Are New Year’s resolutions a useful way to approach change? If so, what are the best ways to successfully change our habits? This blog post contains some ideas for approaching the new year from a place of self-compassion.

For many, the start of the year is an opportunity to reflect and focus on change. Unfortunately, January is also a time when companies capitalise on our insecurities and society’s obsession with unhealthy, unsustainable weight loss.  New Year’s resolutions often have a bad reputation and it’s clear that many come from a place of unworthiness: the myth that there is something desperately wrong with us that needs fixing.

Given all this, I understand why some people opt out of New Year’s resolutions entirely, but I’d also say that taking time to reflect and think about what you do and don’t want, or coming to the realisation that something about our lives isn’t working and urgently needs to change, isn’t inevitably a bad thing.  We know that social support is important when we are trying to change, so perhaps the communal element of New Year can be a positive thing if we find like-minded people who are also committed to the process in a sustainable way, then we can help each other by providing accountability and support.

If we do use the new year as a time of reflection and a catalyst for change, how can we approach the process in order to increase our chances of success and stop getting stuck in negative cycles?

Challenge your inner critic

A simple way to begin establishing approaching ourselves with more self-compassion is by talking to ourselves the same way we would talk to a friend we care for.  If a friend came to you and asked for help changing things, what would you say to them? Odds are this may be significantly different from how you habitually speak to yourself.

Celebrate success

As we reflect on the year gone by, be aware of the human tendency towards negativity bias -celebrating strengths and what we did well last year will probably not come as easily as thinking about what went wrong! Celebrating our success is important to both increase our confidence and to help us utilise and make the most of the internal resources we already have, but this is also something we often need to do deliberately and work hard at.  I use the prompts in Year Compass to aid this with this. 

Ask: what do you want more of?

To avoid approaching the new year from a place of unworthiness, you could instead try asking what brings you joy, connection and creativity and consider how you can you do that more.  At this point, it may also be worth thinking about what gets in the way of these things for you.  Bear in mind that often unwanted behaviours such as drinking alcohol, scrolling, binge watching Netflix, are coping strategies to numbing difficult emotions and it can be unwise to remove these without replacing them with something else or addressing the underlying issues.  Seeking additional support, for example from a counsellor or psychotherapist, can help with this.

Know your why…and then think about small and sustainable actions

One of the main reasons New Years’ resolutions have such a bad reputation is that we often try to change everything at once, in a way that is too drastic or unsustainable and we don’t give changes long enough to become embedded.  Then, when we inevitably quit, we are left with a feeling of failure which feeds our negative coping strategies and the whole thing becomes a cycle. Small changes can seem boring and insufficient and it’s hard to trust that they will lead to the big changes you really want. This is why I think the dual process of having both a vision and considering the small steps that can bring you to that goal is such as powerful combination (Simon Sinek’s work on Finding Your Why may be useful for this).

Don’t leave it until next year to review

Another negative cycle that New Year’s resolutions can play into is when January becomes the only time we think about change:  before we know it, another new year is here, we haven’t achieved our lofty ambitions, we feel bad, set more challenging goals, forget about them and the whole thing starts again. To avoid this, it’s worth thinking now about a helpful date to review your progress and setting a reminder– this could be at the start of each season, month, or other dates that have significance for you.

You don’t have to do this at New Year!

On a practical level, spring Solstice isn’t until 20th March, the days are still short, dark and cold, our bodies are still deep in winter – a time where we often want to slow down and restore.  It’s ok if this isn’t the right time to for you to change something difficult and you just want to focus on getting through the winter!

Do you make New Year’s resolutions or use new year as a time to reflect and set goals?

Changing long-standing habits can be difficult and seeking help and support can increase your chances of success. If this blog resonated and you’d like more help approaching change with self-compassion, challenging your inner critic, or managing negative coping strategies, get in touch.

Further reading on change:

Changing for Good – Norcross and Prochaska

Succeed – how we can reach our goals -Heidi Grant-Halvorson