Whether you start in January 2021 with a resolution or not, it can be a helpful time for reflection. This time of year I usually ask my clients to take some time to reflect on last year's insights and progress towards change. Insights are changes in understanding about oneself or the world. Insight can lead to significant internal change, which may not look like a significant external change, but still make a big difference in terms of well-being. The global pandemic has disrupted many day-to-day areas of our lives that were previously routine and normalized. This sudden change may be overwhelming but it can also create opportunities for reflection regarding those routines, in areas we may not have noticed before. While holding onto these nuggets of reflection can be challenging when stressed, these reflections can be used to enhance feelings of control, improve resiliency, and sometimes create growth opportunities.
Reflections about your own values and health can create more pathways to success than reflecting on what others (i.e. friends, family, social media, or society) think you should value or change. It's probably harder than you realize to tune out all the expectations of others. What is engaging or fulfilling for ME?
In addition to different values, not everyone has the same rhythm or energy for change. Maybe this is the best time to not create a goal. Or maybe you have to be really mindful of how you can gently implement the goal. What time of day or week am I most apt to work on this? What is significant about the times I did achieve my goals? What helps me maintain motivation? What helps me get through the unmotivated parts? What will be the tough parts for me? For instance, I like being creative and I like change so sticking to one program (exercise, health. hobby etc) indefinitely just won't work for me. Others may be the exact opposite, thriving on structure and routine may work for them.
Despite individual differences in change pathways, there are also some common foundations. One important, sometimes overlooked, area is focusing on the positive. Enhancing the positive is a great way to capitalize on strengths and carve out more resiliency. You may have noticed some of the things you changed because of COVID are really working better in your life. Maybe you’re realizing you don’t need to drive so much, or that being in nature is better than you thought, or maybe you don’t need to spend as much money on material things. Maybe you’re realizing that what is really important to you is friends, neighbours, nature, or reading, or something else that has meaning to you. Sometimes change means doing more of those valued things.
Setting reasonable expectations can also be a helpful start to both creating and maintaining change. As mentioned above, a realistic expectation is something that fits your values. A realistic expectation is also something that is obtained in reasonable steps. Setting goals for the entire year is too daunting for many and research suggests that most of us are unsuccessful by the end of the year, or even by the end of the week. Instead, focus on the next few months and break it down into successful, small steps. Being reasonable means that setting goals does not have to mean a complete change; instead, notice what is working and make small adjustments to curb some things that could work better. Cooking at home is a hobby I enjoy, but to be honest, my Zoom meeting mind and body is telling me to find some new recipes with supercharged nutrients. I need to find an inspirational cookbook and carve out regular time to get those fresh foods, which I think seems achievable to me.
We also know that positive self-talk works better than a self-attack. Talk nicely to yourself along the way. Be the coach who believes in you, who kindly supports you when you struggle, who will persist and help you find a few steps forward, and then support a few steps more. Turn to others who will be similarly supportive, positive, and express a strong belief in you. It’s also fine and quite normal to negotiate with yourself along the way. Reassess on a regular basis. Is this still working for me? Is this getting me closer to what I need?
If you do want to create specific changes, the research shows that making note of it somewhere, creating a reasonable structure of steps, and actively observing what is helping or getting in the way, will help with your progress. I notice that if I let go of the structure too much, I slide back into old patterns. Noticing what works for you will help a lot. Expect to keep monitoring (weekly? monthly?) to see if what you are doing is working.
Tapping into the things that matter to you, your motivational patterns, and supporting yourself with some structure and kindness are helpful paths to making 2021 a better year. The Together website has many useful additional links to positive psychology, motivational articles and videos, and self-care. There are also many local mental wellness providers who can help support and tailor goals with you. If you are needing support, please consider reaching out and allowing a mental wellness professional to enhance your well-being this 2021.