And, just like that, it’s 2023. In fact, it’s almost February. I’ve probably heard the phrase “this will be my year” uttered more times than I can count – all in the spirit of the annual “fresh-start effect”. Yep, the start of a New Year is exciting because it is brimming with possibilities, but with so many possibilities comes a not-so-welcome reminder than change is imminent and we cannot be certain about what the future holds.
Anxiety around New Year’s resolutions is a common phenomenon. Many of us feel pressure to set goals and make positive changes at the start of a new year, but this can also lead to feelings of stress and uncertainty.
One reason for the anxiety associated with New Year’s Resolutions is that many of us don’t set ourselves up for success with our goals. Research into New Year’s Resolution has consistently found that people with approach-orientated goals are significantly more likely to reach their goals than people with avoidance-orientated goals. Approach-oriented goals are motivated by mastery, competence, and self-improvement, while avoidance-orientated goals are motivated by a fear of failure or poor performance. So, put simply, if we aim to approach a positive objective rather than avoid something negative (e.g., a perceived short-coming), we’re more likely to be successful in our goal.
We may also set ourselves up for failure by setting unrealistic or unattainable goals. This is often because we set large-scale goals to achieve in a short period of time. If our plans fail to materialise, feelings of failure and inadequacy may be triggered. This can lead to feelings of hopelessness, disappointment, and low self-esteem. These feelings can be very unmotivating and difficult to overcome, which can make it even less likely for us to reach our goals.
Another factor that contributes to anxiety around New Year’s resolutions is the idea that the start of a new year is a clean slate or a fresh start. This can lead to feelings of guilt or regret for past mistakes and a sense of urgency to make up for them. The pressure to make significant changes in a short period of time can also be overwhelming for many of us, which can lead to procrastination and, ultimately, failure to achieve our goal. Failing to achieve our goal can trigger self-criticism, which can, in turn, exacerbate the negative feelings and leave us feeling worse than when we started!
It is important to remember that making positive changes in one’s life is a difficult process. It is continuous process and does not have to be tied to the start of a new year. Setting realistic and achievable goals and taking small steps towards them can help to reduce anxiety and increase the likelihood of success. It’s also important to remember to be kind to yourself, don’t put too much pressure on yourself and understand that change takes time. Here’s 11 tips for setting yourself up for success with your New Year’s resolutions:
Start small: Instead of trying to make big changes all at once, start with small, manageable steps that will lead to your ultimate goal.
Be specific: Instead of making a general resolution, such as “lose weight,” be specific about how much weight you want to lose and how you plan to do it.
Make a plan: Break your resolution down into smaller, actionable steps and create a plan with an end-date for achieving each step. This helps to ensure that your goal is attainable.
Be realistic: Be honest with yourself about what you can realistically achieve within a year.
Make it measurable: Define the outcomes that will be the evidence of your progress.
Track your progress: Keep track of your progress and celebrate small wins along the way.
Set rewards: Change is difficult, and rewards are motivating – keep yourself moving my rewarding yourself for your progress.
Be flexible: Life happens, and things don’t always go as planned. Be flexible and willing to adjust your plan as needed.
Practice self-compassion: Accept your failures and forgive yourself – you’re doing your best!
Be consistent: Avoid tempting situations and stick to your resolution – make it a daily or weekly habit.
Get support: Share your resolution with friends and family, and ask for their support and encouragement.
So, while setting New Year’s resolutions can be a positive way to make changes in one’s life, it is important to be aware of the potential for anxiety and to approach goal setting in a realistic and manageable way. The OCD Clinic can help you set, work toward, and manage anxiety around your goals.
Blog post written by Sally Youdale, Clinical Psychology Registrar at The OCD Clinic. If you have questions about psychological therapy please contact our intake team: firstname.lastname@example.org