The New Year is upon us, it’s crept up quickly - Christmas has been and gone, we blinked and all of a sudden it’s January. This time of year is associated with fresh starts, new beginnings and a better us. Now that’s all well and good until we start setting very high expectations and unrealistic goals that we expect ourselves to meet and keep up with - for the entire year. Whether it’s learning to juggle, getting your driving license or exercising 8 days per week (yep, exactly…), how many of us really stick to our NY resolutions?
According to research in 2020, 26% of people said they stuck to their resolutions, 48% said they stuck to some but not all of their resolutions, and 23% said they didn’t stick to any resolutions they made at the start of the year .
The most popular resolutions that were made came under the following categories: exercising more, changing diet, losing weight or saving money. This can have an impact on our mental wellbeing when we don’t stick to our resolutions (which, let’s be honest, can be pretty unachievable).
So, what should we do? Are resolutions all bad? Should we be setting less strict goals for the new year or just cracking on without trying to be our ‘best selves’?
Well, it can be a mixed bag when setting New Year’s resolutions. It’s all about the why, the kind of goals we aim to achieve. Setting goals is something that can benefit our wellbeing - it can give us a sense of purpose, keep us motivated and support personal growth. Plus achieving our goals can boost our confidence and satisfaction with our lives! However, we need to set goals that are right for us in this moment of time, otherwise, they can lead to an opposite, overwhelming or damaging effect on our wellbeing.
What impact can setting strict, unrealistic goals have on our wellbeing?
Martina Ratto, Beingwell’s Cognitive Scientist explains that if our objectives are vague, fuzzy or bigger than us, they can quickly become unbearable and transform into a source of stress.
“Not having a clear way to measure success can lead to perfectionism and anxiety. We can end up striving for more, without knowing exactly what we’re aiming for or having unrealistically high expectations of ourselves”.
Martina goes on to say,
“Also, if we are setting resolutions that aren’t really for us - maybe conditioned by family, friends, colleagues or even social media and TV - this will inevitably become a burden. We’ll end up striving for something we don’t really believe in and feel the pressure of meeting someone else’s expectations rather than our own needs.”
Setting SMART goals
One way to set goals that suit us better and are more achievable is through SMART. Now, that doesn’t mean goals that literally improve our brainpower (but we have got some good tips for that here). SMART stands for:
SMART goals can keep us motivated, help us track progress, prevent us from getting overwhelmed, and succeed quicker. Check out this post on our Instagram that explains a bit more about SMART goals.
An example of an unrealistic goal might be to become the world’s fastest runner by the summer of 2022. Unless we’re Usain Bolt, that's a whole heap of pressure to achieve. And when we inevitably fail, we’re going to feel mightily disappointed.
A SMART goal might be to increase your running speed by ten seconds each week. This goal suits us better as it’s specific, measurable, attainable, relevant (to us) and has an achievable time frame that’ll keep us motivated and on track - ticking all the criteria for a SMART goal, woohoo!
Whatever goals we set for ourselves, there will always be times when we don’t perform to our best potential, or meet those goals in a way that we’d hoped. Learning to accept that is crucial in making progress. If we did everything right the first time around, not only would we not learn anything, but life would also become pretty boring!
Turns out our parents had a point when they would tell us to get up, brush ourselves off and try again! Maybe we can even find a little motivation in failure, a reason to keep going and learning. We will inevitably disappoint ourselves if we think that we’ll get things right straight away, so knowing that we will sometimes fail and being okay with that will help us feel better equipped to deal with it when it happens.
It’s okay if we’re a bit late reaching our goals because we still tried our best! It’s okay if our goals change, we’re learning about ourselves. It’s okay if we had to take 5 different routes to reach the end, as long as we found one that works for us.
Being hard on ourselves will only make matters worse and harder to deal with. Try reminding yourself that you’re only human and bound to make mistakes, fail, and mess things up every now and then!
A final note: Here at Beingwell we’re launching the #BEINGrealistic campaign to help you set realistic, achievable goals at any point in the year - not just on January 1st!
The #BeingRealistic campaign will help those who want to improve their wellbeing (whether that’s sleeping, eating, moving, coping or thinking better!) by setting SMART goals that will see real progress. Send us your #BeingRealistic goals and follow the campaign over on our Instagram page!
How Many People Kept Their 2020 New Year’s Resolutions? (2020). YouGov.