It’s a popular tradition to setat the beginning of the year. But since 2020 was a year like any other, do resolutions even deserve a place on your to-do list? Many people sit down in the name of good health or kicking some vice that seems harmless. But after a year, when everything was turned upside down and uncertainty is the theme, is it time to finally scrap the resolutions for something more useful?
Dr. Sophie Lazarus, a psychologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, thinks so. According to Dr. Lazarus, the last thing we need to do after a difficult year is to put more pressure on ourselves or set a goal that may not be realistic during a global.
The problem with New Year’s resolutions
There is nothing inherently bad about setting a New Year’s resolution. Where things can get problematic is when you do it from a place of pressure or obligation – when you feel like you need to set a New Year’s resolution to jump on the cart like everyone else.
“It’s probably more helpful to look at what’s going on in our lives – and especially given everything that’s been asked of us and all the adjustments we’ve made in 2020 – if it’s really a good time to make a change,” says Dr. Lazarus.
If you decide it is a good idea to make some change, Dr. Lazarus suggests evaluating how big the change is and whether that kind of change is reasonable and realistic at the moment. “What we don’t want is to set a very big, overwhelming kind of goal and resolution and fail to achieve it and feel more stressed and discouraged,” she says.
Dr. Lazarus also says that people rarely stick to New Year’s resolutions, even in a normal year. “And this is a very difficult year where we don’t really want to prepare ourselves for that kind of disappointment and stress that makes it even more difficult to deal with it,” she says.
The stress and disappointment we sometimes put on ourselves can be counterproductive. “We sometimes think it will help us get more done or be more productive, or make this change that we really want to make. I think it tends to just cause more stress and make things worse “, says Dr. Lazarus.
“See if you can be a little bit gentler on yourself, or give yourself the same kind of grace you could give to someone you really love or care about who is in a similarly difficult situation,” she says.
What should you do (if anything)?
If there was ever a year to give yourself a break, it is this year. But if you’re itchy to make some change or get into a “fresh start” mindset in the New Year, Dr. Lazarus suggests starting small.
“What might be more productive is to be more aware of what we do and how it continuously affects us so that we can make adjustments in our lives to evolve towards what we really care about,” she says. She encourages people to think in small incremental terms rather than big changes.
If you’d normally set a massive resolution to stop eating junk food, say, in 2021, make that change a bit smaller. You could think about how much junk food you eat daily, and instead of quitting cold turkey, try limiting it to enjoying your favorite meal once a day or once a week, no matter how healthy it is.
Finally, consider why this small adjustment will improve your life. Do you know that making this change can help you feel better or happier every day? Or are you doing it because you think you “should” do it?
Rather than trying to focus on bad habits or fix what’s wrong in your life, Dr. Lazarus suggests focusing on mindfulness and awareness, and letting go of some of the self-criticism. “So often in these times of stress, we tend to really focus on what is wrong and what is unknown and what to worry about,” she says. “But there are ways we can try to change our perspective and even just be more observant, aware and grateful for things that are going well or that are stable.”
One way to do this is to incorporate a mindfulness routine or ritual into your life. It doesn’t have to be complicated or complicated, but if you need help figuring out where to start, meditation apps provide helpful mindfulness tools, exercises, and guided meditations.
“I really think I’m trying to be more aware in general or engage in an exercise like mindfulness that helps us gain perspective on a more regular basis [is helpful]”says Dr. Lazarus.
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care practitioner if you have any questions about a medical condition or health goals.