Yup, it’s that time of the year again! For most of us, the first day of the year is the time for new beginnings. Some of us create a formal list of New Year’s resolutions. Others make secret promises to themselves, hoping to reveal their new and better selves to those who doubted them. Regardless of the process, our New Year’s resolutions set the tone for the entire year, perhaps even the rest of our lives.
Maybe that’s why people take them so seriously. Of course, the problem with taking things too seriously is that it’s likely to result in stress. Add to that the stress of living up unrealistic expectations, like lose 50 pounds by March. Oh, and don’t forget the stress that comes from knowing you’ve failed yet again.
However, New Year’s resolutions needn’t be stressful. They can put us on the right track and keep us there, but you have to start small. Ever heard the phrase, “it’s the journey, not the destination”? Well, that’s exactly how you should approach your New Year’s resolutions. Below are 10 of the most common New Year’s resolutions, and how you can stick to them without stressing out.
10. Lose weight
This one is probably first on your list, unless you’ve been blessed with super fast metabolism. Sadly, it’s also the one people stress over the most. Most people fail at weight loss because they see it as a one-sided issue. Some people view it as an issue of calories. Others see it as getting to the gym, or cutting out entire good groups.
In truth, weight loss requires numerous life style changes over a long period of time. A sensible approach is to take baby steps. Start with one goal, such as eating oatmeal every morning instead of a sugar-loaded muffin. Or, reserve two night a week to go the gym, and work up to 3 or 4. That way, if you fail, you’ll see it as a minor setback rather than a reason to quit altogether.
9. Quit smoking
Without a doubt, smoking is one of the hardest addictions to manage. Maybe it’s because smoking is one of the most common ways to deal with stress. When you take away someone’s main coping mechanism, the results are going to be ugly.
First, accept that smoking is an addiction, not just a bad habit. Second, you can’t “quit” an addiction. It has to be managed on a day to day basis, often with help from medical professionals, treatments and support groups. Finally, allow yourself to fall off the wagon, because it’s very likely to happen. Without that acceptance, the stress from tying to quit will simply drive you right back to a pack of cigarettes.
8. Find a better job.
A toxic work environment is one of the most common sources of stress, anxiety and depression. The obvious solution is to find a better job, but we all know it’s not that easy. Jobs don’t grow on trees these days, and it’s even harder for those who are middle-aged or older.
The truth is that you may be “stuck” at your job much longer than you’d like. In the meantime, you can find positive ways to deal with your stress. Doing so may require you to be assertive, but there’s nothing wrong with setting reasonable boundaries and taking a moment to relax. You can also look into simple lifestyle changes, like eating better or exercising for when you’re off the clock.
7. Be debt free.
This is a great long-term goal, but it requires a lot more than just canceling the credit cards. For one thing, being debt free means staying debt free after you’ve paid off your debts. Credit counselors, for example, ask you to write down the specific source of your debts along with the numbers. An honest list helps you determine if you have a serious problem, such as compulsive shopping. Or, maybe you feel pressured to live a certain lifestyle by your family and friends.
The point is, you have to confront the source of your debt and learn to manage it. Furthermore, you have to look at the process as debt management, rather than being debt free. Management is a life-long process that goes far beyond getting to a zero balance.
6. Create a bucket list.
Making up a list of things you want to do before you die isn’t a bad idea. That is, if you’re honest, and use it as a tool for motivation and self-awareness. The honesty part can be tricky because of preconceived notions of what should be on a bucket list. But remember that this is your list; it’s about your hopes and dreams. Don’t worry that it’s not cool or exciting enough. What matters is that it’s true to what you want to accomplish before you kick the bucket.
One last thing: you are not required to complete everything on your bucket list. If anything, a bucket list should be a tool for inspiration. You should try things on your list given the chance, but not getting to them doesn’t make your life any less relevant. In short, don’t stress out if you never get around to sky diving or walking on a bed of hot coals.
5. Be nicer to my _____.
There’s probably a whole lot of people you can fit in here, from your parents to your neighbors. In a perfect world, we could make peace with all our fellow human beings. But life is much more complicated. For one thing, we can’t change people who do things that upset or annoy us. We can only change our reactions to their behavior.
Of course, we should endeavor to treat everyone with respect and civility. But you shouldn’t go out of your way to be nice to people “just because”. Perhaps a better resolution would be “Find better ways to deal with my _____.” This resolution targets healthy ways to cope with stress from other people, rather than masking our feelings towards them.
4. Eat Healthy.
Once again, this is a great resolution if you take baby steps. A big part of the problem is the endless information out there about what foods are good or bad. On top of that are all the trends like juicing and Bulletproof coffee. Before you know it, healthy eating becomes a second job with stress as the main compensation.
Keep in mind that you have all year to improve your eating habits. Start with a feasible goal, like cutting down — not giving up — your daily caffeine intake. Slowly incorporate other healthy eating habits so that it becomes a natural part of your life. Most important, don’t forget that it’s okay to indulge once in awhile.
3. Run a marathon.
So many people put this on their list, regardless of their health or fitness level. On its own, training for a marathon is a wonderful fitness activity. It can also boost your self-esteem, especially if you’ve never been good at sports. However, many people have preexisting health conditions that should be addressed before running a marathon. For example, you may need to lose weight and get your blood pressure down first.
The other issue is whether you have the time or willpower. For some people, not being able to make time or summon the will is a sign of weakness. But life is a lot more complicated than that, and certain things take priority over others. The lesson here is to stick with resolutions that don’t require major life changes. Ultimately, marathon training is about health and fitness, and there’s many ways to do that without stressing yourself out.
2. Have a baby.
While a baby is a blessing, making it a New Year’s resolution is the ultimate stress-inducer. Ironically, being stressed makes you less likely to get pregnant, so setting a deadline often turns into a vicious cycle. In reality, it can take quite some time to get pregnant, especially if you’re over 30. Even for older women, doctors advise trying for at least 6 months before looking into IVF. So you can see how giving yourself a year deadline can be a set up for failure.
A less stressful approach is to make lifestyle changes that will help you be ready for a baby. For example, be more romantic and work on better communication with your partner. A loving relationship creates a healthy mindset, which is conducive to getting pregnant. It can also help make you be better parents once the baby arrives.
1. Try not to stress.
It may sound wrong, but trying not to stress can easily lead to more stress. Granted, you shouldn’t run towards stress with arms wide open. On the other hand, you have to accept that life is stressful. Your work, other people, your day-to-day responsibilities — all those come with a certain level of stress. By trying not to stress, a lot of us practice stress avoidance, rather than stress management.
Unfortunately, stress avoidance is a short-term solution. A realistic approach is to recognize stress when it comes your way, and manage it in constructive, health ways. Management should, in fact, be your approach to all your New Year’s resolutions. Rather than seeing them as finite and one-dimensional goals, try to see them as evolving works in progress.