The Positive Pensive

An anxious pessimist tries to find the positive
A hand holding a sparkler

How to set new year’s resolutions you’ll actually keep

Happy New Year! We’ve made it into 2018 and suffice to say it doesn’t feel all that different – but that doesn’t meant it couldn’t.

Despite the fact the ‘most wonderful time of the year’ is now over, January really isn’t so bad. The shortest day is also now behind us (SAD sufferers rejoice!) and it’s very likely you have a bunch of goodies from Christmas (be it gifts or leftover snacks).

Plus, for all the joy there is in December, someone usually has to come along and ruin it by asking the following:

“So… got any new year’s resolutions?”

Mate, I’m still reeling from the half kilo of cheese I’ve just eaten. Do I look like I’m making good decisions right now?

Still, there is something inherently hopeful about new year – even for a lifelong pessimist. Once the festivities (and indulgences) have long since passed, January provides some welcome clarity. Some peace after the hectic whirlwind of socialising Christmas often brings.

So – ‘New Year, New You’ right? Well. Not necessarily. See, there are a few issues with this whole resolution malarkey…

Coming up with focused goals

First of all: I’m a massive advocate for self-improvement and setting goals. It’s the basis of many practical therapies and it’s also a great way to track your achievements and strengthen your self-esteem. This is all jolly well needed – especially in the middle of winter.

What isn’t so ideal when it comes to goal-setting (re: resolutions) is when it’s vague AF. Like, saying ‘I’m going to eat healthier’.

Well, um. That’s fine – and I’m happy you’re looking to make a positive, conscious change to better your health. But how are you going to measure that? When you look back in a year, how are you going to be able to prove to yourself (and be proud!) that you achieved what you set out to do?

Anyone who’s been through CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) – or perhaps even a professional appraisal – will be able to tell you about SMART goals. They’re a pain in the arse to think about and put on paper, but they’re far more focused and achievable than setting an ambiguous aim for the year.

Settling on an idea

The other temptation for many of us, other than to be quite non-committal, is to actually make too many resolutions.

My friends. This can only end badly. Stop.

We are only humans. You can’t become a yoga-practising, green-juice-drinking, positive-thinking superstar overnight. Or even in a week or month. Habits take quite some time to become ingrained in our lives – and it’s hard enough just keeping up with one.

Please, this year, let’s not promise ourselves we’re going to lose weight, keep a bullet journal every day and decrease our time on social media all in one go. If you’re awesomely dedicated, you might be able to do that. For us mere mortals, trying to change our regular habits – or add new ones – all at once can actually be a bit stressful, adding unnecessary pressure to a new year.

Pick one – maybe two – that feel challenging but achievable. You don’t need to become an entirely new person in 2018.

Rushing to think of something

It sounds silly, I know. But when you notice a bunch of new people at the gym, or see your friends posting their goals on Facebook, it can feel a bit like you’ve got to have it figured out sharpish or it doesn’t count.

First of all, you do you. Secondly, you can’t rush a great idea that could genuinely improve your life. I’d hazard a guess that many resolutions are broken not just because they’re vague, but because people weren’t entirely dedicated to the idea in the first place.

Funnily enough, the resolutions I’ve been able to keep (it is possible!) came to me much later in the month. I’d settled back into work after an extended break and had some time to think about what I might like to achieve. For 2016, my only resolution was to pass my driving test. In 2017, I unexpectedly decided to go meat-free – a few weeks later I expanded on it and challenged myself to do it for at least an entire year (15 days to go!).

I’m still figuring out exactly what I’d like to achieve this year. It’s totally fine if you’ve not hit upon something that excites you yet. It’s the first week of January, for goodness sake.

Feeling uninspired

When there are very likely hundreds of ways you could improve your life, it’s very hard to narrow down what appeals most to you. It can feel bizarrely overwhelming.

If you’re in need of some ideas, this article on features some of the UK’s most popular resolutions.

The top new year's resolutions in the UK, as polled by Metro

Side note – can we all just take a moment to appreciate how ‘Improve mental health’ makes it into the top THREE? Talk about progress.

These ideas are a great springboard. If you fancy volunteering, have you thought about where? Why not put mini goals in place where for the first few weeks you’ll contact a few organisations? If you want to spend more time with loved ones, try defining an amount of time (e.g. “I’ll visit my parents once a month”). If learning a new skill piques your interest, have a think about how much time you can devote to it and when.

The act of further defining a goal not only holds you more accountable, but gives you a clear picture of when you’re succeeding – and that’s rad.

Falling off the wagon

Of course, shit happens and you may not always be able to meet your goals. Don’t fret. All is not lost because you missed a class/didn’t visit/ate a treat that time.

I aim to post one blog a week but hell, sometimes I’m not in the right frame of mind to plan, draft, edit, publish and promote a piece. Especially one that I think will be valuable and/or entertaining. You’ve got to be kind to yourself. If you’re doing your best, that’s awesome.


So right now I’m going to focus on not swearing at the alarm clock each morning for the remainder of the week. Once I’m more settled, I’ll have a think about what 2018 might hold in store for me. Let me know if you guys have hit upon any resolutions for this year!

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