Let’s start with the bad news. If you chose Jan. 1, 2020, to be the start of your big year — the one where you get in shape, land a big job and turn your life around — you’re probably going to fail.
But the good news? That’s OK. According to the Association of Psychology Newfoundland and Labrador, studies suggest 80 per cent of people will fail at their New Year’s resolutions by mid-February. So on the bright side, you’re not alone, and there’s lots you can do to help your chances.
“We set ourselves up for failure right from the start,” said Janine Hubbard, a psychologist and director with the APNL. “We tend to set ourselves really unachievable goals. And we don’t prepare for failure.”
Set goals you can track
Too often, Hubbard said, people start off the year with a lofty goal that doesn’t make a lot of sense. These are often vague — a goal to be healthy, or happy, for example. But how do you measure happiness or healthiness? Without concrete evidence of success, it can be easy to cast aside a resolution and throw in the towel early.
“It’s not going to happen,” she said. “You have to pick something you can start today and achieve.”
Hubbard suggests starting with something simple, like a goal to eat an extra serving of vegetables each day. “That’s what we call a smart goal,” she said. “They’re specific, they’re measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.”
Add rather than subtract
Don’t start the new calendar with a list of things you’re going to give up. Instead, start the new year with a list of positive things you want to add into your life.
Rather than pledging to spend less time on the couch, promise yourself to spend an extra hour outside every day.
“Depriving yourself is never going to work,” Hubbard said. “So it’s adding in something positive and then over time, some of the other things start to fall away because they’ve been replaced.”
Hubbard said there is “too much evidence” to prove depriving yourself of things doesn’t stick. The old behaviours come back with a vengeance unless they’ve been replaced by something positive.
Share your resolution
A good way to make sure it sticks is to be open about your intentions with people you care about.
“Tell someone,” Hubbard said. “It doesn’t have to be like Facebook public or Twitter public; it can be just to your spouse or a coworker.”
It can be easy to quit on yourself if nobody knows you’re trying to do something new. When other people are watching, it’s extra motivation to stick with it.
“It both gives you the emotional support behind it, but it also makes you accountable,” Hubbard said. “Accountability is very key. Otherwise, most of us make these little resolutions to ourselves and it doesn’t go very far.”
You don’t have to do it
While a new year can be the motivation you need to kickstart new behaviours, it is just another day on a calendar. Hubbard said people often try to force themselves to commit to a resolution even though they aren’t ready for it. People shouldn’t feel pressured by an “artificial deadline,” she said.
“It’s OK to not have [a resolution]. It’s OK to say, ‘I’m going to work on some small things right now, and I’ll work on some bigger behavioural changes later on in the year. Or maybe next year.’ It’s OK.”
If people go into a resolution unprepared, the failure can set them back from being ready for it later on down the road.
“The more times you set yourself up and fail, the less likely you are to give it a try another time.”
Take time to relax
Whether you are going into 2020 with a goal or not, Hubbard implored people to take on one simple task. Schedule a few minutes a day to meditate, breathe deeply, or do nothing in particular at all.
Five minutes of serenity can go a long way to improving and preserving your mental health in a world that can move a little too fast sometimes.
“Just give yourself that five minutes of self-care,” she said. “Sounds easy. We’ll check back in six weeks and see how we’re all doing.”
Janine Hubbard is a psychologist and past-president of the Association of Psychology Newfoundland and Labrador. (Paula Gale/CBC)