression.
According to Carolyn Gregoire, senior writer at the Huffington Post, “With a reset, you commit to moderate, realistic goals and making small changes every day ― not just on Jan. 1.”5
Sounds great! So how do I improve my mental health?
Okay, so we’ve gone over the New Year’s goals (not resolutions!) basics. How do we apply this to actually achieving mental health in 2018?
I’m going to skip over deciding on your specific mental health goal, and go straight into how to approach achieving said goal. If you don’t have a specific goal in mind, here are a few to consider!
- Reducing negative thinking
- Making a relationship healthier
- Creating healthy boundaries
- Being kind to myself
As we’ve said, the first step is to gift yourself a reset in the New Year. This is particularly important in regards to mental health, and directly relates into using gratitude and compassion toward your goals.
1. Get out a notebook or fancy sheet of paper. Write, as many times as you need…
In 2018, I will be conscious of my mental health needs and wants. I will value these needs and wants, strive towards them, and love myself for any amount of progress I make. I know that being conscious of these needs and wants is progress in and of itself.
This step is important to create tangible proof of your belief in yourself. Feel free to edit this to fit your own voice and needs! Keep that notebook or sheet of paper and rewrite those sentences whenever you need to be reminded of your goal.
Wow, now for some event planning!
2. Take your specific goal and break it down into tangible steps you can take to achieving them. I’ll use the first goal example of reducing negative thinking here.
- (Throughout) attempt to think one positive thought after each negative
- Journal/log constant negative thoughts
- Consider any relationship between these thoughts-write them down
- Research the science behind negative thoughts
- Research the science behind stream of consciousness
- Research methods for altering thoughts
- Attempt method 1 (i.e. meditation)
- Attempt method 2 (i.e. picking up a hobby)
- Attempt method 3 (i.e. finding a therapist)
- Stick with methods that are promising
The goal here is to break your success down into smaller, bite-size steps that are achievable because they are approachable. No step is too small!
Reflect and Adjust
3. Finally, as often as you can stomach, (ideally once per day or week) tangibly reflect on the steps you’ve tried. PARTICULARLY since this concerns mental health, be sure to reflect on both how the step has or has not helped you get closer to your goal, and how the step itself has affected your mental health and well-being. Adjust accordingly. Do this in a journal or writing application.
Example here assumes I have taken this step for a few days at least.
- (Throughout) attempt to think one positive thought after each negative
1. How has your step/steps taken affected your long-term goal?
It’s hard to make myself have a positive thought after each negative one. I often forget to and feel silly when I do remember. I’m not sure if it will last in the long run.
2. How has attempting your step/steps affected your current mental health and well-being?
Well, like I said before, I’m not sure if it will last. But it feels good to try to be positive, so it’s helped my mental well-being a bit.
3. Will you change or edit your step? Why or why not?
I think I’ll edit my step to thinking 5 positive things, consciously, per day. This takes the pressure and disappointment out of times when I think negatively and don’t feel like thinking positively directly afterwards.
You got this.
Here are your tangible ways to approach any New Year’s goal AND improving your mental health in 2018.
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Know that compassion for yourself is the key to success in every aspect of life, and hey-hang in there.
Medical Disclaimer: This information does not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek advice from a qualified health provider concerning your medical condition and needs.
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