First published in the Dec. 29 print issue of the Pasadena Outlook.
By Annette Ermshar
Special to the Outlook
As we say goodbye to yet another calendar year, for most of us it was a year full of ups and downs, progress and setbacks, and achievements and failures.
And for many, the close of the year signals creating new resolutions for 2023, or the review of the New Year’s resolutions we set at the start of 2022. How have you fared in accomplishing the resolutions you set for yourself this past year?
Historically, the onset of New Year’s resolutions was said to have started with ancient Babylonians about 4,000 years ago. The Babylonians made promises to the gods to pay their debts in hopes of bestowing favor onto the person for the coming year.
In contrast, our current tradition is to make promises to ourselves that typically focus on self-improvement or new personal goals and aspirations. While the concept of New Year’s resolutions may be well-intentioned, they can feel overwhelming, defeating, and be somewhat cliché in the current climate of endless to-do lists, goal-setting trends, and rapid unexpected changes in our society. The fact that these resolutions are typically created on Jan. 1 is a rather arbitrary commitment to making a change. Instead, committing to making personal changes should be based on a thoughtful personal timeline, which may reduce resolution failure.
Additionally, psychological research on the concept called “social reality” suggests that when you tell someone your resolution, you are actually less likely to achieve your goal. This is because when you share your resolution with someone, the brain is essentially tricked into feeling as though the resolution was already completed, resulting in a sense of false satisfaction. In turn, the individual may feel less motivated to do the difficult work necessary to accomplish the resolution or goal.
Given that New Year’s resolutions are often forgotten about or can fail, perhaps we should rethink ways to motivate ourselves and set healthy goals throughout the year. First, there is a distinction between a resolution, or a set decision to do or not do something, versus a goal, which is the object or aim of a person’s ambition or effort toward a desired result or achievement. A goal can be established at any time, whereas a resolution is typically associated with the approaching new calendar year. Therefore, a goal is more flexible, adaptable, and suited to our individual needs and timeline.
Another barrier to resolutions has been that they are not always manageable or attainable, or we have not allocated a reasonable amount of time in order to achieve the resolution. In the spirit of embracing goal-setting, here are some alternatives to New Year’s resolutions that may be successful:
- Try monthly 30-day challenges that include more brief and focused goals;
- Create a jar full of strength-based words and draw a new word each month to focus on;
- Create a new phrase or prompt that can help bring focus to new goals such as “one habit to build/break this month is …”, “one person to see more is …”, or “one adventure to do is …”
- In lieu of setting a time limit, you can also practice gratitude exercises, use a vision board, create a list of things to look forward to like a new book, new restaurant or vacation, or choose one word to guide you through the year such as “serenity,” “simplify,” “action” or “excitement.”
From a mental health perspective, it is important to acknowledge what is in your control versus what is not within your control. Specifically, your beliefs, choices, actions, responses to others, and what you choose to focus on and spend your time on are all within your own control. In contrast, aspects such as the past, future, as well as others’ feelings, thoughts, beliefs and responses are not within your control. There are many themes of New Year’s resolutions that are arguably not fully within our control which includes things such as our health, well-being, relationships, work environment, and finances. While we can incorporate these themes into our resolutions and goals, remind yourself that they may not fully be within your control.
As we start a new year, we should ask ourselves, how do we want this year to be different? How can we experience more fulfillment and greater authenticity in our relationship with ourselves and with others? I suggest three simple and meaningful goals:
- Set healthy personal boundaries. When people give too much time and effort of themselves to others without self-nourishment and rest, it can lead to burnout, fatigue and resentment. We should be listening to our bodies, prioritizing self-care and self-acceptance, paying attention to rather than ignoring our feelings, and challenging negative self-talk instead of believing or embracing it.
- Love others. This means honoring others, building others, and supporting others, and avoiding the temptation to resort to mean-spiritedness. Kindness heals all.
- Act with integrity in all that you say and do. If you make a mistake, make amends and take a close look at yourself so you can avoid making that same mistake again. Be cognizant of your motives and intentions and remind yourself daily that everything you say and do is a reflection of your values and your heart. You are a beautiful person, so let that guide your legacy for 2023.
In closing, if these three goals serve as the foundation and scaffolding for our 2023 commitments, all of our other goals and resolutions should naturally be easier to attain.
May 2023 be a year of peace, joy, love, gratitude, kindness, and success for us all.
Annette Ermshar, CEO of Dr. Ermshar & Associates, is a clinical neuropsychologist and holds a Ph.D. Her Pasadena-based private practice focuses on psychological assessment and treatment, neuropsychology and forensic psychology, and she has served as an expert consultant for television and media.