It’s the start of a new year, which means the people around you may be talking—and talking—about how it’s time for a brand new you. Whether you want to improve your mind, your body, your relationship or your circumstances, now is apparently the time to tally up all the ways you could be better and declare to the world that this is the year you’re going to do everything it takes.
Or maybe not. As comedian John Oliver reminds us in this Last Week Tonight clip, few of us actually do much with those ambitious lists of goals. Most of us get on fairly well for this first week, but by the end of the year, only about 8% of us manage to achieve our resolutions.
Dealing with depression and other mental health issues can make New Year’s resolutions even more fraught. When it’s already hard to see the positive, tallying up the ways you fall short can have painful consequences. And when daily life feels overwhelming, it can be exhausting to look ahead at a whole year of self-improvement at once. If that’s the case, you may want to consider a different approach.
If Oliver’s take is too defeatist for your tastes, there are other options. Over at Psychology Today, Margee Kerr, who holds a doctorate in sociology, proposes an alternative tradition.
Kerr recommends starting off the year by listing all the ways you were awesome in the last year. The times you were courageous. The times you challenged your fears. The times you were strong. Once that’s done, she recommends skipping a list of goals and focusing on a list of fears.
Why make a list of fears for New Year’s? Before you even think about your goals you’ve got to confront your fears and understand how they hold you back. This confrontation starts with admitting to yourself what you’re afraid of, and then figuring out if the fear is rational, and how you can overcome.
If that sounds like a good place to begin, the article includes templates to help you keep track of the things that you’ve done well and the things that are holding you back.
If, on the other hand, you’ve already decided on a few resolutions for 2016, Christopher Shea at PsychCentral suggests a mindful approach to maintaining them. The key point? Remembering that your well-being is never beholden to a specific starting date:
One of the wonderful elements of living in the present moment is that we can start over whenever we need to. If my day is not going as planned and I find myself getting frustrated, I can stop, breathe, and start again. I don’t need to wait until the next morning, or the next year to start over. I can start over any time I feel the need. Therefore, if you find yourself needing more time to work on your resolutions, take the time rather than rushing through a list out of a self-imposed obligation.
Ultimately, the best tradition is the one that helps you feel good about yourself, even if that means tossing the whole idea of resolutions out the window. So if the changing of the year inspires you to make changes of your own, it’s worth taking a moment to make sure you give yourself the best possible chance of success.