Many of us love the promise of a new year ahead. It gives us a clean slate and an opportunity to embrace optimism and change. Though it’s possible to set and achieve goals any time of the year, the start of a new year creates momentum and motivation that can be hard to replicate later on.
That said, whether your goal is academic-focused, health-related or something more personal, it’s important to take some time to prepare yourself mentally for any new challenges you plan to take on in the months ahead.
According to U.S. News and World Report, 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail.1 And it’s not because we don’t want to make a change. Rather, we don’t realize the role stress plays in making a change— whether it’s happening at the start of a new year or six months later. Trying to implement a change in January likely adds a layer of pressure you may not feel in July, making it more important to manage the stress accompanying goal-setting and change.
Here are some tips to help you ensure your New Year’s resolutions survive the transition from wish to reality:
- Recognize the signs of stress. Even if you accept the fact that tension accompanies even the most positive change, it may be difficult to recognize stress because it often manifests itself as symptoms of common illnesses. According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s not unusual for stress to result in symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and insomnia.2 The first step to managing stress is realizing it’s taking a toll on your health and your goals. Once you know what to look for, you can begin managing it.
- Organize yourself for success. The statement “failure to plan is planning to fail” might border on cliché, but it’s still valuable advice. Don’t just tell yourself, “I’m going to get into better shape this year.” Ask yourself what your goal looks like. For example, how many times a week will you exercise? When will you know you’ve met your goal? Maybe you want to run a 5K, or be able to complete a walking tour of a favorite city without being exhausted at the end. Defining your goals, writing them down in a designated notebook, and breaking them into measurable parts will help you maintain control over the process, which can help see you through the stressful periods.
- Try meditation. Often dismissed as something only for the spiritually minded, meditation may provide practitioners with numerous benefits. Though concrete supporting evidence is limited, a handful of well-regarded studies show promise: meditation can help ease anxiety and stress.3 Common misconceptions may deter people from giving it a try, but you don’t need any special equipment or a large investment of time. “Mini-meditations” of just a few minutes can help quiet your mind and take the edge off a challenging time. Ironically, while detaching yourself from gadgets is a great way to de-stress, there are many free and inexpensive meditation apps out there which provide guidance and structure if you need it.
- Create an escape hatch. There might be times when you feel like you want to run away but can’t. It’s a good idea to plan for those moments in advance before you find yourself feeling the burden of mounting tension. Spend some time now identifying some self-care plans. Think about what you like to do for fun. Do you have any hobbies? This may be something you’ve neglected as you juggle school, work, and family, but now may be a good time to resurrect these hobbies. If the idea of resuming or picking up a new hobby is overwhelming, something as simple as putting great shows into your streaming TV queue or having an interesting book on hand will still prepare you for a moment when you need an activity to help you decompress.
- Prepare for stumbling blocks. The first sign of failure is often enough for someone to abandon a valued resolution. Just like preparing for stress can help you mitigate its impact, anticipating problems and even failure can help you keep going. Remember that working toward a resolution is a process, and one misstep doesn’t signal automatic doom. Create some perspective about what sidetracked you by viewing it as a learning opportunity instead of a disaster. Using a journal to reflect on what’s been working and what needs tweaking may help, and don’t forget to document your successes, regardless of size. Reading over your victories when you’re struggling can have a powerful effect and help you overcome negative feelings.
A new year offers an ideal time to implement a change you’ve wanted to make. Whatever your goal, try to remember that whatever need you are seeking to address is just one aspect of your life, and that you are much more than a single resolution. If you focus on just one change, monitor your progress, and have strategies in place to squash stress, you may find yourself celebrating a well-earned achievement by the time December rolls around.
Interested in more success tips for 2017? Find them here on our blog.
1. Luciani, J. “Why 80 percent of New Year’s Resolutions Fail.” Retrieved from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/2015-12-29/why-80-percent-of-new-years-resolutions-fail (Visited 12/22/16)
2. Mayo Clinic Staff. “Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior.” Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987 (Visited 12/29/16)
3. Corliss, J. “Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress.” Retrieved from http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-may-ease-anxiety-mental-stress-201401086967 (Visited 12/22/16)