New Year’s resolutions are an important reminder of our goals and help us reflect on what we personally consider to be a meaningful life. Popular resolutions are quitting unhealthy habits and spending more time with family and friends. But why can your well-intended resolutions quickly turn into yet another trigger for anxiety and depression? The truth is that while most of us strive for self-improvement, change itself is actually anxiety-inducing. So if you quickly feel discouraged after setting resolutions you are not alone. According to Statista, 80% of resolutions fail by February. From a psychological perspective, however, failing to achieve our resolutions can increase self-doubt and decrease our sense of control.
Have you tried growing your business, changing your diet, or meeting your future partner for a long time without achieving the desired outcome? Do you believe you just need to try harder? Then you’re likely to set yourself up for more disappointment in 2020. There are three well-known problems with New Year’s resolutions:
They’re not specific enough. For example, let’s assume you want to lose weight next year. But how muchweight? How are you going to achieve weight loss? When and how are you going to train? By being as specific as possible, you can boost your chances of success.
You’ve got too many resolutions. If your resolutions look like a shopping list for a Christmas dinner, you’re more likely to fail. Too many different goals are difficult to achieve, even for the most superhuman of us.
Your resolutions are formulated in a negative tone. If you’ve been trying hard to achieve your goals for many years, they may be accompanied by negative thoughts. This increases your risk of becoming more stuck and depressed. Let’s try differently instead of harder. In other words: adapt.
I want you to consider the following three goals that will reduce anxiety and help you turn your resolutions into reality in 2020.
1- Accept who you are right now.
Self-improvement doesn’t happen from a place of lack and self-doubt. Do you feel as if nobody believes in you? That’s because you don’t believe in yourself. There is not a single perfect human out there. Attaching shame and guilt to our actions leads to a self-perpetuating down-spiral of negative emotions that will impede your ability to change. Instead, embrace who you are right now in this moment: anxious and depressed, and truly worthy of self-love. Acknowledge your flaws as the unhealthy thoughts and behaviors that they are, but don’t identify with them. For further reading about the link between shame and anxiety I recommend Peter Breggin’s book Guilt, Shame, and Anxiety: Understanding and Overcoming Negative Emotions.
2- Count your blessings.
What are you hoping to achieve and why? Are you realistic about how this change will impact your life? Do you believe that change will bring you infinite joy and satisfaction? If you attach tremendous significance to any one aspect of your life you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Alternatively, consider what is great about your life and start thinking about ways to enhance your experience from that perspective. Exercising gratitude has shown to be one of the most important contributors to life satisfaction. Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, at the University of California investigates why some people are happier than others. Her research consistently shows that making a conscious effort to remain positive increases the experience of joy and happiness throughout life. Gratitude will be your starting point for self-improvement. In my counseling practice, I usually see a turning point once clients are able to reflect on the positive even when facing significant challenges.
3- Live change as if it already happened.
This point has everything to do with the narrative you tell yourself. At some level, you believe in negative stories about yourself that are holding you back from achieving real change. Therefore, you need to replace the old depressing story with a more positive one first. If you wait for evidence that the old story is not true you are stuck in that negative narrative. You need to believe the new story about yourself first and the evidence will follow. For example, if you want to become more socially connected you have to believe that this is who you are. You are somebody who connects with others. No doubt. You attend social gatherings, networking events, and meetups because that is what socially connected people like you do. Then the evidence, in this case, social connections, will build. Be mindful of your language. Replace I will with I am and you are one step closer to your dreams coming true. No more excuses and looking around for others who stand in between you and your life’s purpose. There is nobody in this world who holds you back as much as the negative stories you hold on to. Let go of that story in 2020.
Let me know in the comments below if these goals are compatible with your 2020 resolutions!
If you are interested in learning how to reduce anxiety now by making three simple lifestyle changes, have a look at last week’s post “Three ways to reduce anxiety fast” or visit our Providence-based anxiety focus group.
Livia Freier, Ph.D., licensed psychologist at MindWell Psychology in Providence, RI. – author
Copywriting author Anne Freier, Anne Freier senior pharmaceutical scientist- Contributing editor