The pressure to “change for the better” can exacerbate anxiety, depression, and feelings of inadequacy, turning the pursuit of goals into a source of stress. So, how can we navigate this landscape, embracing the potential of the new year while prioritizing our mental well-being?

sticking to her new years resolutions for 2024

Studies have shown that individuals experiencing depression or anxiety often struggle with setting and achieving goals (Novum Psychiatry, 2021). Cognitive biases like negative self-beliefs and future discounting (valuing present rewards over future benefits) can impede motivation and persistence (Read this article: The Future and the Will: Planning requires self-control, and ego depletion leads to planning aversion – Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, May 2018).

Recognizing this link is crucial, as it allows us to approach resolutions with compassion, not condemnation.

Recognising the influence of cognitive biases on motivation and persistence is crucial for approaching resolutions with compassion rather than condemnation. Negative self-beliefs and future discounting, as explored in the article The Future and the Will: Planning requires self-control, and ego depletion leads to planning aversion (Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, May 2018), can impede our ability to stay motivated. By understanding this, we can adopt a flexible mindset and avoid rigidly adhering to resolutions. Being open to adjustments and allowing room for growth increases the likelihood of successful goal attainment.

Instead of framing resolutions as rigid mandates, consider them as flexible aspirations (Forbes, 2023 article: How To Focus On Progress Not Results To Prevent Stress And Burnout). Prioritise the journey of small, consistent steps towards your desired outcome, celebrating effort and resilience along the way. This approach aligns with a recent study by Hagger and Chatzisarantis (2022), which found that focusing on process-based goals improved well-being and goal attainment, especially for individuals struggling with mental health challenges.

Next, let’s address the elephant’s friend: the “all-or-nothing” fallacy. This cognitive distortion whispers that anything less than perfect adherence to your resolutions is a failure. This not only fosters frustration and self-criticism but also disregards the reality of setbacks and unexpected life events. Remember, progress is rarely linear; expect bumps in the road. When they come, practice self-compassion: embrace missteps as learning opportunities and remind yourself that even the sturdiest oak tree bends in the wind without breaking.

Now, let’s equip ourselves with some tools for the journey. Here are some psychologically-informed strategies to keep your head up and your resolutions alive:

SMARTen up your goals

Make them Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (Locke & Latham, 2002). Instead of a vague “be healthier,” consider “walk for 30 minutes three times a week.” This adds structure and clarity, boosting motivation and tracking progress.

Start small and scale up

Aim for incremental, doable steps. Building confidence through micro-achievements fuels motivation for taking on bigger challenges later. Celebrate each step, no matter how small, to reinforce positive behavior.

Buddy up, or go solo

Find an accountability partner who shares your goals, or choose to embark on this journey solo. Respect your preferences and find the support system that works best for you.

Prioritize self-care

Your mental well-being is the foundation for achieving anything. Prioritize activities that nurture your mind and body, like mindfulness practices, exercise, or spending time in nature. Studies have shown that self-care enhances both mood and goal-directed behavior (Dunn et al., 2010).

Seek professional help

If you find yourself overwhelmed by negative self-talk or struggling to manage your mental health, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. A therapist can equip you with coping strategies and support your journey towards personal growth.

Remember, the new year is not about drastic transformations overnight. It’s about nurturing progress, prioritizing well-being, and celebrating the unique journey that is yours. Take a deep breath, embrace the imperfections, and embark on your resolutions with self-compassion and joy. After all, a new year isn’t just about sticking to goals; it’s about rediscovering the strength and resilience within yourself.

Edwin Lynch

Lecturer and tutor for School of Arts & Humanities and Research Assistant for the School of Medicine and Health Sciences at Edith Cowan University.


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