DR Sally Hunt doesn't tend to subscribe to the 'New Year's' part of the annual New Year's Resolution.
"I think that the idea of a resolution suggests that it's some global, big, monumental change or achievement that's required," said Dr Hunt, a clinical psychologist and senior lecturer in the University of Newcastle's School of Psychology.
"While in theory that sounds awesome, in practice I think it does set us up to fail because we tell ourselves, just like 'I'm going to start a diet on Monday', or 'Next pay I'll save 10 per cent' or whatever those sorts of goals are, 'This year I will do X' implies that if we don't do it, if February rolls around and we haven't used that gym membership or we haven't saved that money or achieved that goal, then oh well, throw it out, we'll wait again to next year.
"So it sets us up to think that if we aren't doing it properly, continuously throughout the year, then there's no point in doing it all. I think instead I would be in favour of using the new year as a time to reflect and a time to think about where we've been and where we want to be in the future and then break that down into the small steps required to take us where we want to be in the future.
"So focusing on the small behaviours we have control over, rather than some desired outcome."
Dr Hunt said instead of setting a goal or resolution to be wealthy, for example, it may be more useful to think about saving a certain dollar amount each week, or making a budget.
Think about the short, medium and long term.
"If I just say 'I'm going to go to the gym' and then I don't, I feel like I've failed," she said. "Or I feel I'm not able to do it at all. We have that tendency with the black and white thinking to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
"Critically when we're working with people around goal setting, if somebody comes back the next week and says 'No I haven't done that homework that I said I'd agreed to or that task I was going to work on', my first thought is 'Okay we need to add some more stepping stones between where we are now and where we set that previous task, because it sounds like the stepping stones were too far apart'."
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Professional support and individually tailored, evidence-based advice - particularly around health goals tied to addictions, diet and exercise that require changing long-held behaviours - can help through this process.
Dr Hunt also suggested thinking about motivation.
"Rather than saying 'I'm going to go sailing every weekend', perhaps you say that 'I recognise when I'm out in the fresh air I feel better about myself, I sleep better if I've got out and done some activity during the day and I like to socialise... so sailing is something I want to put back on the priority list'," she said.
"It's a slightly different way of framing it and it makes it more achievable, but it also makes it more meaningful. Our goals need to be personally meaningful to us so we invest in that change."
Dr Hunt said everyone's different experiences of 2020 would affect their interest in goals and resolutions for 2021. Some would have seen their 2020 goals evaporate.
She suggested treating yourself with kindness "especially when there is something going on in your life that is taking up a chunk of your attention, your energy, your passion, your ability to cope".
Many are exhausted.
"It's been a draining, stressful period of time for some people, there have been huge financial ramifications from that and emotional ramifications," she said.
"We don't bounce back immediately from stresses like that. It's normal to feel run down and exhausted and so the best advice to give people is to take that time when you can to rejuvenate, to do things that make you feel good about yourself, that boost your energy.
"Think about what your body needs and what your mind needs and try and incorporate more of those things."
She said while it may be impossible to avoid the external stressors that will likely come in 2021, people could identify now what brings a sense of calm or is an antidote, such as exercise or seeing friends.
"Start finding the opportunities when they arise to add these ingredients back in to your emotional diet.
"Add the things that generate calm and positive feelings so the inevitable stress is offset a little bit."
How to achieve your goal or resolution in 2021:
- Break down your goal or resolution into a series of small steps.
- Think about what you'd like to do in the short term, medium term and long term
- Focus on changes to behaviour rather than desired outcome.
- Think about why you want to achieve this goal or resolution. Make it personally meaningful so you are invested in change.
- Be kind to yourself - accept you may not be where you want to be after such an unusual year and you may have setbacks when pursuing your goal or resolution.
- If making changes to your health or diet, see a qualified professional for evidence based advice that is individually tailored to you.
- Remember the start of the new year is not the only time you can set - or revisit - a goal or make a resolution.